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Kickstarter Phenomenon ReadySet: A Powerful Example of Trickle Up Innovation

| Tuesday July 31st, 2012 | 0 Comments

Where does the highest concentration of innovation exist? Some would say Silicon Valley. In one case, you’d be half right: ReadySet is a product of Fenix, a company headed by two Silicon Valley Apple alumni, but it was born, beaten, refined and deeply proven for three years in Africa. It is readying to debut back here in America. What is it? As Co-Founder Mike Lin puts it, it’s a really smart battery.

Their Kickstarter project, started with a $20,000 goal that was met in a single day, but the stored-energy firm is now well on its way to a new goal of $100,000, with more than a week to go.

What’s all the excitement about?

A sampling of what the ReadySet can power

It’s simple: Fenix has succeeded in creating a charger that has a deceptively simple set of inputs/outputs so that a huge range of things can be recharged using any available power source from solar to grid, bike generator to wind turbine, water turbine and more.

In a brilliant move, ReadySet includes a battery clip which removes the need for a multitude of proprietary adapters – meaning you can charge nearly any cellular phone or camera. And that’s just the start of its utility. Power output comes by two platforms that together span an enormous range of devices: USB and car lighter ports.

While a highly capable plug and play charger/power source alone is something to get excited about, it’s what has and will be done with it that’s truly exciting. 

An estimated 1.5 billion people live off the grid, without access to electricity. Astoundingly, 600 million of those use cell phones, frequently relying on diesel generated power to recharge. Often, their source of lighting is kerosene, the smoke from which is carcinogenic. The ReadySet addresses both of these issues while providing an income opportunity for the ReadySet owner who charges a small fee to area residents for powering up their phone batteries.

As Lin puts it, this device would allow people in the developing world to become their own micro utilities, leapfrogging the need for an enormous, centralized, corruption and inefficiency prone power infrastructure, much like how the mass adoption of mobile phones skipped the need for land line installation.

But even the most appropriate, beneficial technology is destined to fall short of its potential if it can’t reach those who need it. Thankfully, ReadySet’s makers came upon another simple idea: make it available via channels people are already using, in this case, MTN, an African cell phone company with 165 million subscribers in 21 countries, most largely off-grid. It’s smart business for MTN, as its customers will now have a greater ability to use their phones, increasing how much time they buy.

Back here in the states, Fenix has grand plans for the ReadySet, that mostly don’t involve them: 

Like the iPhone, it isn’t the device itself that makes it useful. It’s the applications created to leverage its capability, in creative, beneficial ways. They intend to create a community where developers, designers and engineers can collaborate on new applications for the device. As Lin envisions, things like vaccine refrigeration, UV water purification, and small ultrasound machines are possibilities. I can envision the Maker community coming up with some over the top, entertaining and useful applications as well.

It’s this broad thinking on Fenix’s part, coupled with the ReadySet’s intelligence under the hood, simplicity of use, and malleability of how it’s used that the deep innovation shines through.

Readers: What uses can you see for the ReadySet? Would you buy such a device for yourself? What other simple, powerful tools are out there with the potential for broad impact?

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Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, global trend tracker, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.


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