Successful entrepreneurs often have an “a-ha” moment, and for Jessica O Matthews, it came at her aunt’s wedding in Nigeria. While guests celebrated, the power went out – typical for a country with unstable electricity service. When venue workers brought in diesel generators, the party resumed, but Jessica worried how unfazed everyone was about the toxic smell.
“They’d all gotten used to it,” says Jessica, who was 19 at the time and a student at Harvard University. “And yet I knew a safer, more practical option existed.”
Later, when brainstorming with friends, she thought of a renewable energy soccer ball that charges up as users play. Essentially it was an eco-friendly, portable generator that also serves as sports equipment. Three years later, in 2011, the resulting product, Sockket, helped Jessica launch her company, Uncharted Play (U-Play). Kids from all over and even two former US presidents – Barack Obama and Bill Clinton – embraced the ball and, later, a generator jump rope.
Today, Jessica is expanding her company’s reach by integrating the technology – called More, which stands for motion-based, off-grid, renewable energy – into other items, harnessing kinetic energy and turning it into a source of power. Uncharted Play has 15 patents based on the tech for its first two legacy products and is working on renewable energy solutions in Africa, too.
She has a master’s in business administration (MBA) from Harvard, her profitable company’s gross margins have doubled year-over-year and she’s raised $7m in investments – yet Jessica remains grounded and wants to help others.
For me, it’s not just about what we do, but how we do it. We are trying to democratize technology access.”
Jessica O Matthews
Jessica, 28, recently moved her company to Harlem in New York City to ensure her team remains exposed to ideas for meaningful products that all people will want.