Are EV startups different from startups in other industries? - India Renewable Energy Consulting – Solar, Biomass, Wind, Cleantech
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Net Zero by Narsi is a series of brief posts by Narasimhan Santhanam (Narsi), on decarbonization and climate solutions.
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This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

E-mobility and electric vehicles present an exciting domain for startups. For many bright brains from the sciences and engineering (and not just software whiz kids), this domain offers a rare opportunity to use their engineering skills and build exciting ventures.

This alone – the diverse profiles of the founders compared to many other emerging domains – makes electric vehicles startups quite distinct from startups in many other fields.

Diverse backgrounds of founders

Perhaps following from the above characteristic of the industry, the startups in e-mobility industry also have founders from diverse domains – from material sciences all the way to finance experts. One of the EV startup founders from India, whom I once had on a panel I moderated was from the field of astrophysics and had even discovered a star – a real star.

The other diversity I see in many EV startups is with regard to age. While I have interacted with over 25 startups started by youngsters, some of them fresh out of college, I have been involved with over twice that many startups where the founders had at least 15 years of industry experience. While it is too early to say which of the two sets will succeed more (and success might mean different things for these two types of founders!), I can say with confidence that E-mobility is a field where gray hair and 50+ age is not a liability, as it could be in many digital startups.

Multi-engineering disciplines

For the past three decades, startups have been predominantly associated with software and IT. Even in the case of successful startups in non-IT fields, most of them were based dominantly from one science, engineering or business subject.

The field of e-mobility is in the intersection of many different engineering and science domains – mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, electrical and electronics engineering, IT/software and material sciences. And most of these sciences have a substantial role to play in e-mobility. Such an eclectic mix of subjects also renders e-mobility startups to be quite different from those in many other domains. 

In a way, e-mobility could be the industry that has provided entrepreneurship and startup opportunities to the widest possible engineering disciplines in the last 50 years. The only prominent scientific/engineering field I can think of that has little relevance to EVs is the biological sciences/biotech sector – even that could change if in future it becomes feasible to derive hydrogen from biomass. (to a certain extent, biomass is already playing a role in e-mobility as many auto companies are keen to have sustainable materials made from biomass – instead of plastics – to be in their car interiors).

Dominance of corporate investors

Many startups are seeing a high level of corporate (as against venture capital) investment. It has been traditionally angel capital or venture capital that had pushed exciting startups in many fields, and perhaps private equity at a later stage. In addition to these investor sectors, e-mobility startups are seeing significant investments from corporates, who are putting in their cash as strategic investors.

In the past four years alone, about 250 startups involved in some aspect of electrification have attracted more than $20 billion in venture capital, notably from a broad array of corporations across multiple industries. Interestingly, one of the prominent investors in EV startups has been Intel, which has backed battery startups Prieto, Qnovo and Enovix and charging startups WiTricity and Chargifi.

Business model startups

To an outsider, electric vehicle startups conjure up teams of bright electrical or automotive engineers. Not always. Many EV startups are focused more on business model innovation – for example, offering electric vehicles as a service or batteries as a service – than pure tech.

  • Battery-as-a-Service offers a decisive contribution to energy transition through shared energy storage of solar and wind power in smart batteries. For every user of Battery-as-a-Service, the cost of electricity will be lowered by operating reserve fees. Through demand-driven rental and scaling, Clean Energy Packs offer a significantly lower cost per stored kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy. Clean Energy Pack offers uninterrupted power supply (UPS) for houses, installations, and any other applications. Each Clean Energy Pack can be used directly in electric cars and vans, but also solar energy storage or industrial machinery.
  • ChargePoint, intends to rectify that as we introduce ChargePoint as a Service® (CPaaS) in Europe. CPaaS is an all-inclusive subscription scheme that makes it easy and cost-effective for any organization to provide a network of smart, integrated fueling solutions to businesses, fleets, cities, and drivers.
  • The car (vehicle) as a Service (CaaS) program provides flexibility in the hands of the customers. They can change and upgrade their vehicles as and when they want. Like lease contracts, a subscription to a car does not bind the customer for many years. Simply put, the Car as a Service (CaaS) program works like a Netflix subscription. Customers can subscribe to cars on a month-to-month basis.

Aligned to autonomous, shared, connected transportation

As many of the startups are entering the EV field when the trio of Shared, Connected and Autonomous are also thriving, you will find a number of startups that are not really EVs at their core but actually centered around one or more of these three trends, but having EV as the drivetrain.

Aligned to the sustainable transport phenomenon

The e-mobility movement is happening as part of a larger sustainability movement in which transport is a key industry, as it is one of the largest emitters of CO2. Many stakeholders – and also startups – see EVs as a powerful weapon in the fight against climate change and global warming. This goal is resulting in many startups also having an idealistic streak in them.  An Indian startup, B Live, has combined eco-tourism and electric vehicles in a neat package.

The massive use of Information Technology

IT system communicates information drivers want to know when driving their Nissan LEAF. For example, it allows drivers to see at a glance how much power is left and when they should charge up. Not only for driving, but there are also many other functions that an EV can provide, such as setting the vehicle to charge up while parked and adjusting the on-board temperature by having the cabin climate control turn on before departure. In order to make driving Nissan LEAF more fun and convenient, the driver can choose to create a constant connection with the vehicle. The EV IT system features two kinds of functions, those used on-board and those used remotely via a computer or mobile telephone.

  • Range forecast area map –  The function displays an area map of the range forecast, based on information on the remaining power and range. By setting a destination using car navigation, drivers can display an area map showing the range forecast after reaching the destination.
  • Power consumption display – The function displays the rate of energy consumption by the motor, cabin conditioning systems, and electrical devices in the vehicle. It also projects how the range changes with and without cabin climate control.
  • Charging station searches – If available battery power falls, the system searches for nearby charging facilities and helps plan for charging. If the set destination is further than the vehicle range allows, the system advises charging stations that can be visited near the route.
  • Charging timer – The driver can preset the timer to begin or end charging to take advantage of lower electricity rates.
  • Energy-saving route search – The function advises routes that use less power, avoiding mountain roads or highways likely to consume more electricity. It also estimates and displays how much battery will remain after arrival using the selected route.

The following three functions can be used remotely.

  • Customized information check – This function allows drivers to view their driving history, average power consumption, and power consumption rankings from a computer or mobile telephone. Drivers also grow an “eco tree” showing the results of their environmentally-friendly driving. Drivers can further check other detailed information, such as their power usage archive, eco tree archive, travel history, and customized driving records.
  • Pre-on-board cabin climate conditioning – The cabin climate conditioning system can be remotely operated. Turn on the cabin control system directly or time it to your departure for comfort when you get in.
  • Remote charging – Drivers can start charging remotely when away from their Vehicle.

This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility | EVs versus ICEs | Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation | Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery | Battery Startups versus Giants | Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors | EV Startups – a speciality | Oil Companies’ Strategies | EV Adoption Paths | Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |

Know more about EV Next’s e-mobility perspectives from here.

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About Narasimhan Santhanam (Narsi)

Narsi, a Director at EAI, Co-founded one of India's first climate tech consulting firm in 2008.

Since then, he has assisted over 250 Indian and International firms, across many climate tech domain Solar, Bio-energy, Green hydrogen, E-Mobility, Green Chemicals.

Narsi works closely with senior and top management corporates and helps then devise strategy and go-to-market plans to benefit from the fast growing Indian Climate tech market.

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