When we first heard the story behind Uncharted Play, we were amazed: Co-founders Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman were Harvard undergraduates when they invented the SOCCKET, a soccer ball that doubles as a charger for small electronic devices like LED lamps, cell phones, and even hot plates. Inspired by their time spent in developing countries—both girls watched local youth play soccer games—the ball is designed to appeal to kids while helping families who don’t have safe power sources in their homes. Impressively, 30 minutes of playing with the SOCCKET ball can yield three hours of light. Now, the entrepreneurs are busy distributing the balls in countries ranging from South Africa to Argentina. We sat down with Jessica to learn more about the world-changing work she and her teammates are doing at Uncharted Play.
How does the SOCCKET ball work?
The SOCCKET is a portable generator in the form of a durable soccer ball. It’s an off-grid power source designed for resource-poor communities around the world that lack reliable (or any) access to electricity. The ball works by harnessing the kinetic energy generated during play with the ball, then storing this power inside the ball for later use. Once the ball has been played with, you can just plug appliances directly into the ball!
How did you and co-founder Julia start Uncharted Play?
In many ways, the SOCCKET inspired the broader idea for the company. Apart from the fact that we needed to build an organization to execute the SOCCKET mission, the generally positive response towards the SOCCKET showed us just how much people valued happiness in their daily lives. We founded Uncharted Play to be the catalyst for this idea—a company that would focus on all things fun and the many ways we can amplify this fun to make the world a better place.
What are some of the most memorable achievements you guys have made since launching Uncharted Play? Some of the challenges?
Building a passionate team to help us move our mission forward is by far our proudest achievement. Each time we make a significant improvement to the SOCCKET, I am incredibly proud. It takes a lot to make progress in a small start-up, so it helps to recognize the small innovations. In terms of challenges, working on an international scale with international vendors and clients can lead to unexpected barriers in communication and scheduling that make every day “exciting.”
What advice would you give to an aspiring young social entrepreneur?
Stop waiting for the perfect time to start your venture—it will never come. The reality is, if something is innovative, you cannot be taught how to do it. You must prepare yourself to learn while doing and to fail frequently. Fortunately, failure only counts as failure if it’s the period in your sentence. If you get back up and keep going, it’s just a comma—an interesting pause in your story that makes the exercise of looking back on how you achieved success even more meaningful.
What’s next for Uncharted Play?
2013 will be all about growth and challenging ourselves to innovate in ways somewhat unrelated to the SOCCKET. We plan to release a second product, the Ludo, and expand our educational services.
Learn more about how you can support Uncharted Play’s mission to provide clean power to the developing world.