A talk with Carlos Guerrero, founder of The GreenWhale and MSc in Energy Management alumnus, about bidirectional electric chargers in Europe, forecasting why this is a great time to launch his turnkey service start-up based in Germany.
The ACEA reports that one in eleven cars sold in the EU last year was fully electric. Global sales of electric vehicles (EVs) reached 16.5 million in 2021, and the stock is expected to grow between 55 to 72 million by 2025 and between 140 to 235 million by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
When creating The GreenWhale, did you see a gap in the market in Europe or that your product would help achieve the EU’s CO2 targets?
Both. For me the most important part of our business is the contribution to the ongoing energy transition. With our solutions, we can enhance electricity storage by 2100% and save 110 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by reducing the use of electricity produced from fossil fuels. One of the key questions that I kept in my mind, especially during the ideation phase of the start-up, was the riddle of the chicken and egg: which came first? EVs or charging points? So we decided that we were going to solve this problem by creating The GreenWhale, which is focused on helping businesses install charging points.
By doing so we have enabled the mass adoption of EVs, and once we have a considerable amount of EVs on the road we can use them as an aggregated storage solution. This means that by 2030 we could have around 1900 GWh of electricity stored in EVs, ready to be deployed when there are peak electricity prices. Worldwide, we could have around 7 TWh of electricity stored in EVs, ready to support the electrical grid and renewable energies, but first we need the infrastructure to discharge that electricity.
And thanks to the Fit for 55 package as well as the European Commission being ready to launch the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation, in Europe we will be able to install more than 5.5 million public and semi-public charging points by 2030. However, one of the problems here is that most chargers will be so-called ‘dumb’. In this view, our solution will push consumers, developers and clients to take different options that are actually the best choices when building infrastructure. In fact, what we bring to the table is very different from our competitors: with our charging points we can not only charge EVs, but also discharge them. Overall this makes sense, considering that a vehicle is parked for more than 22 hours a day.
"Given that, when we talk about charging infrastructure, we are talking about a tangible asset that stays in place for more than ten years, so we are motivated to build infrastructure that lasts with a significant advancement in technology. The technology has been tested, and most importantly it helps us achieve our sustainable goals in Europe and around the world."
In brief, our mission is to help businesses go through the process of installation of charging points. The installation phase is quite time-consuming, confusing and expensive: throughout this process, they have to reach out to at least six different providers, each of whom has to be in an internal tender. Through the partnerships we have created with experienced stakeholders, we take care of the initial phase by managing the whole installation process quickly and efficiently.
What stage of the start-up development are you at right now?
At the moment we are still in the validation phase. We believe that we have to get a considerable number of clients to get enough feedback and improve our services in order to be able to scale up our solutions around Europe, and then worldwide, because the problem we’re addressing and the opportunity we’re seizing are part of a worldwide phenomenon.
Considering the current increase on energy prices and its impact on EVs, is 2022 a great time to start your own business?
Overall I think we are in a period where more and more drivers are becoming aware of the advantages of EVs, and most are thinking about buying one. According to a recent European Investment Bank survey, this is 67% of European citizens.
On the one hand, we are aware of how markets are developing after COVID-19 as well as the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which have caused deep turmoil in electricity markets, supply-chain disruptions and inflation. In this context, these factors have indeed affected the decision to purchase EVs. At the same time, I believe that the devastating effects of the current war and the pandemic on the global economy have not affected people’s appetite to adopt EVs, and that’s where The GreenWhale comes in.
The most important part is that we also contribute to achieving energy independence from fossil fuels thanks to our solutions, which is a goal for the European Commission. So for us, in terms of markets, this is the perfect moment.
Starting a new company comes with challenges. Can you talk to me about those and how you tackled them?
The most important one for me was finding the correct team. While doing everything alone is impossible, finding people who have the same mindset, who are bold and motivated to create progress and respond to changes instead of following, can be very challenging. In addition, finding people who share your vision and awareness of the problem makes the possible partners even more scarce.
At my first internship right after ESCP, I was lucky to meet my first co-founder, Unnati Agrawal, who shares my values, awareness of the problem and vision. Later, another friend from ESCP who I met at the Blue Factory and a couple of friends from Mexico joined.
Another challenge that I noted during the initial development phase was the importance of reducing procrastination and focusing on getting hands on your work, especially when issues arise. If you don’t find a solution, the problems will continue. Overall I have been very motivated to focus on The GreenWhale full-time. However, sometimes it can be hard, considering the news and challenges to the global economy and politics. What encourages me most is the possibility to align ourselves with the vision shared by European Countries by 2030, and the fact that we can help the environment while doing so.
How are you going to go about raising funds for your start-up?
We have some money from savings, there are family and friends, and we are applying for a grant in Germany. We have also reached out to a few angel investors and venture-capital funds, and most have responded with very positive feedback. We are also contemplating some offers we have received.
The good thing about venture capital is that it gives you an adrenaline rush, where you have to accomplish certain KPIs before the adrenaline runs out, that gives you a huge kick. The downside is the equity you are asked to give in exchange.
But we are still looking for the most suitable partner, knocking on doors and hearing offers, because that’s also important. They have to believe in what you are doing and be interested in solving environmental problems, rather than be there only for the money.
What is your best piece of advice to fellow budding entrepreneurs?
Get yourself to it, now.
Start today. Is it Sunday? Perfect day to start. Is it Friday night? Perfect night to start. Just start. You will find a way to solve everything that threatens your plans, and sometimes you will only be able to do this when you face it. Once you find a massive problem, segment it and face each segment separately. Everest looks immense but one step at a time gets you to the top.
The last thing I can say is to surround yourself with people who are building something. Never take advice related to your work from people who have never developed a start-up. Build your circle of support and get away from people who always see a problem with everything – they will only create doubts instead of solutions. Builders will encourage you and push you to reach more people, get more information and so on.
Tell me a bit about what you were doing before starting the MSc in Energy Management at ESCP Business School?
Although I studied my bachelor’s degree in law back in Mexico and worked at four different companies, I have always been an entrepreneur. When I was a child living on the Mexican border with the United States, I used to ‘import’ Chinese toys from Texas and sell them to other kids in my school. As an adolescent I kept myself busy reflecting on how I could seek out change, rather than adapt to it. After my bachelor’s I gradually realised that in the legal field there were no big opportunities to develop new ideas, services or products. Law is one of the oldest professions in the world, and sadly it evolves only very slowly.
So before joining ESCP I started to think critically and with a problem-solving mindset about the topics that interested me the most. Among these was sustainable energy, even though Mexico is currently regressing in terms of renewables. This passion sparked when I participated in an entrepreneurship camp in Silicon Valley with a focus on green tech and sustainability. Seeing much space for improvement in this sector, I became extremely fascinated by the opportunities I realised it could generate. What I loved most about it was the possibility to tackle Climate Change and contribute to the development of a sustainable society. That’s when I thought: this is for me.
A few MSc in Energy Management alumni have started their own companies. It seems that the specialisation attracts future leaders in this dynamic industry. Do you think the MEM has equipped you with the tools to successfully take your company to the next level?
Yes. I also had the chance to meet other students from different courses throughout ESCP and at the Blue Factory, and we helped, supported and encouraged each other in the initial phases of the start-up development.
And yes, of course, the specialisation’s laid the foundation to build my knowledge to develop my start-up. Besides focusing 100% of your time on sustainability, the specialisation has a holistic approach to energy management. We worked in-depth on circular economy, renewable energies, policymaking, economics, finance and much more.
One of my favourite classes was with Davide Sola, a great professor who helped us reach the next level when thinking about businesses. In general, I appreciated that ESCP taught us to focus on where to look at or what to reach when trying to solve a problem, for example in terms of policies. The objective of a policy is to find a solution to a certain issue, while at the same time, when building your own company, you are equally trying to unpack a problem. This comparison should help to understand whether the direction you are taking is the right one, and that there is support you can receive from financial and governmental institutions.
Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future of your business? What’s your dream?
My main goal is for The GreenWhale to save 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
We can do that if we aim to become the Airbnb of electricity storage. We can provide electricity storage during peak electricity prices without owning the assets to do so, and we can enhance the electricity storage wherever there are EVs. Our advantage in the comparison with Airbnb is that we are in a phase where the infrastructure is being built, so we can also help in the decarbonisation of the sector at the stage of its conception.
And of course, on the business side, our goal is to become a green unicorn.