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BuzzButton is a clean-tech hardware startup that is developing a variety of electricity-free and electricity-generating technologies built upon our mounted button spinner platform technology. Our first product, the BuzzButton Generator, enables users to generate electricity anytime and anywhere independently from the electric grid. 

Tell us more about your venture.

The BuzzButton venture is commercializing a high power, lightweight, low-cost electricity generator with an integrated storage unit. Our device was initially developed through Eli Silvert’s, one of the co-founders and leading up product development at BuzzButton, senior thesis and capstone design project at Brown. The platform technology — an induction generator built upon the age-old button spinner toy — is customarily actuated by a person, but can be configured to harness energy from naturally-occurring cyclic linear forces such as ocean waves, river currents, and wind. The human-powered version of our device outcompetes current electric generators on the market in situations where portability and reliability are paramount, and our first-in-class analytical physics model developed in collaboration with Brown’s Applied Mechanics Lab provides a framework for optimizing the device for a spectrum of size, weight, and power goals.

What inspired you to start Buzzbutton?

The inspiration for the device is the classic button spinner toy, or the “BuzzButton”, as Eli’s 2nd grade teacher called it. The toy resurfaced for Eli after watching Stanford Professor Manu Prakash present his electricity-free centrifuge adaptation of the toy at the Dourdeville Lecture in November 2019. Eli wondered if the button spinner could retain its characteristic rhythmic operation when mounted to something stationary. We learned that Stanford researchers had tried but were unable to overcome this challenge. 

We managed to tether the button spinner to a stationary stand and adapt the button spinner into a generator, taking the button spinner itself as the rotor for a permanent magnet axial induction generator, and filed a provisional patent on the design. After some initial brainstorming, we quickly learned that there are numerous end users who could benefit from the low-weight, high-angular velocity mounted button spinner platform technology, which serves at the basis for a variety of electricity free and electricity generating applications, including our first product, the BuzzButton Generator.

Who is your target market?

While there are a plethora of potential end users for the BuzzButton Generator, our primary market is focused on outdoor travelers on multi-day, overnight trips. These users include hikers, bikers and campers who travel off the electric grid on average between 4 to 10 days. We have found through our market research that over 80 percent of these outdoor travelers use their electronic devices regularly throughout their trips for navigation, lighting, communication, and staying connected to the digital world. There are currently many portable energy sources that these users bring with them to recharge their devices, including portable batteries, portable solar panels, and hand-crank generators; however, users have expressed frustration that these products are insufficient for their energy needs for one or more of the following reasons: they rely on the electric grid to charge in the first place, are heavy, have a low power output or cannot generate electricity on cloudy days or at night. The BuzzButton Generator has none of these flaws: it is portable, weighing less than 1 lb., is powerful, generating over 20 W of power, and can generate its own electricity anywhere and anytime, regardless of the weather condition. The outdoor travelers market has an expressed need for a device like ours, has a high willingness to pay for reliable gear, and are relatively easy to collect user feedback from during product development, and thus focusing on the outdoor travelers market was a natural choice for BuzzButton. 

However, we recognize that other end users could benefit from our technology, including infantry soldiers on multi-day missions, emergency relief organizations and people living in areas with frequent natural disasters, beachgoers, and people who live in areas with little or inconsistent access to the electric grid. We will target these markets later as we achieve economies of scale and reduce our price point.

How is B-Lab helping your venture develop?

B-Lab has been incredibly helpful for developing BuzzButton. B-Lab has helped us select an initial beachhead market, refine our value proposition for that market, hone our messaging and marketing strategies, and practice pitching under a variety of constraints. Presentations by members of the B-Lab staff and guest speakers and subsequent workshops have allowed me to focus on developing myself as an entrepreneur. B-Lab has also given us a multitude of opportunities to connect with industry mentors who have proven invaluable for helping develop our venture on both technical and non-technical fronts. 

What is something surprising that has happened thus far?

Almost immediately after the start of B-Lab, we were blown away by the number of people in industry and academia offering their expertise to help us develop our venture. We could not have foreseen that being a part of B-Lab would generate such immediate and wide-ranging connections. It is truly a testament to the generosity of the Brown University community and their willingness to collaborate, and we cannot thank those who have connected with us enough to help make BuzzButton a reality. 

When travelling off-grid, what are three things you would take with you?

Aside from the necessities, when traveling off-grid, I’d make sure to bring Clif Bars, lots of extra bug spray, and, of course, the BuzzButton Generator. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

The BuzzButton team is extremely grateful to be a part of the 2021 Brown Breakthrough Lab venture cohort. We want to thank the B-Lab staff for their time and effort putting together this extraordinary program, and thank our mentors for all of their help in making BuzzButton a reality. We look forward to our continued collaborations with the B-Lab staff and with the rest of the 2021 B-Lab cohort, and can’t wait to share what is in store for BuzzButton in the future! 

Sai Allu is a co-founder and is leading business development at BuzzButton, heading up market research and public partnership efforts. Sai graduated from Brown in 2021 having concentrated in Economics and Biology. Sai brings to BuzzButton experience in finance and at both biotech and EMR startups where he was responsible for market research and business development. 

Tyler Jacobson is the lead mechanical engineer at BuzzButton, where he coordinates the engineering efforts and develops frameworks for prototyping, testing, and optimizing the BuzzButton Generator. Tyler is a rising senior at Brown studying mechanical engineering. Tyler brings to BuzzButton experience at the helm of an 80-person high school robotics team and a passion for mechanical design simulations.