While I was on a university industrial placement year I realised that an almost entirely desk-bound job was not the type of career I wished to pursue. The search for a job I was more suited to led me on an exciting journey which has resulted in the start-up of my own company.
Following the placement, I travelled to East Africa during the summer of 2007. I spent a few weeks touring and then took part in volunteer work at a Kenyan primary school, helping to build a classroom and teach. I was enormously inspired by the whole experience and I realised that a career in the field of international development where I might have the opportunity to work on life-changing projects would be the type of career I would relish. In addition, if I could make use of my product design education in this field it would be an ideal job.
The personal challenge that lay ahead of me was to identify how to find my ideal job.
I returned to the University to complete final year Masters' level research and a subsequent design project. I chose to investigate product design for communities in Africa like those from which I had gained personal experience.
I identified very early that whatever I went on to design as a result of my research, I would take to Africa as a prototype. I thought the best way of finding a job with an organisation working in international development was to conduct my own small international project and to make a short documentary to put on the desks of relevant managers and directors.
From several concepts, the 'Energee-Saw', an electricity generating see-saw for African schools, was born. There was a clear connection in providing school playground equipment to underprivileged children as well as creating some electricity from their play which could benefit their health and education.
Despite many telephone calls, emails and letters to businesses and organisations, the funding to take a prototype to an African school proved difficult to find.
However, I was directed to a student business ideas competition at the University. I had never considered the idea as a business proposition but to my surprise, I successfully won the competition and the £1,000 prize. Of course, I used the prize money to take a basic set of components out to a school in Uganda.
Once we had completed the installation of the test see-saw and filmed the pupils playing and the batteries powering light, it felt very rewarding. The excitement in the faces of the children made me realise that to be able to install more see-saws at schools in the developing world could bring benefit to many underprivileged children.
Back in the UK, I was assisted with writing a business plan and in May 2008 I registered PlayMade Energy Ltd with the goal of completing product development to supply Energee-Saw kits and further products to schools around the world.
I went into business because it was based on a topic which I am passionate about. I had realised that I could come close to my ideal job, by combining my desire to work in international development with a product design degree.
I know that the passion I have for my company and this first product inspires many of the people I speak to.
Believe in your aims. Even if a goal, dream or idea seems unattainable or impossible at first, there will somehow be a way of accomplishing it through your personal determination.
Words by Daniel Sheridan
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