Co-founder and COO
Location / Year Founded / Industry:
New York / 2021 / Climate tech
What is itselectric?
Curbside EV charging specifically built for cities, targeting the millions of people who are forced to park their cars on the street.
Why it matters:
Cities and consumers want EVs on the road as quickly as possible to remove Co2 emissions and reduce pollution in the major push towards fighting climate change. Yet there is no scalable solution to provide EV charging to the millions of city dwellers who park on the street. By utilizing existing electrical infrastructure, itselectric will install and maintain a network of hundreds of thousands of curbside charging posts for the majority of Americans who live in cities with no access to a garage or driveway.
Why you should care:
itselectric’s turnkey installation and management services will enable municipalities to achieve carbon reduction targets and deploy charging infrastructure in accordance with community priorities. With just 11,500 chargers, itselectric would eliminate 7.9 tons of Co2 emissions and 204lbs of pollution annually, giving 140,000 drivers access to convenient, low-cost charging.
Tiya your background is in design and technology and Nathan, you’ve been working as an architect for 20 years. How did your experience prior to founding itselectric prepare you for this journey?
Tiya: I have 20 years of experience here in New York City building public-facing technology in public spaces, mostly for cultural urban clients to help an audience learn more about a particular event, history, or theory. During COVID, I was trying to find a way to pivot my career where I could take everything I had already done, all this knowledge I had, and use it to educate people about the ways they can be better citizens and better moral and environmental stewards for the world. I wanted to actually change the equation for climate change.
It was a back and forth conversation that Nathan and I had over many months and when we came up with this idea, it was such a clean and simple solution. In simplistic terms, we’re creating a very small piece of technology that we’re designing for the public, which is my background and my experience. And the only difference is that instead of teaching, it’s actually providing a function to help us reduce our footprint in cities and to reduce our carbon emissions in cities.
Nathan: I got into architecture because I was very concerned about issues around sustainability and our reliance on fossil fuels. It’s counterintuitive, but people who live in cities use less energy and they have a smaller footprint on the world. Making better cities (to embrace things around sustainability and decarbonization) will be better for the climate and better for everyone. I was always thinking of ways to try to move the needle faster.
When Tiya and I came up with the idea for itselectric, we saw the potential to make an impact much, much faster than what I could do as a practicing architect. My experience building things, starting from a sketch to getting something that’s built in the ground, is very useful for what we’re trying to build, which is working in cities, getting permits, working with regulatory agencies, and seeing this initial idea be realized.
What is the problem you’re looking to solve? How did you land on itselectric?
Tiya: We looked at the biggest causes of carbon emissions in cities and how our various levels of expertise could help reduce that. As two city dwellers in apartments, we could never purchase an electric vehicle because we had no place to charge. We had no driveway and no garage—the same as 1 million other New Yorkers and 5 million people on the Northeast coast and 60 million across the United States. Only a certain level of individual of a certain level of affluence can buy an EV because they have the luxury of a garage or driveway in which to charge. This turned an environmental issue into one of equity. How do we make it so that anyone who wants to purchase an EV should be able to?
There is that small faction of eco-warriors willing to drive to a fast-charging parking lot back and forth, but regular people are going to hold onto their gas cars as long as they possibly can unless there is a charger outside their front door, which obviously slows down the transition to EVs and keeps roadside pollution incredibly high in cities. How we can get EVs into cities as quickly as possible? That’s the challenge we set out to solve.
Nathan: I’ll just add that we don’t have to think of our transportation as being a separate thing from the rest of the built environment—our vehicles can be linked to the power sources where we live. That’s starting to become true in the suburbs where it’s very easy to charge your car in your garage, but it can also be true in cities.
Can you walk us through the process? How does it actually work?
Nathan: Currently, the only charging solutions are 12 feet tall, three feet wide posts with tethered cords that are often vandalized. There’s no way these large highway chargers are going to be popped along small city streets. We stripped a charging post down to its bare bottom, if you will, coming at this from the perspective of designers while using our professional acumen in operations and architecture to put the whole thing together. Our posts are 5 feet tall, we removed the credit card swipers, screens, and tethered cord dock. Instead, when you sign up as a driver for itselectric, we send you your own cord. When you take your cord and you connect it to an itselectric post, we authenticate the transaction using your cord. You don’t have to swipe your credit card. We’ve eliminated everything that could be vandalized, that could be damaged to make a piece of street furniture that’s as ubiquitous as a fire hydrant.
Additionally, we are connecting directly to a building owner’s meter, with a small-bore conduit running underneath the sidewalk about four inches. We call this orthoscopic surgery as opposed to open-heart surgery—when you’re installing those big gas pump-style EV chargers, they have to connect to the utility’s main line; you are digging large holes with Jackhammers. itselectric doesn’t need to do that because we are pulling the power directly from the homeowner’s building, directly adjacent to where the post is installed, which is the same as if the building had installed a 240-volt electric dryer or an electric range in their house. It’s the same thing that people in suburbs do every single day: they buy an EV, they take it home and they have an electrician put a charger in their garage. But because we don’t have garages in large metropolitan cities, we’re putting it in the basement and we’re running a socket to the street.
Tiya: The charging post then generates revenue from the driver, and that revenue is shared with that host property. We find this to be a major win. This is going to give passive income to everyone who volunteers to work within our network and is going to accelerate adoption. We can keep our CapEx low because we’re attaching to an existing electrical supply (the homeowner’s electrical panel underground) rather than connecting out to the street. Because we’ve gone through the process of permitting that post into that location, it creates a nice little moat every time we install the post.
Are city homeowners and city councils ready for this solution?
Tiya: Cities across the United States are looking for ways to install a distributed, level two curbside charging program to give people a way to charge their cars near where they live. For cities to do that, they would have to spend $100 million dollars in infrastructure upgrades to have the power available to provide this amenity to its citizens. Instead, itselectric is providing that solution to cities with zero infrastructure upgrades. We can deploy chargers within the city’s priorities, where they want to see these chargers.
Any building with an electric meter and a curb can earn passive income through itselecetric.
Homeowners, apartment building owners, schools, even religious institutions and of course EV drivers are excited because we’re providing them with the ability to charge their cars very close to where they live or work and to become part of this green economy. Any building with an electric meter and a curb can earn passive income through itselecetric by helping cities build this infrastructure. That’s why it’s a huge opportunity for both cities and the people who live in them, both drivers and property owners to work together, to find the solutions we’re looking for.
Nathan: This is also the solution that utilities are looking for. This is a level two charger—it’s not one of the fast chargers or superchargers. Our level two posts throughout a neighborhood encourage people to charge overnight. This is the thing utilities are trying to solve for because they can’t have everybody supercharging their EVs at 6 p.m. on their way home from work; it’ll crash the grid. This model is the thing cities are looking for, this is how people should power their EVs. You shouldn’t have to drive somewhere, plug in and sit there for 30 minutes and then drive home.
New York city has promised 40,000 EV chargers by 2025.
Nathan: Exactly. We think of ourselves as the Citi Bike of EV charging. We are a privately funded solution solving an infrastructure problem cities are trying to solve. Cities are looking for these privately funded solutions because they don’t have the bandwidth or the budget to go out and deploy charging resources at scale. Our value proposition to cities is to say, “Hey, we can take this on for you. We can help you meet your goals of decarbonizing the city, for getting EV infrastructure out into communities.” And there are other benefits that we can bring to communities because we’re going to allow the adjacent property to power that publicly accessible charger.
Tiya: Also, we are the only curbside EV charger that also offers the potential to charge micro-mobility: e-bikes and scooters. Currently, as you know, the model for charging these is to load them into trucks, drive them outside of the city, put them in large charge lots, and then drive them back into the city to redeploy them. Cities are now starting to look for solutions to charge e-bikes and scooters because it’s becoming a problem—specifically in New York, with such an instant delivery culture, the number of delivery drivers who rely on e-bikes is increasing, but the demand for the high-quality e-bikes and batteries is outweighing the supply. Therefore, many of these delivery workers are purchasing or leasing lesser than A-grade quality e-bikes or e-batteries and charging them inside their homes because there is nowhere else to charge them. Last year in New York, 85 fires were caused by imploding batteries, inside apartments of these delivery workers. Many of them fatal. Our charging posts will have the ability to charge an e-bike or a scooter.
As first-time founders who are married, how did you decide that you wanted to build a company together?
Nathan: Tiya and I were friends in college, we graduated together, and although our careers went in different directions, our friendship was initially based on our work ethic, our sense of humor, and our ambition. On my part, I always wanted to start a company with Tiya but it wasn’t always clear what that company should be. The impulse to form a company with Tiya was there before the idea—it was about waiting for that right idea to come along. Then we had an aha moment when itselectric came together.
You are currently raising your Pre-Seed round. What has your fundraising process been like? Any learnings that you can share with other first-time founders?
Tiya: Our journey has been enlightening and educational. The biggest thing we have learned is that you’re looking for more than just a check from your VCs. You’re looking for someone who not only gets you and understands what you’re trying to solve, but someone who brings value in terms of their intelligence, their connections, and their network. This value can often be greater than the check they write. You really want to consider your VCs as partners because they are going to be with you from the first day until the very last—to have people you trust and respect is the most important thing we’ve learned.
Nathan: My advice would be to try to have fun with the process because it can be a grind. VCs are a very diverse group of people, they all have completely different backgrounds. Lots of VCs are former founders and the companies that they started are interesting. Then some VCs have worked in engineering or in government. In the course of fundraising, you have all of these different conversations with people whose perspectives on what you’re building can be very interesting. But at the Pre-Seed stage, you have to get into the mindset of talking to people for feedback and not for money, at least initially—that can help you get you through the process.
What will this round of funding be used for?
Nathan: It’s going to give us about 14 months of runway, during which time we will complete the engineering and product certifications we need for the market-ready product. The piece of hardware we’re developing is specifically designed for use in cities on curbside. There’s nothing in North America available to meet this use case. We are the first people to get here and now we just need to push it into a state of readiness that can be deployed. We will also build up a team of project managers and coordinators to lead pilots in different municipalities—people who understand the challenge of climate and who are interested in working with city dwellers. We’ll also begin to develop a roadmap for some of our technological development that goes beyond our early prototype.
You have an impressive list of strategic advisors, including Mia Birk, the co-founder of a variety of bike-sharing systems across North America, including Citi Bike in New York, Divvy in Chicago, and Capital Bike Share in DC. How did you choose your advisors as you launched itselecetric?
Tiya: Mia is our hero for a number of reasons. She is advising us on scaling into cities to take advantage of this idea of a network effect. Another key advisor is Michael Replogle, the former deputy commissioner for New York City, DOT. He oversaw the development of New York City’s current vision plan for EV charging before he retired. As a startup, you have yourself and you have your co-founder, if you’re lucky enough to have a co-founder. You’re doing the work of an entire company until you’re able to actually start hiring employees. In the same way that our minds have expanded around what a good VC partner is, our minds have expanded around what a good advisor is—not only someone who can offer counsel when you’re stuck, or if you’re not sure which direction to go next, but they can remove obstacles for you. We’ve acknowledged that as hard as we work, we can’t remove those by ourselves, and there’s nothing wrong with putting smarter people than you in the room to help get them out of the way.
Nathan: We also have the head of government relations at Lime, David Spielfogel, as an advisor. He’s very well connected in different transportation departments—he worked for the Obama administration and he was briefly commissioner of Chicago, DOT. Then there’s Daniella Landow, a lobbyist in DC, who’s very intimately involved with legislation around transportation and infrastructure, specifically the funding coming from Build Back Better and the way that’s going to be distributed to states.
It’s a hack, really. Without having to expend any capital, we can have people with a totally different perspective and set of skills who can suddenly start to work for you. Obviously, the return is that they’re getting some equity, but that’s been worth it working with Michael and Mia, for example, for the last few months. Having a diversity of perspectives is really important. Diversity in all sense of the words—we’re going into cities that are very diverse, so we want to make sure we are getting multiple perspectives on what we’re doing, as a business strategy. We want to avoid making mistakes. We want to make sure we don’t get to a point where communities will feel like they’re not being heard. It’s very important to us that we have that dialogue with both the elected officials we’re talking to and the people we want to serve in those communities.
Tiya: I’d add that when you’re starting out, advisors can feel like lip service—something that’s sort of pro forma rather than functional, but advisors can be very hands-on. To find advisors that do more than direct from the comfort of an armchair is what you need. Often it can just be a few emails that they write and a few doors that they open.
What does the future of itselectric look like? What is your 10-year vision?
Tiya: On the base level, itselectric’s mission is to bring curbside EV charging to cities across the U.S. to advance the adoption of electric vehicles. Beyond that, it’s our mission to be a brand new, fresh face in the world of EV charging. We are not a corporate solution dropping in these large robotic gas pump-style fixtures in cities across the U.S. We are the design and community-centered approach that makes EV charging a true network effect in cities, where cities, buildings, and people are all working together to combat the climate crisis.
Nathan: We have a goal to put 1 million chargers in the ground in the next 10 years. These 1 million chargers are going to allow a near-complete conversion of our city’s vehicle fleets from gas power to electric. One million posts will not completely solve the problem, but it’s going to get us a significant amount of the way there. We will be able to save over 300 million tons of carbon emissions every year to reduce pollution on our roadways, as well as have quieter, more livable, and clean city streets. We also see opportunities for the electrification of transportation to catalyze locally produced solar installations and local storage.
We’re seeing a resiliency story around the adoption of EVs within cities because they are a mobile power source for people. And there are other technologies that we can unlock when it comes to a distributed network of lower voltage charging, like different vehicle ownership models. For example, it will become easier for people to simply leave their car at the curbside and share it with others if there’s a convenient way to charge it. The future of transportation in cities is electric, which will shape how people think about the flexibility and the different options they have for the vehicles themselves.