Last night I attended the British Library's Teenpreneurs event, which will be webcast in a week or two to join those for our previous functions.
There was a panel of four people who, as teenagers, had started businesses or, in one case, been an inventor.
There was Fraser Doherty, who at the age of 14 began making jams containing grape juice (which as a sweetener is better for you than sugar) and healthy fruits like cranberries and blueberries. His SuperJamâ˘ is already available in Waitrose and will soon be in Tesco. Now still only 18, he sorted out the contracts, such as with companies owing factories, himself. And all based on granny's recipes.
Ben Way formed his first company when he was 15, and has been a serial innovator in various computer applications. Wiped out by the dotcom crash, he is back with his Rainmakers company. I found the fact that he is severely dyslexic all the more inspiring that he has achieved so much.
Then there was Wilson Chowdhry, who founded a security firm when he heard that there was a desperate shortage of security staff at construction site in London's Docklands renovation work. He simply used his fellow university students as staff and began to build up business, which grew even faster when he discovered that there were NVQ qualifications for security staff, and got them all trained. Training is in fact now an important element of AA Security's work.
These were all very interesting stories, but the one that I personally found most profound was Emily Cummin's message. She is 20, and explained about her love of technology, which stemmed from "helping" in Grandad's toolshed as a toddler. Highly determined and focussed, she is a "serial ethical inventor" who is very interested in ecological solutions for Africa's problems.
She designed a water carrier -- basically a wheeled structure holding buckets -- to save the time spent fetching water. That was one school project. Another was a refrigerator with double walls within which was wet wool, with the evaporation causing cooling. Having tried out her ideas while living in a township in Namibia, which she found a profound experience, she is now working on solar powered refrigerators to store medicines. Having already won prizes, at present Emily is a 2nd year student at Leeds University.
Africa is close to my heart too, if only after seeing for myself on an overland from Nairobi to Victoria Falls the lack of amenities we take for granted in the West. Take electrical supplies. Many villages have none, and most activities have to be done in daylight. An alternative, at least in one Malawi village I stayed in, is to use hurricane lanterns, but they consume expensive fuel, and do not power appliances such as ovens. Firewood is often scarce and chopping down trees degrades the environment.
I'd like to see the cheap, flexible sheets of solar panels which are apparently on their way being made available to such villages so that they could collect sunlight on, say, roofs, and power appliances. Some sort of battery would presumably be needed to store the power for use at night. Apparently a problem with such sheets is that they are "bendy" because the cells are thin, making them only one third as efficient as normal cells. WO 2007123927 is an example of an flexible panel. An advantage of making them bendy, it strikes me, is that they can be rolled up and stored overnight to protect from theft, or easily carried around.
That doesn't mean, of course, that wind-up radios and the like aren't useful in a region where batteries are expensive. Come to that, why don't fitness clubs here generate power from all those treadmills and send it to the national grid ? Probably not worth it, but it's a thought.