Solepower interviewed by Madeline Parish on June 19, 2013
A finalist for the LOHAS Prize with the William James Foundation SolePower is a Pittsburgh based enterprise working to solve the problem of lack of access to mobile power. They are combating this growing issue by designing a shoe insole that is charged by walking. This new insole will be the first of its kind, providing rechargeable mobile power to outdoor enthusiast, military personnel and people without access to the traditional power grid.
How many people does SolePower employ?
We currently have six employees.
Is that firm in business?
We’re still in the prototype phase. This summer we’re going to be beginning our user trials in which we will have people take the product out and really use it and give us feedback. We’ll then take that feedback and incorporate it back into the product for our scheduled launch in December 2014. We currently have orders through kickstarter and have, in less than a week, raised almost half of our initial goal of $50,000.
Where are you located?
We are located in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Who are your customers?
Initially our target customers are going to be outdoor enthusiasts who currently don’t have the necessary gear to charge their mobile devices on the go. We are also exploring the use of a one-for-one model in which people can buy one to distribute to people in developing countries who don’t have access to a reliable energy source. As we grow we are also looking into National Science Foundation grants because we want to build something that runs under a program that emphasizes the commercialization process.
Have you generated revenue yet?
Technically no. But our kickstarter funding, if we make it, will act as revenue to grow our business.
What problem are you trying to solve?
We at SolePower are trying to solve the problem of lack of mobile power for mobile devices all over the world. The mobile devices we all use everyday require a lot of power and so we are trying to connect people without reliable power to reliable, efficient power.
What got you interested in this problem?
It was definitely a process. The idea came from being aware of the energy that goes into the ground from people walking. We started thinking about how we could harness the kinetic waste that is generated when we walk. In harnessing it we saw all of the benefits that would be created.
What is your solution to this problem?
We see the solution to the lack of mobile power to be the insoles that we are creating. Our insoles, think Dr. Scholl’s, charges a battery that’s strapped to your ankle and is charged by walking. This allows people to be mobile and not be dependent on unreliable energy sources or outlets to charge devices.
How has the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program helped you?
We feel that the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program has really helped us to narrow our business plan. That push to be clear, concise, and organized was very beneficial. We also feel that the feedback we received was incredibly valuable. It was amazing to get feedback in real time as we are trying to execute our ideas and shape our business plan. The feedback was also great in that the judges critiqued a number of issues that we have gone back to address and were then confronted by other things that we might want to change or promote.
What are your major challenges?
At this point our day to day operations have been running smoothly which has been very nice but we know have challenges in the long run. One of those challenges is in our movement towards the mass manufacturing of the product. We are looking for ways to hit our price point but also have high quality manufacturing. We are also working to design the product to be easily reproduced again and again. Our other challenge is that we are engineers and don’t have a business centered background. But this has been manageable as we are all learning more everyday and are working very closely with our mentors to learn and create a network of people that will help us implement our project.
For readers who want to know more about what you’re up to, where can we send them?
Anything else you’d like the William James Foundation community to know?
We have been getting some really great press. All of our mentions can be found on our website. This is very exciting for us because it is a great encouragement as we work towards our launch.
By Madeline Parrish, Communications Intern