ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Three aspiring student entrepreneurs have set their sights on overcoming a major obstacle to electric vehicle (EV) adoption: “range anxiety.”
Range anxiety refers to the concerns of potential EV buyers about the limited range of these new automobiles and the accessibility of re-charging stations to keep them on the road. University of Michigan students Javier Rivera, Lawrence Han and Ajay Varadharajan believe they can eliminate these concerns by creating an EV network that matches the demand for electric vehicle power with supply.
The innovators call their concept, EVStation, and they’re working to develop it as newly-named residents of TechArb and as competitors in this year’s Clean Energy Venture Challenge. While still in its infancy, EVStation consists of a box, installed between an electrical outlet and a vehicle charging station that enables home or business owners to provide electricity to any passing EV owner. Swiping their credit card at the box, EV owners would instantaneously start the flow of electricity, while automatically reimbursing station owners for the electricity consumed. By monetizing this transaction, the EVStation team believes it can build a network of car charging stations to easily meet car-owners charging needs.
“It’s about connecting car owners with station owners and building a marketplace – a network,” Han said. “In terms of building the network, it’s a little like Airbnb, the company that connects people who own homes with people who are traveling and looking for a place to stay the night.”
Han and his teammates said they believe the EVStation network will become increasingly valuable in the coming years as anticipated technological advances reduce EV charge times from hours to minutes.
Rivera and Han are classmates at the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, which offers a dual master’s degree through the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). Interested in launching a clean energy business together, they met Varadharajan, who is pursuing a joint degree through the SNRE and the College of Engineering, early this fall at an SNRE picnic, where they shared their interests in launching a business, particularly in the emerging EV market.
“I had worked in Professor Keolian’s lab studying the impact on the grid of the introduction of the Chevy Volt in Michigan, so I was very interested in vehicle electrification” said Varadharajan. “Javier and Lawrence are business guys so we had a pretty good combination.”
The trio set off immediately on their analysis of the electric vehicle market and the possibilities for launching a business within it. They used that preliminary research as the basis for their entry into the Clean Energy Venture Challenge. Organized through the U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) in the College of Engineering and supported by the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, the Clean Energy Venture Challenge is a six-month program that enables teams of students from colleges and universities in Michigan to go from an idea to venture launch. EVStation is one of nine U-M teams entered in the Challenge, each of whom has the opportunities to win micro grants and potential third-party investment. Overall, 21 teams from U-M colleges and universities are competing for the Challenge’s top prize, which will be announced in February.
EVStation is off to a strong start as a participant in the Dare to Dream grant program through the Ross School’s Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute (ZLI) for Entrepreneurial Studies and by earning a place at TechArb, a downtown Ann Arbor site that is managed by ZLI and the CFE to provide early-stage student-business with dedicated, collaborative space to develop their businesses and tap into a network of successful entrepreneurs and professional mentors.
“We’re very excited, and believe we have a good concept,” Rivera said. “We realize that our project will likely change significantly as we work through the realities of the marketplace. That’s what participating in TechArb and the Clean Energy Venture Challenge will really help us with.”
Contact: Paul Gargaro, Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, 734-615-5678, firstname.lastname@example.org.