Owning an electric vehicle makes sense but many people are deterred from fear of running out of range — the distance a car can go between battery charges. It’s a big obstacle in the industry and the reason many people don’t buy EVs, or why they won’t drive their electric vehicles for long-distance travel.
Despite the anxiety, analysts predict the market will continue to grow, likely reaching a valuation of $356 billion by 2023, according to TheDrive.com.
Joshua Aviv, CEO of SparkCharge, is tackling this problem head-on with the development of an ultra-fast portable on-demand charging station.
Aviv and his co-founders just closed a $3.3 million seed round this month. That brings their funding to a total of $5 million received through grants, awards and venture capital.
SparkCharge won the $1 million grand prize for North America’s largest pitch competition with 43North in 2019. Working with the City of Buffalo, they found a manufacturing facility to suit their needs and expect to start mass-producing their unit in that facility in the next couple of months.
“We are helping to create a more sustainable future for our country, for the world, and our community,” Aviv told Moguldom.
The company started in Syracuse, New York. Aviv and his two co-founders worked nonstop until 3, 4 or 5 a.m. to develop a prototype. They have since taken the prototype to market and it’s on the way to being mass-produced.
The company now has its R&D lab based in Boston with a manufacturing facility in Buffalo, New York.
The SparkCharge charger module weighs 19.8 pounds and the battery module weighs 48.4 pounds. Both are about 24 by 13 by 9 inches — about the size of a large carry-on suitcase. They should easily fit into the trunk of a car, according to GreenCarReports.
SparkCharge chargers at a rate of 1 mile every 60 seconds.
From an idea in 2014, thanks to a college professor, to producing the charger in 2017, SparkCharge is helping EV owners in California, with more planned in the Boston and Atlanta areas soon. Aviv says he and the team are on the way to being fourth in the marketplace for manufacturing charging stations in 2020.
Aviv shares how he came up with the idea for SparkCharge, and the importance of building a diverse team of employees, investors, and advisors.
Moguldom: Why did you start SparkCharge?
Joshua Aviv: I came up with the idea when I was in college. I was an economics major for my undergraduate degree, and I got my graduate degree in information management and data science. Essentially, I walked into a class and the professor said, “If you want to change the world, if you really want to have an impact on the world, solve the problem of electrification and solve the problem of the lack of infrastructure that electric vehicles are going to face.”
He said, “If you’re interested, meet with me after class.”
I was the only person to show up. I started talking to him and this went on for maybe a couple of weeks and then I came up with the idea for SparkCharge. Basically, we have a portable charging station delivered to electric vehicle owners on-demand at any time and anywhere. We have units operating in California right now in the Los Angeles, San Mateo, and San Francisco area. We’ll be launching in Boston and Atlanta soon.
Moguldom: Why focus on clean energy? Why is it important for you to have a business in this industry?
Joshua Aviv: Cleantech, electric vehicles and electrification are going to have a huge impact on our planet, our economy and our communities. For me, electric vehicles and cleantech is the way to go. I think if you want to change the world, then you need to solve problems. And working to solve the problem of infrastructure and lack of infrastructure and tearing down the barriers to owning an electric vehicle and providing freedom for EV owners solves a lot of huge problems that allow EV and electrification to grow here in America and around the world. I think by solving that huge problem, we are helping to create a more sustainable future for our country, for the world and our community.
Moguldom: Creating a portable charger that can charge a mile in 60 seconds, which is a rate of four times faster than a home base unit, you had to bring some serious innovation to your product and create a great team. How did you go about actually building the product and creating your team?
Joshua Aviv: Our team is fantastic. My co-founders, Christopher Ellis (chief technical officer) and Richard Whitney (chief engineer) played a huge part in helping develop the technology system. I guess you could say these two people spearheaded the development of the portable, ultra-fast charging station we created. It is something we spent a lot of time and energy working on. We first started as a team of three, now about 15, and soon to be about 20 to 25.
It’s a pretty amazing journey to look back at how we started this company in Syracuse, New York. The three of us working in the Syracuse CoE, in a lab there, to 3, 4 or 5 a.m. in the morning nonstop to get a prototype. Then being able to take it from prototype to market to something that is on the way to being mass-produced.
When you think about team building, it is something that doesn’t get enough attention. When we think about how we wanted to build our team, we wanted to create a family-centered environment. We wanted to create a place where people wanted to come in and work alongside the people in the office. To do that, it really takes time. It’s something that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that you don’t get right the first couple of times.
With time and iteration, you really learn how to create a great culture, how to communicate better as a team, and you start to get really amazing people that want to come on board. We’re very proud of how we have been able to create a really good culture here, a very inclusive and diverse culture. And I’d like to say to other startups, it’s tough. You’re not going to get it right the first time. It’s taken us a couple of years to figure out a good formula for getting the right people on board. But once you get the right people on board, it really just makes things so much better. You have such a better environment. The team and you move a lot faster.
Moguldom: You have a lab and a manufacturing space in two different cities, correct?
Joshua Aviv: Yes, we have two offices. We have our R&D lab here in Boston, located in Somerville. And then we also have our manufacturing facility, which we’re getting up and running in Buffalo, New York.
Moguldom: How did you progress to manufacturing– such a big hurdle for startups?
Joshua Aviv: Yes. We were fortunate. We won the $1 million grand prize for North America’s largest pitch competition with 43North last year. Upon winning that $1 million grand prize, we started working with 43North and the City of Buffalo to find a manufacturing facility to suit our needs. We were able to find a beautiful manufacturing facility in Buffalo and we’re excited to start mass-producing our unit in that facility in the next couple of months.
Moguldom: With the winnings from the 43North competition and the recent seed round you closed, how much have you raised so far?
Joshua Aviv: We raised about $5 million in funds with everything from grants to awards to venture capital along with our $3.3 million we recently closed. Point Judith led the investment, along with Rise of the Rest, Peak6, M&T Bank, Tale Ventures Partners, and others. We have a great group of investors. And when you talk about team building, it’s kind of the same thing with them as well. When you go to find investors, you want to find investors that are the right fit. We consider investors as a part of our family, as part of the team. So that is everything from transparency and making sure they’re aware of what we are doing as a company.
We want our investors to be in the trenches working with us to make this business as big of a success as we know it can be. And we’ve done a really good job of going and curating some top-tier investors. And when you look at our investor pool, one of the things I find that is awesome is that we also have a diverse group of investors. We have a lot of strong female lead investors. We have a very, very diverse board of advisors. It’s something I think goes unrecognized too. A lot of money is being invested in cleantech by minority and women investors and I think it’s something that people should shine a bigger light on.
Moguldom: You have participated in a few accelerators and have made some good contacts. What other ways have you been able to expand your network and customer base?
Joshua Aviv: Accelerators are great, and I think if you go into an accelerator you need to go in with an open mind that you are going to get the most out of the accelerator. However, try to build and work with different partners in your ecosystem as possible.
A great example of that for us would be that we work with SolidWorks. SolidWorks is a really good software for our engineers, and we love SolidWorks. We work with them hand-in-hand and they send things our way. They also invited us out to CES where we were able to present in their booth and work together. So I would say, look for companies that want to work with you because I think what also goes unnoticed is a lot of companies want to work with startups. You have to take advantage of those opportunities. Those are things outside of accelerators that create big opportunities for you.
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Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for SparkCharge?
Joshua Aviv: No pun intended but leading the charge in portable charging. I think portable EV charging will be the dominant way people choose to charge their electric vehicles. The convenience, the ease of use electric vehicle owners can now have, the freedom with how they drive their electric cars and where they drive their electric cars has a positive impact with portable charging. It will be the dominant way people choose to have their car charged.
I think when you look at trends over the past couple of years, it’s really easy to see on-demand is not going away. When you look at food delivery, grocery delivery, transportation, and ride-sharing, on-demand is becoming the norm. We’re removing so many barriers to electrification. I can sit outside of Starbucks and have range delivered to me with a push of a button.
I can say, “Hey, Alexa, bring me 100 miles of range,” and it can be delivered to me without me ever having to leave my couch. I can now live in an apartment complex, condo or high-rise and have range delivered to me without having to live in a home with a garage and all this infrastructure.
This will be our first year of mass production, and we’re aiming to be the fourth largest in terms of the number of charging stations produced in the market. And when you think about the fact it has taken other companies years upon years to get to that point, and we’re coming into the market Year 1 and are already going to be fourth in terms of the most charging stations put out to the market, that’s a huge game-changer. That’s never been seen before. That’s disruption at its finest.