A socially-focused Australian startup has gone from concept to execution in just four weeks, after participating in a StartUp Weekend hackathon and setting an ambitious goal to change the quality of life for thousands of people living in remote Indonesian villages.
In these villages in the region of West Papua, some residents travel for half a day to find locations to charge their phones and torches — items essential for everyday life.
Entrepreneur Nick Kamols believes this shouldn’t be a reality for so many people in the 21st century, and is hoping to bring about change via his startup PowerWells. The startup installs solar-powered battery packs created from e-waste in remote locations to allow residents to charge various devices.
Kamols, who comes from a town planning background, was first alerted to the issue around one month ago during a Social Enterprise StartUp Weekend in Logan, Queensland.
Having participated in “four or five” hackathons previously and with a mind for social ventures, Kamols told StartupSmart the idea for PowerWells actually came about while he and co-founder Brad Claire were looking into a separate idea — using e-waste and 3D printers to make prosthetics in Cambodia.
“We were looking for a third person to join our startup and we met Amatus Douw. He joined us and told us about what problems his homeland of West Papua was experiencing, and we heard about the lack of availability of charging points and figured there was something in that,” Kamols says.
“The StartUp Weekend was at an e-waste recycling facility called Substation 33, and we probably wouldn’t have come up with the idea unless we were in that location. There were discarded laptop batteries all around us as we were discussing how we could address the problem, and I was looking around and it all just fell into place.”
With Claire currently working at Substation 33 dealing with recycled batteries, Kamols saw the situation as a “perfect storm”, and became determined to make their idea a reality.
Through his previous hackathon experience, Kamols knew that a number of ideas birthed from them tend to just “roll along”. And so he doubled down on PowerWells, putting in place a strict deadline of making PowerWells a reality before Christmas.
“Startups can often find it hard to convince people there’s a problem that needs solving. But PowerWells was easy to explain — you don’t need to explain that e-waste is a problem, or that power is good,” he says.
PowerWells concept “validated itself”
The founders then dove in head first, immersing themselves in research from peer-reviewed journals, finding the gap in the market and making sure another company wasn’t already offering a similar solution. Luckily for them, the idea “seemed to validate itself”.
Working back from the Christmas deadline, the team gave themselves a month to get PowerWells up and running. They wanted to get a proof-of-concept installation in place in an Indonesian village before embarking on a crowdfunding campaign to help fund 100 PowerWell installations.
“We worked back from Christmas. We needed two weeks of an active crowdfunding campaign, a few days to get a video and a webpage up and running, and a week to actually install one in Indonesia,” Kamols says.
“It was a Friday on the day we planned out this deadline, and we realised, ‘oh shit, we need to go to Indonesia on Monday’.”
The crowdfunding campaign is currently underway, with the target set at $12,000. If they reach that target, the team will be able to achieve their goal of installing 100 PowerWells, at a cost of $120 each. In the new year, Kamols says the startup will be seeking corporate or venture capital investment to help roll the concept out even further.
The short timeframe worked in the team’s favour, says Kamols. It spurred the team on and helped make the concept a reality by drawing on the startup ecosystem adage of ‘fail fast’.
“I was a bit slow with my other startup ideas, and then other people got busy and went out and did them before me. Having such a short timeframe was quite good, and though I was torn on it being not quite enough time, it forced our hand and in the end we just did it,” he says.
“Follow through on your ideas but only if you really think it’s a good idea. Don’t force yourself into thinking it is. Don’t be 100% confident and passionate unless you actually are.”