“It’s critical to have varying voices in the room so we can develop a solution that meets the needs of a diverse world.”
The Nigerian-American inventor and venture capitalist Jessica O. Matthews takes a playful attitude towards solving complex problems. But for all her play, she’s serious about what she’s doing: Matthews wants to solve the set of economic and social issues that stem from a lack of access to reliable power sources that cause “light poverty.”
Through her company, Uncharted Power, Matthews is designing a portfolio of hardware and software products with the potential to “transform the ground beneath us into smart, secure and cost-effective energy sources that will power the towns and cities of tomorrow.”
Uncharted’s innovation in doing this is kinetic power. Two of the company’s flagship products are the Soccket soccer ball and the Pulse jump rope, which serve as portable sources of power in resource-poor areas. Since 2017, some 500,000 of these devices have been distributed, primarily in Africa and Latin America.
Building on the success of Soccket and Pulse, Matthews is developing a range of kinetic-energy infrastructure products to power cities and collect data. These include products that, while everywhere in our daily lives, have never been seen as part of cities’ energy infrastructure — floor panels, speed bumps, sidewalks, streets, subway turnstiles, strollers, and even shopping carts.
A graduate of both Harvard University and Harvard Business School, Matthews raised $7 million, the largest Series A ever raised by a black female founder. Support from investors, including Disney, has brought total financing to $12.5 million.
Both diversity and nimbleness were key to the company’s early success, and Matthews is trying to expand on the diversity of the company. Half of Uncharted Power’s 20 employees are now women, and 30-40% are black or Latinx. “It’s critical to have varying voices in the room so we can develop a solution that meets the needs of a diverse world,” Matthews says. “It’s time we completely rethink how to create a power infrastructure that delivers the power we need for life and smart technology.”
Read the full interview here.