How a Tech Startup is shaping the future of e-charging
The switch to green propulsion and energy efficiency in transportation is in full swing. According to Tobias Wagner, electromobility is a good way of implementing energy transition on the road. However, the expansion of charging infrastructure is time-consuming and complex, which could cause a bottleneck in the availability of charging points. Approximately 162,000 electrically powered and 482,000 hybrid vehicles were on the roads in Germany as of 2019. But as of early 2020, solely 18,385 charging stations were open to the public.
Through his own experience as an electric vehicle driver, Tobias recognized this lack of charging infrastructure and decided to take action. To tackle the problem and actively shape the energy transition, he co-founded ChargeX, which developed a charging solution that makes the use of electric cars accessible to everyone through a nationwide infrastructure. Their solution makes the construction of charging points easier, more cost-efficient, and scalable.
ChargeX’s magic lies in their Aqueduct modular charging system which charges numerous electric cars in one place. The control system automatically distributes the energy between the modules and provides all cars with the necessary range. With this solution, ChargeX is making a significant contribution to successful electromobility.
We had the chance to talk with Tobias about the journey of ChargeX, the future of electromobility, and his entrepreneurial experiences.
What problem does ChargeX aim to solve?
“ChargeX is active in the e-mobility space, where we’re solving the big chicken-and-egg problem. If there are a lot of electric cars, there also needs to be a lot of charging infrastructure. Our focus has been on developing a simple and scalable charging solution, that can electrify residential areas but also company fleets. Our approach is to make the charging system simple with a plug-and-play approach. You can easily install the first charger and easily equip additional chargers later. The product we’re building is a combination of hardware and software. You could call it a real IoT product because it’s charging the cars and is connected to the cloud at the same time.”
What’s the core of your solution?
“The core is definitely the aim to provide a better customer experience with the charging infrastructure. We make the whole process easier and more affordable for our customers and we give them the flexibility they want and need. There are many questions you cannot answer at the beginning of the installation process, for example, how many cars you will need to charge in the future. The good thing is that we don’t need the answer to that question. ChargeX makes it possible to install all the chargers and then control the energy by detecting the needed capacity in the chargers and then simply turn them on and off. It can’t get any easier than that!”
What inspired ChargeX?
“It’s actually the classic story of founding a startup: my own experience as an electric vehicle driver inspired it. I’ve been driving an electric car for more than five years now and noticed the lack of charging infrastructure. Of course, my professional experience in the mobility industry also contributed to it. We’ve seen that the whole process of installing electric chargers is way too difficult. So I connected the dots of my own experience and the challenge I saw in the industry. After that, we took a blank paper and came up with our own solution. That was the beginning of the whole idea. The perfect timing of this project also played an important role. The market is currently growing rapidly and I met my co-founders at the same time! It’s not only me building this venture but a lot of other brilliant minds as well. All of these factors combined were the inspiration to start ChargeX.”
What were the most important milestones from founding ChargeX until today?
“I think it’s a really difficult process to get from an idea to a real product that you ship out to the customer. Since we’re building software and hardware in one, it was especially difficult. So one of the biggest milestones for us was shipping the first end product, the first aqueduct system, to our customers. Holding the product you came up with within your hands and being able to sell it to someone is an indescribable joy.
We reached another important milestone at the end of 2020. We had a crowd investment round, where we raised €1 million from more than 800 private investors. This achievement gave us a lot of confidence that we are building the right solution and a lot of people believe in it, especially in such a difficult time/in the middle of the pandemic.
Something I also have to mention, although it is not a specific milestone, is the team we’re building right now. We have around 20 great minds working in the Munich-based office and I believe that’s the most valuable resource of our company. Of course, we have a good technology stack, but the people who build and contribute to this idea are the ones making this so valuable. It brings a lot of joy to me to go to the office every day.”
What are you currently working on and what are the next steps of ChargeX?
“One of the biggest things we’re working on right now is the second generation of our charger. The first generation has been out there for a few months now, so we had the chance to already implement some improvements, e.g. developing a whole new software firmware. What’s awesome is that this process is bringing all the different departments together to work on new solutions. We’re also planning on expanding our sales activities to different countries. Right now, we’re only selling our system in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, so I’m pretty curious about the entrance into new markets.
Another great thing we are working on right now is the second product of ChargeX. Currently, we only sell the aqueduct system. The next thing will be a software as a service solution. This will be a whole new interface for using your charger on a daily basis. We can also use it for our own aqueduct system, but it is designed as something that can work on different chargers as well. Now we’re getting out of the ecosystem of ChargeX into the whole e-mobility space and I can’t wait to see how it will go.”
What is your future vision of e-charging? Where do you see the future of electro-mobility?
“My future vision is that charging will not be a regular concern of ours as it would usually happen when you’re not using your car. I also don’t believe it will be necessary to always have a fully charged battery! It’s all about a sufficiently charged battery at the right time, so you’re able to go on your next trip. In the end, you won’t worry about it if the energy is halfway down the battery as long as it’s enough to do your next trip. As a result of that, we need a lot of what I would call “snack charging”. Snack charging means charging up anywhere your car is parked, such as at home, at work, or when you’re in the supermarket. So you don’t actively charge your car rather than it is like a side effect of being somewhere, and you’d fast-charge only when you really need it, e.g. on a long road trip. I think the biggest change we’ll see will be a deeper integration into our daily life. Right now, we charge up petrol cars once a week in a short period, but that won’t be the case in the e-mobility space. Therefore, we need a better integration to the whole energy grid.”
What do you think is a big challenge in the field of electromobility?
“There are several challenges, but I would say the biggest one is not actually technological. Electric cars and charging solutions are available and even more scalable than they have ever been. But in the end, it’s all about people adapting to the electric solutions, which is the biggest barrier right now. People are nervous about trying it out, and that’s why we need to convince them to give this new kind of technology a try. Of course, there are other problems, like the need for more batteries and chargers, but those problems are feasible. If people want/request it and there’s a market, companies will offer a solution. What we need is a more open-minded society to accept the change.”
Can you describe your experience with the Kairos Society Europe?
“You’re always connected with highly motivated people who are experts in their field which is great since there are many more aspects other than your own field that need to be taken into account when adapting to the future.
So that’s pretty great! Another great thing that Kairos offers is access to an amazing network and community. If you face a problem, you can reach out to so many people who dealt with this before. I had some issues regarding the energy space and decided to contact people who turned out to be super helpful!”
What advice do you have for other founders speaking from your own experience?
“My advice would be to prototype a lot! An idea is not really valuable unless it becomes a reality. If you have an idea, show it to your customers, gain feedback, and iterate a lot. I guess the best tip is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s hardware or software you’re providing. You always have to improve your product. Secondly, it is important to remember that building a venture is super difficult, and there are also downsides to that. It can be a hassle not only from a physical but also from a mental perspective. That’s why I would advise everyone to be aligned with the worst possible outcome. It’s important to define the worst scenario, for example, that you invest several years into your venture and then it fails. Check how this situation feels for you. If you’re okay with it, then go for it and fully invest your energy into your product!”
Tobias Wagner has been a member of the Munich chapter since 2019. You can follow him on LinkedIn here and learn more about the vision and the people behind ChargeX here.
Thank you for reading this article from the Kairos Society Europe. We bring together Europe’s most ambitious young entrepreneurs to tackle society’s greatest challenges. Visit www.kairos-society.eu to learn more about us.