Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Five Swarthmore students, Dakota Pekerti ’16, Yenny Cheung ’16, Patrick Han ’16, Persis Ratouis ’17, and James Chen ’17, competed in and won the 2016 Innovation Marketplace Competition in Washington D.C. The team of students proposed an electric moped ride share program in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Innovation Marketplace Competition was organized by the Georgetown Development Initiative (GDI) and aimed to enable students to have greater impact with social issues in the world, either internationally or domestically.
“The Innovation Marketplace is a competition where there are a bunch of categories of case studies,” Pekerti said. “Students from different universities, including Swarthmore, were given the chance to choose a developing country or a developing area of the world and develop some sort of initiative to solve a problem in one of these categories.”
The competition presented many issues to focus on; the team decided to work on the environmental category.
“Personally, that is what I am interested in,” Pekerti said. “Sustainability, the environment, reducing carbon emissions, and solving global climate change problems.”
“I came up with this idea to focus on Jakarta, Indonesia,” Pekerti added. “I took my childhood experiences of being in Jakarta and combined that with my knowledge of sustainable technologies and things I learned in engineering, meshing them with the problems I knew existed in the city.”
Chen believes that many small actions in Jakarta can lead to big changes because the city is bogged down with many industrial problems, such as high carbon emissions and traffic congestion.
To combat this problem of carbon emissions in Jakarta, the team came up with the idea to use electric mopeds in a ride-sharing program. If this program is implemented in the city, then the reduction in carbon emissions and moped use will lead to reduced air pollution, making the environment cleaner. This plan of action also aims to reduce traffic in Jakarta.
“We took the idea [of using electric mopeds] a step further by incorporating ride share and to reduce traffic,” said Pekerti. “We can control the volume of traffic flow by controlling the number of units.”
Part of the team’s overall idea of using electric mopeds and ride share was inspired by a company called Gogoro, founded in Taipei, Taiwan.
“They basically make high performance, zero emissions electric scooters and they are the ones who invented the battery swap program,” said Pekerti. “You can do it [swap a battery] in less than a minute.”
Battery swap will be more efficient in a ride share program than charging the moped. Charging an electric vehicle, even as small as a moped, takes about three to five hours.
“The idea is that to avoid having to wait for charging, you can set up multiple stations in a single location so that there should always be batteries available for you to swap out and just go,” Pekerti said.
These renting stations with be hypothetically placed within the city of Jakarta and around the suburbs of Jakarta. A commuter who lives in the suburbs and needs to get into the city can rent a moped in a suburb station, drive into a city, and park that moped in another station. Once the commuter needs to go home, the commuter will return to a station, rent another moped, and drive home.
Owning an electric moped will be especially expensive in a developing country. The team’s idea of incorporating battery swap and ride share can bring down the price of using an electric moped.
“The basic idea behind it is taking a great technology, but applying a renting business model so that Jakartans can afford this kind of technology,” Han said.
Each member of the team had a unique background that allowed him or her to complete their role for the project.
Cheung brought her expertise in startups and design to this project.
“I worked at Splash, a startup that provides event-page services, as a software engineering intern,” Cheung said. “From there I learned about how startups operate and I had the chance to implement features, starting from zero to deployment.”
Cheung took her experience and applied them to the implementation part of the Jakarta project. Also, her design skills contributed to the group’s success.
“I worked on designing the presentation in the competition, which is like forming the brand image and the creating the identity of the team,” Cheung said. “It is very important especially when you only have twenty minutes to present your idea.”
Chen was tasked with the risk analysis part of the project.
“The biggest thing that helped me during my risk analysis part was in part my psychology background,” Chen said. “Especially since I am taking social psych this semester and we learned a lot about how group processes work.”
Chen also attributes the Green Advisor program at Swarthmore to sparking his interests.
“Joining the Green Advisor program this year gave me a lot more awareness about the issues that are going on around the world right now,” Chen said. “I feel like integrating carbon emissions and sustainability with behavioral change is quickly one of my interest.”
Han was involved in the financial side of the project.
“I did SwatTank with Dakota and from that I learned a lot about market analysis and business development principles,” Han said. “So that allowed me to do a simple profitability analysis, looking at all the revenue structures and all the cost structures to see what we need to do to break even.”
As mentioned previously, Pekerti was a major part of the conceptualization of this project.
“By approaching my Swat career with my dream of going to developing countries and finding ways to integrate sustainable technologies, I can help these countries avoid the drawbacks of industrialization,” Pekerti said.
Ratouis also wanted to improve the lives of people in different parts of the world using technology. She drew on her personal background to contribute to this project.
The team faced many obstacles with conceptualizing the Jakarta project. The main obstacles included loss and damages, the potential to be sued, corruption within the Indonesian government, and a possible lack of community engagement.
According to the team, community engagement is an especially difficult obstacle to overcome since the project asks for an ideological shift. Jakartans will have to switch from the idea of owning their own mopeds to a more modernized ride-sharing ideal. The team anticipates that it will be a tough sell to get people to change their habits.
“The way we are dealing with that is by incentivizing the public transportation lanes,” Pekerti said. “The normal streets are heavily clogged during rush hour and our way of dealing with that is using these public transportation lanes, which are policed by the government and are usually clear.”
The next step for the team is to get funding and mentorship for the implementation phase of the project.
“We really want to take this idea forward and our focus is finding funding from either the school or from outside sources,” Cheung said. “We are talking with the school, the judges of the competition, GDI, and also the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown to find mentors and funding.”
With the funding, the team plans on doing a feasibility study in Jakarta during the upcoming summer.
“The first step is finding out the parameters of what we need to do, talking to community leaders and hopefully government officials,” Pekerti said. “Then we can take that information and either condense it to a proposal that we can leave for implementation in a later date or take that feasibility and find more funding or more outlets to lock down this plan to make sure this happens.”
However, the team has been struggling with finding funding to move forward with their project.
“I guess the school has been trying to help us, but they’ve been mainly telling us that we kind of need to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” Pekerti said. “It is difficult because of all the work and the people who tell you that they are going to support you bail on you.”
Cheung believes that the team lacks support because no one wants to provide finances.
“Basically they say they will help us as much as possible if not we are not talking about money,” Cheung said.
Chen emphasized that mentorship is the most important resource that the team is currently looking for because they need the expertise of a professional to guide them throughout this project.
“We are very determined take the idea further, but we don’t have the concrete experience to start a business from the ground up,” Cheung said. “Having a mentor who can guide us in the process would help us move forward and potentially make a change in Jakarta.”