Uncharted Play Co-Founders Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman, who turned a college assignment into a business, presented Meredith’s Fall 2013 Convocation, “Innovate. Take a Chance. Change the World,” on October 2.
Matthews and Silverman shared the story of Uncharted Play’s beginnings. As juniors at Harvard, they co-invented a soccer ball that generates energy with each kick as part of an assignment in an engineering course for non-engineers.
“Innovation can come from the desire not to fail a class,” Silverman said.
Their invention, called the SOCCKET, is “an idea that is simple – generating energy from a soccer ball. It’s not complicated to think about, but it is very complicated to execute.”
Bringing the SOCCKET from good idea to actual, sustainable, business has been a process that has taken more than four years. The SOCCKET is in production now, and has been distributed in developing countries, where it can power reading lights, cell phones and water purification devices. Harvard named them “Scientists of the Year” in 2012, and the SOCCKET has earned attention from the Clinton Global Initiative and The Colbert Report.
Uncharted Play is a for-profit social enterprise dedicated to improving lives through play. Matthews said “we have to create a sustainable system in order to really have an impact with our company and product … we are in the business of impact.”
Matthews said the company plans to operate in a one-to-one model, where consumers can purchase a product and another will be provided to a child in an underserved population. Uncharted Play would work in the way Tom’s does for shoes and Warby Parker does for eyewear.
A desire to create a lasting, sustainable business drove their decision to form Uncharted Play as a for-profit rather than non-profit organization. “In order to really have an impact, [the business] needs to be a true, honest part of people’s lives, as part of the economy,” Matthews said.
Silverman and Matthews hope their story inspires other college-aged women to take risks.
“Taking a risk at this stage of life is less of a life and death issue than it may be later. This has been an adventure, believing that we’ll make these opportunities happen,” Matthews said.
Silverman emphasized the importance of women supporting other women. While sexism exists in the corporate world, “we need to feel confident enough as women to draw attention to those things when they happen, so we can change them,” Silverman said.
The fall convocation was made possible by the Meredith College Convocation Committee, the Meredith Environmental Sustainability Initiative and the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Meredith Magazine.