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FEATURE STORY November 1, 2018

At Green Tech Startup Bootcamp, Jamaican Physics Student Finds Passion in Entrepreneurship

Plug & Pree Awarded Grand Prize at World Bank and Caribbean Climate Innovation Center Bootcamp

This feature is an outcome of infoDev, a multi-donor program administered by the World Bank Group, with a focus on entrepreneurs in developing economies. This piece was originally published on April 14, 2016. 

Kingston, Jamaica—When Yekini Wallen Bryan returned to school for his final semester in January, he had the typical concerns of a college student: graduate school, résumés, the usual. He never anticipated he would soon receive the grand prize in a clean-tech innovation competition.

As an energy and electronics major in the physics department at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies (UWI), Bryan was accustomed to tinkering with gadgets. He just didn’t have a commercial outlet for his passion.

Then he got wind of the Caribbean Climate Innovation Center’s GreenTech Startup Bootcamp, which was scheduled to be held in late February.

“I’m always thinking of ways to use my skills to make products that improve people's lives,” Bryan said.

By February 22, Bryan had an idea for the competition, “a smart extension cord for energy saving.” But his team encountered challenges in developing the extension cord.

With the bootcamp fast approaching, Bryan was struck by inspiration. He recalled a mobile app he built at the UWI electronics club that used Bluetooth technology to switch products off and on.

He knew that the technology—though it had several potentially time- and cost-saving applications—would not be enough to win a competition focused on solutions for renewable energy, water, recycling, and organic agriculture.

So combining his past failures, successes, and knowledge that Jamaica has among the highest electricity prices in the region, Bryan and his team set to work on a power outlet regulator and motion detector controlled by a smartphone.

The device "can relay to the user not only the amount of energy but also the cost of electricity being used or wasted in a building, using current rates,” Bryan said. Named “Plug & Pree,” the simple-looking gadget can be used to remotely meter specific outlets or appliances and their electricity usage, either in kilowatt hours or dollars.

The product can also help safeguard homes from intruders, using Wi-Fi and the built-in motion sensor technology. But even users without Wi-Fi can control the device up to a certain distance from their property, Bryan said.

Beyond revenue from sales of the device, Plug & Pree could generate revenue through the retrofitting and maintenance of entire homes to offer greater control over electricity and security.

“We are still discussing subscriptions,” Bryan said. “Plus, smart outlets can be built into house units so developers can see how the energy is being used. A user would be able to stay offshore and see which houses are using the most power.”

Bryan and his team will receive additional support from the Caribbean Climate Innovation Center, which is implemented by the World Bank Group’s Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean(EPIC) through funding from the Government of Canada. The team will soon have opportunities for training in an upcoming acceleration program.

“We’re now in the prototype stage with both hardware and software,” Bryan said. “Hopefully we’ll be sending the product for manufacturing abroad, or importing components for assembly here.”

The Caribbean Climate Innovation Center “helped me bring an imaginary concept to practical reality,” Bryan said. “It’s a big jump from where I was to where I am now—so close to putting a product on the shelf and starting my own company.”