AT THE INTERSECTION OF SPORTS AND GREEN, TWO YOUNG HARVARD GRADS DEVELOP A SOCCER BALL THAT, WHEN KICKED, STORES ENERGY THAT IS USED TO PRODUCE LIGHT.
In 2008, Harvard juniors Julia Silverman and Jessica O. Matthews were tasked by a professor with developing a multi-player game that would address a real world problem by merging art and science.
After some trial and error, they came back with the SOCCKET, a soccer ball that, when kicked, generates and stores energy as electricity through a pendulum-like system embedded inside. The ball can then be plugged in to lamps, providing light to people who often have none. Playing with the SOCCKET for 30 minutes yields 3 hours of light! Considering that 1.3 billion people worldwide live without reliable access to electricity and that soccer is the world’s most popular sport, the SOCCKET not only garnered Jessica an “A” from that professor, it also got the attention of former President Clinton (you’ve got to check out this 1 minute video featuring SOCCKET and Clinton here), who, in 2010, invited Julia to speak to the Clinton Global Initiative. In 2011, Julia and Jessica decided if SOCCKET is good enough for the 42nd President of the USA, then they should put their idea to the test. Thus UNCHARTED PLAY was launched in 2011 as a New York City-based for-profit company, dedicated to improving lives through play. To me, Uncharted Play’s mission is just about the most powerful example of the positive aspects to the intersection of green and sports I’ve seen.
Intrigued, Green Sports Blog caught up with Melissa Seligmann, Uncharted Play’s Vice President of Business Development on Friday to find out more about Uncharted Play and SOCCKET.
GREEN SPORTS BLOG: Did either Julia or Jessica play soccer at Harvard or before?
MELISSA SELIGMANN: No, Jessica was a runner and played basketball. Julia rowed crew. They came away from those sports inspired by the positive role team sports and play can have in people’s lives.
GSB: Did Julia and Jessica go into that class at Harvard with soccer in mind as a vehicle for change?
MS: No. Their first project was healthcare-related. The professor threatened them with flunking. Julia likes to say that “we didn’t go into it trying to make a difference; we just wanted to pass a class!”
GSB: I see that State Farm is a sponsor of SOCCKET. How did that come about? Has the sponsorship been a success?
MS: State Farm saw SOCCKET as a great opportunity to target the many Hispanics living in the US who support family members in Latin American countries. State Farm demonstrates it’s helping people “Get To A Better State” through its sponsorship and distribution of SOCCKETS in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and the US.
GSB: Is sponsorship the main source of revenue for Uncharted Play?
MS: Sponsorship is the main source right now but we’re aggressively planning the launch of our e-tail business later this year which will allow individuals to order a SOCCKET. A portion of the price, expected to be less than $99, will be devoted to funding the donation of SOCCKETS in the developing world. Our mantra is “Play.Power.Give”. SOCCKET distribution at brick & mortar retail is also in the planning phase.
GSB: How big is the prospective market for SOCCKET in your estimation?
MS: Any way you look at it, the market potential is very big. Here are two ways:
- The LOHAS market: LOHAS is an umbrella acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. The term designates the “ethical consumer” market and the fast-growing trend of making purchases tied to green and/or altruistic motivations. Currently, the LOHAS market is valued at nearly $290 billion. As the first product to combine sports activity and ethical giving, the SOCCKET stands apart from other LOHAS products in the space.
- The Tech Toy Market: The global toys and games industry is expected to hit the $100 billion mark by 2015 (Global Industry Analysts, 2012). According to a report released by the NPD Group, 2012 marked the beginning of the “Big Ask” toy trend, in which consumers are willing to pay more for toys they perceive as being beneficial to children’s play or learning experience. Per NPD, in 2012, 3 of the top 5 revenue-generating toys were technology related and served an educational purpose. With ground-breaking technology and a social mission, SOCCKET is well-positioned within the Tech Toy Market.
GSB: Do soccer players like the ball given that the ball is about 1 ounce heavier than a typical soccer ball due to the pendulum system?
MS: While we don’t expect the SOCCKET to be used in World Cup matches, we are very pleased with how players have reacted to it. Street soccer players LOVED IT (watch here)! The extra ounce is not really a problem for players in the developed world. And, we are constantly improving it, so I think that competitive games are definitely a possibility. Players in the developing world are happy to have a new ball of any kind.
GSB: Speaking of soccer players, have any world class players endorsed the SOCCKET?
MS: Endorsements are a work in progress, but David Villa (Atletico Madrid) called it “an amazing project”, Sergio Ramos said (Real Madrid) said “this is something to be proud of”, Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) refrained “A brilliant hit” and Pepe Reina (Napoli) chimed in with “an unimaginable invention until now”.
GSB: How is UP funded?
MS: Until March 2013, we had bootstrapped. Then we used Kickstarter in March and are now are seeking investors via fundable.com and potentially VCs. For us, it’s about finding the company that believes in our mission as opposed to [generating] the highest returns since we are a social enterprise trying to combine good business with social good.
GSB: What’s next in the Uncharted Play product pipeline?
MS: We expect to be launching an American Football and a jump rope with similar power generating features in October 2013. And more is on the way in 2014.
I left the conversation with Melissa excited about the prospects for the SOCCKET and for Uncharted Play. And I know it sounds hokey/cliche but I’m getting a little bit more upbeat about the prospects for humanity now that I know products like SOCCKET are out there and that folks like Jessica (the CEO), Julia (Advisory Board Member), Melissa and the Uncharted Play team are working at the intersection of Sports and Green. I will keep up with them and will report back what I find out.
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