Strawberry Trees are revolutionizing clean energy in Serbia. The work of Miloš Milisavljević and his start-up Strawberry Energy is doing just that. His company installs solar-powered charging stations for mobile devices in popular cities throughout the country, providing free power and Wi-Fi for passersby in need of a recharge. This success story was conducted with Miloš Milisavljević, CEO and Founder of Strawberry Energy.
Video from BBC News about Strawberry Energy
iDISC: How and when did you first develop the idea for this innovation? Was there a defining moment that catalyzed your desire to turn this idea into action?
My first contact with the concept of sustainable energy and renewable energy was while I was a high school student, in a lecture in Petnica Science Center. I was fascinated and realized that it is going to be the future of humanity. At that time, only a few knew about it in Serbia. I started to give lectures about renewable energy in elementary schools, high schools, and after some time at the university. Through time, I realized that, if I want to pass the message to the wider public, I have to think of something new. Although I had had something really great to tell, people mostly weren’t interested. Then I got the idea! A great way to capture people’s attention is to help them with something. Everyone uses mobile phones, whether they are young or old, educated or uneducated, rich or poor. Moreover, they use them mostly outside of their houses, so most likely their batteries sometimes discharge. We can use energy of the Sun, which is available everywhere, thereby helping people by recharging their portable devices. I thought of a device, which can be installed in public places like squares or parks, where people can sit and recharge their “digital life”. While they sit and recharge their phones or use free Wi-Fi internet installed in the solar charger, they will see the Sun and solar panels above their heads. This gives them feeling of what it means to use clean and free solar energy. It was a great educational tool, available to the wide public. I finished the concept of “the world’s first public solar charger,” gathered once again a few friends from college and explained them my idea. And we started.
iDISC: Your website mentions that strawberries “ripen first in the spring time” – can you please elaborate further on this analogy and how it shapes your company?
We love strawberries. And We like symbolics behind things we do. Strawberries are the first fruit to come in the spring, and in that way they represent courage of being first in to unknown, some kind of leadership, innovation.
iDISC: How, if at all, has your youth affected or defined your company’s journey?
Youth people are not aware of its limitations and than they try something what older and wiser would never think of. And sometimes that young people succeed. We are all in our early twenties, and we believe in the better world. We believe that one day whole world will bi powered by clean energy. And We want to help to make the world a better place, to be that Strawberries in that spring of better world.
iDISC: How many charging stations have been installed (and where – please include specific metrics and numbers)?
At the moment there are 3 Strawberry Trees in Serbia (Obrenovac, Belgrade, Novi Sad), and we are working on 5 more for other cities in Serbia. City government of Belgrade ordered 10 new Strawberry Trees, and they will be installed in the spring. Also, we are negotiating with other cities in Serbia and several cities in region. That sums up to some 20 Trees in 2012 only in Serbia.
iDISC: How often are these charging stations used (please include specific metrics and numbers)?
People use it everyday. It depends from weather and the location of Strawberry Tree. In our average winter day we have around 1.000 users, and in the summer we expect several times greater number.
iDISC: What were/are the primary challenges facing your company?
When we started to work on it, it was development of the Strawberry Tree and searching for ways to realize and install it in some city. It is not a secret that many people were not supportive and enthusiastic about the idea. Some of them thought that it was useless, and others considered impossible to realize it in our country, not even worth of trying. And it wasn’t easy. We needed two and a half years to make it happen. That is too much time of countless attempts and failures both technologically and administratively. It demanded a great deal of energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and persistence, for a long time. But we did it.
One constant challenge is people. You need as much good people as you can get. Right now, we are looking for more people to add to the company.
iDISC: What has been the most rewarding aspect(s) of Strawberry Energy?
We are really proud that a couple of days ago we hit first milestone of reaching our 100.000 user. We believe that is exceptional accomplishment because we made possible for the great majority of that people to have their first contact with clean energy (produced by renewable energy sources). We believe that it is important because now there are 100.000 people which experienced use of 100% clean energy in their everyday life, and they will be able continue to do that anytime they want. As the number of Strawberry Trees continue to grow, more people will have a chance to use and learn about Sun energy and other clean energy sources.
iDISC: How does Strawberry Energy hope to change the public’s perception about solar energy?
We create devices based on renewable energy sources to educate people about new clean technologies for energy production and to help them understand the importance of these technologies for the future of mankind.
With our first project, Strawberry Tree, we found the way to bring clean, renewable, energy in to peoples everyday life. With people using it daily, they will learn more about these technologies and its benefits, see how it works, and how they can use them in their lives.
iDISC: What are Strawberry Energy’s production plans and vision for the future?
Imagine that you are on on road-trip throughout foreign country and you just arrived in new city. You travelled all day and your mobile phone battery is about to die. Wouldn't it be great if you had Strawberry Tree in that city, where you can recharge your battery, meet some local people, and use free wi-fi internet to check your email, maps and interesting places in town?
We believe that it would be really useful to have these kind of systems all around the globe, so people can act green, learn, meet new people, and recharge their portable devices.
In 2012 We are planing serial production and export of Strawberry Trees. We are working hard to make Strawberry Trees better and even more interesting for people. Of course, Strawberry Tree is only the beginning.
iDISC: How, if at all, did the BITF incubator facilitate Strawberry Energy’s development or help you address the challenges of entrepreneurship?
Among first institutions that recognized our idea and supported us was BITF. When I first entered BITF I was 19 years old. Since that, we have great support, both advisory and logistic. BITF enables us to focus on technology and product, which is really important in first days of any startup.
iDISC: Reflecting on your experience, what advice would you offer other like-minded entrepreneurs?
Life is made of rises and falls. It is the same in business. It is normal. The greatness of man is not never to fall, but to rise every time he falls.
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