Jessica O. Matthews, the 29-year-old founder of Uncharted Play, a renewable energy tech startp, is beating the odds.

Earlier this week, her company raised $7 million in venture capital in a funding round led by NIC Fund, with participation from Kapor Capital, Magic Johnson Enterprises, BBG Ventures and Lingo Ventures. The company says it will use the $7 million to build out its staff.

That makes Matthews the 13th black female founder to raise more than $1 million in outside investment. Of the seven thousand VC deals made between 2012 and 2014, less than one percent of funding went to black women, according to data from #ProjectDiane.

Launched in 2011, Uncharted Play makes soccer balls that capture kinetic energy, and store the power in an internal generator. Using that energy, the flagship "Soccket" can light a room, or charge a cell phone. (The company also makes a jump rope, called "Pulse," which doubles as a light.)

The New York City-based startup generated more than $6 million in revenue last year, largely by selling its products to governments and large corporations that distribute them in Africa through NGOs. Uncharted Play also works with manufacturers to integrate its generators with everyday products like baby strollers and suitcases.

Matthews, who is also a 30 under 30 honoree, came up with the idea for her business when the power went out at her aunt's wedding in Lagos, Nigeria. She became sick from the diesel generators brought in as backup energy sources, and vowed to find a better solution for those living in the developing world. "The saddest thing to me," she said, "is that they had gotten used to [the idea of] dying."

Her management style is to approach her relationship to employees much as she would a romance, she explained in a recent interview. "I often think about, how do I understand my team's 'love languages,'" said Matthews, citing examples like acts of praise and bonuses. "To be CEO really means that you're chief psychology officer. That in and of itself is a full-time job."

Published on: Sep 20, 2016