The sharing economy has infiltrated electric cars on a few fronts. Recent launches of car sharing services in the Southern California region – such as Maven, General Motors’ service which will feature all-electric Bolts and WaiveCar in Santa Monica, which offers 2 hours free in a Chevy Spark to drivers willing to serve as roaming billboards – are being joined now by a start-up founded in Santa Barbara. EVmatch is a peer-to-peer network for electric vehicle (EV) charging, similar to Airbnb but for EV drivers. It opens up more charging options for EV drivers, allows hosts to make money and earn rewards from their existing charging stations, and benefits communities by from supporting cleaner vehicles.
What’s different about EVmatch, the “new kids on the block” in the EV charging space, is their target audience and the way they’re connecting with it. The company’s Co-founders Heather Hochrein & Shannon Walker started with the goal of empowering a new generation of EV drivers. Who is this new generation, why are they important, and how is EVmatch shaking up the charging landscape? Plug In America held a short question and answer session with these two entrepreneurs to learn more.
Where did the idea for EVmatch come from?
Being the EV fanatics that we are, one day at lunch we were casually brainstorming how we can improve the car charging experience over a turkey sandwich with an ocean view (UC Santa Barbara baby!). We went through some pretty complicated ideas about how we can offer reservations and control access to parking spots with mechanical barriers, sensors and cameras, and so on, until *lightbulb* we realized these solutions aren’t necessary to access the largest group of Level 2 (240 V) charging stations that exist today – the residential charging network. We ended up working on the business model as our master’s thesis project, conducting interviews with over 400 EV drivers and running our first pilot project in Santa Barbara right before we graduated in June of 2016. EVmatch gained lots of support, which pushed us to continue working on it full-time after graduation, even though neither of us expected to be entrepreneurs. In September 2016, we incorporated and the rest is history!
How is EVmatch a new solution to connect with a new generation of EV owners?
While the majority of today’s EV drivers charge their vehicles at home, this is typically not an option for renters and multi-unit dwellers, preventing mainstream adoption of these cleaner vehicles. Our service provides a practical solution to this barrier by harnessing the power of sharing. In a few simple clicks, any EV driver can use the app to gain the ease and reliability of home charging without having to install their own station. Our network increases the utilization of existing charging stations, drawing from over 120,000 residential charging stations already installed in the urban areas of California. And with no needed hardware installation, EVmatch immediately increases the public charging network to support the mass adoption of these vehicles by a more diverse group of drivers.
I can see why I would want to use the service to find charging. Can you explain more about why I would want to host others using my home charging station?
There are a handful of different reasons why our drivers decide to list their station on the EVmatch app, and perhaps surprisingly, one of the least popular reasons is to make money. Most of our hosts participate to help other EV drivers, knowing what it feels like themselves to suffer from a full blown range anxiety attack. If they help build up the network by listing their station, they’ll also benefit from having more charging options through EVmatch wherever they go. In addition, because EVs are better for the environment with zero tailpipe emissions and less lifecycle emissions than their gasoline counterparts, supporting more EVs your neighborhood directly benefits you as a host!
Hosts are always compensated for the cost of electricity for the charges they provide, and can make a profit on top of that if they would like. This means that hosts also can use EVmatch to increase the return on their investment in their home charging station by renting it out to others. Hosts also earn rewards for participating in EVmatch. For example, after charging 10 other vehicles, your next charge is free through the EVmatch service.
Only 2.7% of venture backed companies are led by women, but these companies make more profit on average than companies led by men. How has it been for you, as two women co-founders of a startup in a male dominated industry?
You can look at our unique situation from two very different perspectives. The first is that it’s an inherent challenge to our success. We’re not “part of the club” and stand out as being different in the male dominated tech and auto industries. At the same time, our differences have also benefitted us in that people are sometimes excited to support us because we aren’t your average tech startup. Being two women co-founders is extremely frustrating or totally inspiring depending on the day. In the end, we’re dedicated to paving the way for other women-owned startups, and are working together with amazing women in similar positions to do so. What we’re doing is really part of a greater movement of female empowerment. We are extremely passionate about this movement in addition to the adoption of cleaner vehicles. So clearly, there is a lot of passion behind EVmatch, which continues to benefit us because we strongly believe in what we’re creating.
So how can people sign up and what is next for you as a company?
We’re running our second pilot project in the Los Angeles (LA) area using our new web application. We’ll run this for the next few months in LA only, but then quickly expand to the San Francisco Bay Area and across California. As a company, we are participating in an accelerator program right now, MergeLane, which is really helping us connect with the resources we need to grow and scale our business. We’re running the web application right now (meaning you can view it on a computer or in the web browser of a mobile device) and we’ll begin development of our native apps (iPhone and Android) in May 2017.