Fueling Innovation Kim Lachance Shandrow  | March 15, 2019

Her Renewable Energy Startup Turns Soccer Balls and Sidewalks Into Power Sources

Jessica O. Matthews’ entrepreneurial light bulb lit up, oddly enough, when the lights went out.

Several years ago, in the middle of her aunt’s wedding back in her parents’ home country of Nigeria, Matthews recalls that the lights suddenly went dark. Moments later, diesel generators and kerosene lamps were hauled in to power the celebration back up, which worried Matthews, who knew that exposure to fumes from the generators could pose serious health risks.

Her relatives advised her to set her concerns aside. “You’ll get used to them,” they said.

“I remember this bothered me so much because it was them telling me to get used to dying,” Matthews said. “The fumes were horrible for the environment, horrible for the people who had to be in the room.”

Instead of getting used to the antiquated, noxious fume-producing power sources her family had come to rely upon during outages, Matthews decided to try to eliminate the need for them altogether through innovation.

As a clean, renewable alternative to dirty kerosene lamps and diesel generators, Matthews, now the founder of Uncharted Play based in Harlem, New York, invented a groundbreaking rotational energy harnessing and generating soccer ball, simply called SOCCKET – all at the age of 19. Inspired by relatives and friends in Nigeria who love to play soccer, she felt culling power from a lightweight, tech-enhanced soccer ball was a perfect-fit solution.

In 2011, at the age of 22, not long after creating a literally powerful game-changing ball — and while juggling a full course load at Harvard University — Matthews went all in and singlehandedly launched Uncharted Play, her inaugural social enterprise, around the unique toy. Then she charged full steam ahead.

“We started from a place where I wanted to address an issue that my family was facing very personally,” she said, “and now we realize that we can create a platform that can turn almost anything that moves into a source of power for almost everyone in the world.”

Today, Uncharted Play has evolved beyond energy-generating soccer balls (and jump ropes) to power the developing world with a new, more widely scalable means of creating motion-based, off-grid renewable energy. It’s called MORE

Matthews describes her company’s proprietary MORE technology as an energy harvesting and emanating building block that can be seamlessly integrated into various infrastructures, objects and products — everything from floor panels, streets, speedbumps and sidewalks, to subway turnstiles, strollers, shopping carts and beyond.

Freshly infused with $7 million in venture capital — a figure Matthews claims is the largest raise ever by a woman of color — Uncharted Play now holds approximately 15 patents and patents pending, and has joined forces with several Fortune 500 companies to sustainably overhaul how energy is created and distributed.

For more on how Matthews is shaping the future of renewable energy through groundbreaking technology, watch the video interview above.