In 2010, we wrote about a group of Harvard students who had developed a soccer ball that stores the energy it’s subjected to in order to power an LED lamp later on, offering an eco-friendly way to power lights especially in regions where electricity is scarce. Since then, that group has gone on to found Uncharted Play, and the SOCCKET ball has found funding through a successful Kickstarter campaign. We caught up with Jessica O. Matthews, Co-founder and CEO of Uncharted Play, who spoke to us about the difficulties of succeeding with a socially beneficial product in the often dog-eat-dog world of business.
When discussing the concept with others, Matthews was confronted with a mixed response. “There were many people that said it was a good idea but also a lot of people that said it was impractical. I was very persistent in my belief that the SOCCKET would matter to people in a way that made it worth continuing its development. So I pursued it,” she says. Proceeding with a healthy dose of determination and self-confessed naivety, it was soon apparent that turning the idea into reality was more troublesome than first anticipated, not least due to detractors. “Yet [these qualities] allowed me to get through things that people said I could not do. I was my own biggest cheerleader and that general ability allowed me to continue even though I did not know the hardships ahead.”
Matthews explains: “The hardest thing about developing the SOCCKET was something I only know is difficult retrospectively. The world of business is not a playground where everyone is interrelating fairly.” Over the course of the last few years, Matthews has dealt with unsuitable partners, lost money and suffered broken-down business relationships, but has never lost sight of her mission. We asked how she retained her will to bring the SOCCKET to market. “To me, there is no instrument better than laughter to bring me closer to the values and culture of my vision for Uncharted Play: happiness, bravery, authenticity, honesty, and sustainability.”
It’s perhaps those values that have helped Uncharted Play stake its claim in the world, in terms of meaningfulness if not financial growth. Matthews is humble when she talks about the SOCCKET’s money-making potential, but the product has caught the attention of one Barack Obama, who is a public supporter of Uncharted Play and whose administration is involved in the distribution of the balls to communities in Africa. The product also raised nearly USD 100,000 on Kickstarter earlier this year.
In terms of growth, Uncharted Play will now focus on its existing customerbase in order to learn more about how the SOCCKET is used, how it benefits the communities that use it, and what improvements can be made.
The company is also working on the development of new energy-harnessing sports products. Springwise has already covered the LUDO, another soccer ball that registers points every time it is kicked, converting those points into money for charities. According to Matthews, we can also expect to see a skateboard and an (American) football version of the SOCCKET too.
The PULSE is a jump rope that is in the pipeline to attract girls, especially those in countries where younger girls are not permitted to partake in outdoors play. This is part of Uncharted Play’s mission to deliver the basic idea behind the SOCCKET to reach as many people who need it. With the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2014, the team is also focusing on its promotional activities and hopes to launch a store online. Matthews concludes: “We need to show our company is more than a product, it is a movement. We have big plans for the next 12 months, but they are achievable as long as we continue to think strategically and act accordingly.”