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Science / Tech

Jessica O. Matthews

The Inventor with a Winning Solution for Renewable Energy

While working on a class project at Harvard, Jessica O. Matthews helped invent an energy-harnessing soccer ball (yes, really). It was then, at the ripe old age of 22, that she realized she wanted to contribute in the field of renewable energy and launched her company, Uncharted Power. Nowadays, Matthews works primarily with large corporations and governments throughout Africa to help power developing communities using a proprietary microgeneration system known as MORE (Motion-based, Off-grid, Renewable Energy). This system harnesses energy from motion, like vehicular and pedestrian traffic, to bring electricity to areas off the grid. In other words, Matthews is a force to be reckoned with.

What is your biggest accomplishment to date?

“From a professional perspective, the last decade to 15 years of my life will ultimately be defined by three accomplishments, two of which I’ve achieved. First, in 2014 when I made the ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’ list, then later, in 2015, when I was selected for their cover. Second, raising our Series A. It’s bittersweet to acknowledge that this was the largest Series A that a black female has ever raised in history, even though the amount we raised is actually an average raise for a standard Silicon Valley straight, white male. This was big for me because it’s not like I have an uncle or family member who I could go to and say hey, I want to raise a round. I had to just figure it out on my own, and also, throughout the entire process, I didn’t lose who I was while I was doing it. My third accomplishment has yet to happen, but we are on our way to actually launching an infrastructure solution for energy. Again, without changing who we are and what we’re about. I’m really excited to see over the next 18 months how we are able to show the world that we’re more than what they thought, that it’s more than just an exciting story.”

What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your job that they probably don’t?

“I wish more people talked about how hard it is to be a woman in any type of high-level executive position, particularly to be a founder who is intimately aware and involved in the product, but also has to be forward-facing. I think that a lot of people don’t realize how much time I spend thinking about the architecture of the entire system and our technology at its core. I think it’s exciting to let people know that, as women, we have to do everything men do, except that we just have to do it in heels, and that’s actually really hard. It’s something that should make people even more excited to invest in women, because we are already showing our superhero powers just by waking up in the morning.”

What does being a woman mean to you today?

“It’s annoying, and it’s awesome. I think what it means is that I have the opportunity and the privilege for almost automatic empathy. They say it’s like design method: If you’re designing for a large group of people, you should design for the extremes. If you solve the problems for the people on the extremes, you’re going to solve the problems for everyone in the middle. As a woman, and as a black woman as well, I’m so grateful that I have exposure to problems that address at least two massive groups of people, so I can have empathy for them, and I can keep them in mind without much effort, and I can design for them and I can solve their problems without much effort. So, in a weird way, what it means to be a woman, it means to be a human being who kind of naturally is going to have empathy for problems that are often ignored. It makes me very excited to know that when you think of women as nurturers, caretakers and whatnot, that can be applied to the way we develop technology. So, what it means to be a woman today: It means opportunity.”

Desert island question: If you could bring only three things, what would they be?

“If it’s a desert island, I know I need energy, so I would probably bring an energy-generating jump rope, like our Pulse energy-generating jump rope, because I can take that apart and do a couple things if necessary. I’d bring a water purifier, and a satellite phone to let my mom know that I’m OK, because she’ll freak.”

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