Jessica O. Matthews ’10 and Julia C. Silverman ’10, co-founders of Uncharted Play, Inc., are not engineers—they’re inventors.
The two, CEO and CSO, respectively, came up with the sOccket, a soccer ball with a mechanism inside that turns kinetic energy into electrical energy. They thought up the idea while taking Engineering Sciences 147 with Professor David A. Edwards in the fall of 2008.
Silverman elaborates on their social science background, citing their lack of engineering degrees as a strength. “Not being engineers has allowed us to dream bigger. Not knowing the confines of the box lets you automatically think outside the box,” she says.
Silverman stresses the roadblocks she and Matthews faced when they first pitched the sOccket to engineers. “When we said ‘O.K. this is our idea: it’s a ball that generates energy,’ they would immediately say, ‘It won’t be enough,’” But, she continues, “‘Enough’ just has to be more than zero.”
The first model was launched at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, to the delight of kids in attendance.
“A lot of these kids, they’re playing with a bundle of plastic bags or a shoe. Having an actual ball is a real improvement,” she says. “A lot of kids say, ‘Oh my god, it’s magic.’ Having that is so special and inspiring.”
In addition to being popular with children, this early version of the sOccket could light an LED lamp for a couple of hours, combining functionality and play, which is the real magic behind the idea. “I don’t believe doing good and doing good business need to be mutually exclusive,” says Matthews.
On September 22, Uncharted Play, Inc., will launch the mass-produced version of the sOccket, which is six to seven times more energy efficient than the prototype. This new model will have the potential to power a reading lamp, a water purifier, or an emergency cell phone charger.
State Farm has already sponsored thousands of balls throughout Central America, and for countries such as Nigera and Haiti.
The company has tripled in size since it was founded in 2011. Matthews says, “It’s been a crazy ride.”