Serbian startup Strawberry Energy has developed a solar-powered smart tree on which passers-by can charge up their mobile devices.
Has your mobile phone battery ever run out of power while you are out and about in town? A common enough occurrence. But now in a dozen cities in Europe a ‘Strawberry Tree’ is coming to the rescue of mobile users plagued with low batteries. Belgrade-based Strawberry Energy, with whom L’Atelier met up at the Startup Europe Summit event in Berlin in February, set out to improve connectivity in cities worldwide using environmentally-friendly technology. People in cities that have a Strawberry Tree enjoy free access to the facility. The ‘Trees’ are installed in public spaces such as parks and city squares, and also on university campuses. There are no actual strawberries in sight as, contrary to what the name might suggest, the Strawberry Tree is a metallic structure with branches that support a large solar panel, enabling constant recharging of mobile phones and tablets. In addition, the Tree provides WiFi access and also has installed sensors that feed back environmental information such as on air quality. Benches are installed under the Tree ‟where people gather and socialise,” explains Miloš Milisavljević, an engineer by training who founded the startup. With its solar panels, the Strawberry Tree is not only energy-autonomous, it can also store enough energy to continue functioning for up to a month without sunshine.
Strawberry Tree embodies "Smart City" thinking
City authorities, starting with Belgrade, showed a lot of interest in the project from the very beginning, as did a number of companies, which have taken the opportunity to stick their logo on a Strawberry Tree and see this as a novel communication tool. At a more general level, Milisavljević and his team intend to be closely involved in the Smart City movement. ‟Our dream is to improve people’s everyday lives in cities and public spaces by developing these green smart urban devices,” he reveals. Strawberry Tree is the first product designed by the Strawberry Energy team, and they are already looking to develop new designs and adapt the concept to the different characteristics of cities worldwide. They also hope to create other smart devices. On their website you can view other products that are still in the development phase, such as the portable Strawberry Mini.
You can use the Strawberry Tree to charge up your mobile device, obtain information on the environment, and also hang out and socialise there
Finding the right business model
Meanwhile the Strawberry Energy business model is evolving. Supplying the Tree free-of-charge and monetising the services, working with advertisers – these are some of the models that the startup is currently looking at as it figures out how to turn its much-appreciated product into a revenue-generating business. As long ago as 2011 Strawberry Energy won first prize in the European Commission’s Sustainable Energy Week competition in Brussels, in the ‘Consumption’ category designed to foster lower public energy consumption. Today the company is working in three European countries (Serbia, Romania, and Bosnia-Herzegovina), has 400,000 users, and hopes to win other markets in Europe and in the United States. It has just taken its first steps in the UK, having been accepted on to a programme at the London-based accelerator Cognicity, which was set up in order to promote the development of ‘Smart City’ technology.