At the 19th annual University of Washington Business Plan Competition in May, JikoPower had the hottest idea in the room and took home the $25,000 grand prize. Now the Seattle startup is looking for more funding to get more people charged up about its signature product, the Spark.
A Kickstarter campaign that runs through Nov. 30 is seeking $50,000 to help JikoPower ramp up production of the Spark — a thermoelectric generator that captures and converts excess heat from campfires or stoves into electricity. The hand-held Spark charges USB devices like cell phones, batteries and LED lights.
While the Spark is great for camping trips when you may need to bring power back to a dying cell phone, the company stresses that disaster situations are a more pressing situation in which the device may be vital. Users would be able to charge USB-enabled devices so they could stay informed and communicate with family, friends and rescue workers, as well as power LED lights, in the event of an emergency.
“Dead cell phones waste precious time in emergencies,” JikoPower founder and president Ryan Ahearn said in a news release. “The Spark is great for camping, but more importantly it saves lives in disasters like Hurricane Matthew. We urgently need to ramp production to meet growing demand and the Kickstarter will help us do that.”
JikoPower also believes the Spark is a welcome tool in developing markets such as Sub-Saharan Africa, rural India, and more, where it would provide sustainable, clean energy to people without access to electricity.
The company says 100 Spark prototypes are being actively used and tested in six countries: Gabon, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Nepal and India. And in July, the team spent time in Kenya, where the majority of people have cellphones but far fewer have access to electricity. People’s lives were improved by the Spark.
“We saw mountains of unused donated shoes and clothes, yet these well-dressed people were without basic electricity,” JikoPower co-founder and vice president Marene Wiley said. “With the Spark, people no longer depend on dangerous kerosene for light and they don’t have to travel great distances or pay exorbitant fees to charge a cellphone. Women in Kenya are using the JikoPower Spark to start their own businesses by charging neighbors phones. The difference in their lives is amazing.”
JikoPower, which started as three engineers winning the UW prize, has grown into a team of eight UW graduates and students.