When Krystal Persaud graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in industrial design, she struggled to find a job in her field. What would typically be seen as a roadblock for most people, halting their careers, was simply just one obstacle that Persaud knew she had to overcome. So, she took a job as an intern at littleBits, an educational, mission-based toy startup, and spent the next seven years learning the ins and outs of technology and entrepreneurship.
As the company grew from three employees to over 100, so too did Persaud’s responsibility with the organization and she eventually worked her way up to senior director of product design. Despite her success with the company, Persaud knew there was still more she wanted to create and wanted to utilize her skills in a different way. So, she quit her job and in 2014 founded Grouphug Solar, an activist design collective.
As a college student, Persaud was always advocating for sustainable change within her group of friends. When she learned more about the tech industry and sustainable technology, she realized that sustainable tech had plateaued. Persaud says she saw how many sustainable products were being introduced to consumers, like stainless steel straws and silicone coffee cups, but she wasn’t seeing sustainability on an energy level.
When Persaud decided she wanted to become part of the change in sustainable energy, she relied on her design skills from Georgia Tech, her entrepreneurial and technology expertise from littleBits and consumer input to create a product that would make harvesting solar energy accessible to more people.
“I asked people if they could do anything to be more sustainable, what would they do?” Persaud says. “Almost every person said solar, but thought they couldn’t because they didn’t have enough money or a roof or know where to start … I thought that was interesting because from a tech perspective, you really don’t need any of those things.”
Grouphug’s window solar charger makes harvesting solar energy affordable and accessible, even to people who rent an apartment in New York City [like Persaud] and don’t have access to a roof. Every solar panel is made up of silicon cells that create electricity when sunlight hits them. Grouphug’s solar panel is uniquely designed to hang in a window and is framed with a bamboo frame which holds an internal battery to store the solar energy that the panels harvest throughout the day. So, when you plug your phone, laptop, tablet, etc. into the frame, your device will be charged with sustainable electricity.
“Obviously, the most efficient way is to have a solar panel in California on a 45-degree angle, outside in the middle of a lake, but not everybody can do that,” Persaud says. “So, I really think any surface and any place is an opportunity to harvest sunlight.”
Persaud’s creative and efficient design quickly attracted the interest of a variety of consumers, and even earned her a spot on ABC’s Shark Tank. After being invited to pitch her product to top shark investors including Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner and Kevin O’Leary, Persaud underwent a rigorous interview process before appearing on the show, which resulted in striking a deal with Cuban.
Cuban and his team have been instrumental in growing Grouphug’s brand, Persaud says. Since making the deal, Grouphug has seen an immense increase in its amount of product orders. Consumers have also been suggesting new ways for Grouphug to utilize solar energy, which Persaud is very welcoming of.
“I really think that consumers have a lot of power,” she says. “Companies want to make consumers happy and if they request enough things they really have the power to shift the conversation.”
What’s even better, though, is that since appearing on the show Persaud has received a variety of messages and emails from young women interested in engineering and technology, specifically women of color who now look to Persaud as a role model that they didn’t have before.
“A bunch of women and girls messaged me saying that they’ve never seen a young person of color in tech that’s a woman on the show before, and I [realized] I never have either. You never really think about how much representation really matters,” she says.
Persaud is determined to use this new platform to encourage these girls who are looking for more female role models like themselves in the tech industry. One thing she tells anyone who messages her is that “if you’re passionate about something, and you have an idea, work really hard and keep going, because unfortunately, you might not always see that representation everywhere, but it is there.”
Grouphug continues to work toward creating a variety of products that prove creativity and design can be used to make an impact in renewable energy. Although the science behind solar panels have not changed much since they were first invented, Persaud strongly believes that doesn’t mean their design has to be stagnant.
“The number one impact I want to make is changing consumers’ perception that solar can be creative, it can be beautiful, it can be integrated into your everyday life and it doesn’t have to be this ugly, boring utility,” she says. “I want it to be more of a topic of conversation that people are excited about and wanting to learn more about, and if my product can be a gateway for that, I think that’s amazing.”