After winning a hackathon this spring, two campus seniors partnered with an international energy company to further their pitch into a platform aimed towards accessibility in electric vehicle, or EV, charging.
Energy engineering student Candace Wong and environmental economics and policy major Jack Peterson said they hope to make EV charging spaces more equitable, so they co-founded ChargeNest, a timeshare platform where owners can reserve public charging spaces to power their electric vehicles.
The campus’s Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative, or BERC, partnered with international energy production company Électricité de France, or EDF, Innovation Lab to convene Golden Bears who have great visions with the future of EV. In March, undergraduate and graduate students participated in BERC and EDF Innovation Lab’s “Future of Mobility — Design Thinking Hackathon.”
In groups of four to five, Wong and Peterson had 48 hours to generate a plan on how they could advance the transition to clean energy. Wong and Peterson explained that after two days of strategizing a business model, their group stood victorious.
EDF Innovation Lab connected with the winning group with the opportunity to work with them. After further research and discussion with their business model’s feasibility, the company offered the team an opportunity to develop the project. Only Wong and Peterson continued with this endeavor, and they got hired as independent contractors and received the help they needed to evolve their idea to a product, which is now ChargeNest.
“A big reason why I decided to commit to doing this project outside of the hackathon was because, as a student, we have so little to lose,” Wong said. “At Berkeley especially, we’re in a really good environment to start a startup.”
Driving electric cars became more relevant than ever as the country gears towards environmentally-conscious initiatives to mitigate carbon emissions and other pollutants that exacerbate climate change. Two years ago, the Biden administration said they aim that half of the new cars manufactured to be electric in 2030 with the goal that the country will produce zero emissions by 2035.
California leads with the most number of electric vehicles in the country. CalMatters reported the state has 838,000 electric vehicles and is forecast to jump to 12.5 million vehicles in 2035.
Peterson said electric vehicle charging poses a problem for people who rent in multifamily housings. Unlike those who live in single family homes, renters have no immediate access to charging stations. With their product, they hope to make EV charging more convenient.
“We’re really trying to mend that gap and meet the needs of those renters who may not have overnight access to charging,” Peterson said.
Even as college students, the co-founders dispelled the idea that establishing a startup is expensive. In developing ChargeNest, they said that there are zero or low-cost solutions in building their product. They pointed out that launching ChargeNest was a different conversation.
“I just started paying $9 a month for our website domain just to have to host our website for users who can sign up for our waitlist and get ready for when our product launches in their area,” Peterson said. “But that’s really been it, just nine bucks a month.”
Peterson advised that students who want to build their own startup to take advantage of the resources available – may it be opportunity, mentorship or network.
Peterson said that they have access to more than 9,000 charging stations across California under their agreement with EDF Innovation Lab. Peterson and Wong said they hope to launch their product on these charging stations at the end of this semester or early next year.
“As a college student in particular, you have so little to lose even if you’re not funded,” Wong said. “The extracurriculars that I would have been taking apart in otherwise would not have funded me either. There’s so much opportunity to apply your skills outside of studying and (in) really gratifying ways.”