Solar Deckchair with Phone Charger Created by User Entrepreneurs

Solar Deckchair with Phone Charger Created by User Entrepreneurs

By Susana Gonzalez Ruiz

BB Energy Group, a Spanish innovation-based startup founded by user entrepreneurs, has created a solar deckchair that can charge mobile devices while sunbathing.

USER ENTREPRENEURSHIP

We have all had to deal with the absence of a product or service that would facilitate some aspect in our lives. Such product or service, even if available, may not always be fully suited to our needs. Many of us usually resign ourselves and accept it, but some people do not and find an idea that can solve the problem and work to implement it. Eventually, they realize that this invention could also help many others and decide to commercialize it. Such innovators are called user entrepreneurs.

In this article, we will discover one of these inventions: The BB Energy Group and their solar deckchairs with a USB port for charging mobile devices.

DETECTING A “CUSTOMER PAIN”

Often, users are better positioned than companies to detect “customer pains”. Customer pains are the problems that are bothersome enough to find someone willing to pay to alleviate them.

In the summer of 2014, Sergi Ballester was sunbathing on the beach when he realized that his phone battery was exhausted- just when he was so comfortable… It was then that he thought how great and convenient it would be to be able to charge his phone directly from his deckchair. When he explained the idea to his family, their reaction was so positive and encouraging that he decided to take the project forward.

FROM THE IDEA TO THE PROTOTYPE

Thanks to his training as an electrical and mechanical engineer, it was clear to him that the best system to obtain autonomy and enough energy to charge a mobile phone was a solar panel. He also added two fastening bars to adjust its position over the head of the deckchair, thereby performing a second function as a sunshade.

Although the concept was well advanced, he had to solve some additional difficulties such as finding a panel with a suitable size and design. He needed a design with fastening bars able to support the weight of the panel and the power converter.

During this process, Sergi transformed the terrace of his house into a laboratory. He bought a deckchair, panels and other materials and began testing. There was still the question of the connection, which finally was solved with a cable with a USB port. He had his first prototype.

BB_Energy_Group-solar-deckchair
Solar Deckchair by BB Energy Group

CREATING THE FOUNDING TEAM

Starting a business alone is hard and, in fact, studies suggest that businesses with multiple founders are more successful than those founded by one individual.

In December 2014, with the first prototype completed, Sergi was considering which could be his “beachhead market”. At that time, Gemma Masferrer, a lifelong friend, returned to Spain after a working period in the US and decided to associate.

Gemma had always been an active person and created a local association. Thanks to her experience in communication and her connections from her associational activity, she contacted the Barcelona City Council and offered them their prototype.

TESTING THE PROTOTYPE WITH REAL USERS

The response was very positive and they sold their first prototype in March 2015. The City Council provided four deckchairs, placed in a public square of Barcelona, and they installed their “solar kits”.

This first experience was very useful, since they obtained valuable feedback from the observation of the user behavior in public spaces. They discovered that the fastening bars needed to be fixed and the external cable with the USB port was often broke because it was used incorrectly.

In May 2015, they obtained the patent of a sunshade-shaped solar panel attachable to all type of seats.

THE BIGGEST HURDLE: FUNDING

Their solar deckchairs were so successful that the City Council made a communication campaign. Sergi and Gemma, meanwhile, contacted a local television station and, from there on, the media became very interested in their invention. All this impact helped them to be known and they began receiving requests from hotel chains, cruise companies and even from other countries.

However, to continue to innovate and deal with the all the requests, they will need an investment. At this point, one of the main obstacles faced by innovative startups founded by users is bank financing, as the required conditions aren’t suited to their characteristics.

BB Energy Group will likely resort to venture capital financing and, as they explained to me, they might seek a partner in the US.

CONCLUSIONS

Through the BB Energy Group, we’ve seen the characteristics and evolution of the innovations created by user entrepreneurs. Users are a source of innovation just as important as companies and they are often better equipped to identify unmet needs. However, these kinds of businesses also face obstacles more difficult to overcome, such as financing.

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