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Sarasota Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 3 years ago

Pedal power

Jakobi Davis combined a passion for engineering and environmental sustainability to create a new way to get charged.
by: Shane Donglasan Community Reporter

Jakobi Davis wants us to rethink the ways we generate energy.

The 15-year-old aspiring engineer is the mind behind Novum, a device that charges cell phones through the power of pedaling a bike. Davis began developing Novum last year as a participant of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota County’s Perlman Price Young Entrepreneurs Program, but the inspiration for his project was sparked at an earlier age 9,000 miles away in Mumbai, India.

“That’s where my passion for engineering began,” said Davis, who lived in Mumbai while his parents were teaching at the Oberoi International School. “Students there focused so much on math and science and it rubbed off on me. Engineering showed me how your imagination can take you anywhere.”

It was also in Mumbai where Davis witnessed the stratification of wealth and the impact that renewable energy sources could have in developing countries.

A close-up of Novum, a device that charges cell phones through the power of pedaling a bike.

“You can be at a luxury high-rise building and about 20 feet away there are slums,” said Davis. “Through traveling, I saw that people didn’t have access to basic things like electricity. A product like Novum could easily help people without access to power.”

Novum is made up of three compartments: a dynamo that attaches to the back wheel of a bicycle which generates power through the kinetic energy created from pedaling, a small box where the kinetic energy is converted into alternating current electricity and a pouch that houses everything securely underneath the bicycle seat.

Apart from those without access to electricity, Davis said he also wanted to market Novum towards young adults living in cities, especially urban areas with a large cycling population. He conducted his market research with his classmates at Riverview High School and his friends in Mumbai. 

“They came back with a lot of super positive feedback,” said Davis. “They said they could see themselves paying for a product like Novum and using it on their bikes.”

Davis won $3,500 in funding to develop Novum after pitching his idea to investors as part of the Perlman Price Young Entrepreneurs Program. The program began last summer and offers high school students a crash course in entrepreneurship. Participants learned how to come up with a product idea, conduct market research, develop a business plan and market their idea to attract and retain customers.

“You can see the passion that they have when they identify what they care about,” said Boys & Girls Clubs Entrepreneurial Programs Specialist Caroline Windom, “It was amazing to see Jakobi and our other participants have this very raw idea that they turned into something they are able to pitch. They gain a lot of confidence and it really empowers them.”

It took Davis just a few days to create his first prototype but is eager to finally put it on the market. He is selling Novum through Etsy, an online platform for entrepreneurs to sell products they made themselves.

Davis said his biggest takeaway from the experience was learning how to fail. A quick glance at his resume would reveal failure isn’t a situation he finds himself in often. The IB student has a 4.7 GPA, takes college courses, runs a successful dog-sitting business and plays on his school’s varsity basketball and baseball teams.

“A lot of times, failure is taught as something you want to avoid but I learned failure is part of your success,” said Davis. “We learned how to pivot and change our ideas when we failed and that’s going to help me in the long run.”

Davis also has plans to use Novum as a way to give back to his community. He would like to convert old stationary bikes and retrofit them with Novum phone chargers that he could set up at places like farmers markets, parks, schools or hospitals.

“I’m really big on social corporate responsibility,” he said. “With Novum, we can bring awareness to inequality, environmental sustainability and the efficacy of renewable energy."

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