The contentious implementation of the carbon tax last month is designed, in part, to spur clean energy technology. But this isn’t the only driver for green start-ups.
Indeed, Andrew Stead, director of business development at ATP Innovations, says that there are several broader, more important factors that are helping clean energy innovators off the ground.
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Stead recently led a group of investors who picked five clean tech start-ups to be part of the inaugural Ignition Labs green accelerator program.
In addition to intensive mentoring and $25,000 in seed capital, teams have the opportunity to participate in a road show in Australia and the United States, including at SXSW Eco in Texas.
“There are some large costly projects, such as wind power, that are hard to find money for in Australia,” explains Stead.
“But there are now more and more businesses with lean start-up principles in the clean tech space, in a variety of areas. They can build their businesses and test them quickly. which is attractive for investors.”
“It’s more than just renewable energy, it’s energy efficiency buildings, transport and sustainability. There’s a definite spike in start-up activity in these areas.”
So which start-ups are at the cutting edge of this clean tech revolution?
We spoke to four of the Ignition Labs participants to find out what ideas they are working on and how they hope to make them mainstream business successes.
Below are two of the businesses – Chunk Design and Open Shed. We’ll bring you the other two profiles tomorrow, so stay tuned.
1. Will Wansey
Business: Chunk Design
Concept: Creating the world’s first mass-market electric ‘postie’ motorbike
Who’s behind the business then, Will?
There’s Hugh Worthington, who is an industrial designer. We run Chunk Industries together. There’s also Sean Foley, who is the finance guy.
At Chunk Industries, we’ve worked on a variety of products, but this is our first large-scale project. We are focusing all our efforts on the postie bikes.
Why postie bikes?
We initially wanted to build electric Beetles, to create something new and cool. But Sean is into old bikes and Vespas and convinced us to start on something small and manageable.
There’s more of an issue with available parts with Vespas, so we moved to postie bikes. They are easy, cheap and it’s simple to get the parts.
We’ve worked on making an electric postie bike for the past year, ever since we got a $20,000 grant through the Big Green Idea, which is a British Council scheme.
They liked the fact that it was focused in the area of urban sustainability and provided clean, short-range transport for people in cities.
Everything then took off when we were chosen by Ignition Labs. We’re focusing on it more as a business now and making sure that we get a great product to market.
How have you gone so far?
It’s gone pretty well. We’ve built three or four prototypes and hit a few dead ends with components but we hit the nail on the head with a small lightweight frame that doesn’t require huge batteries.
We’ve devised a system where the transmission is at a much lower current, so that the bike isn’t weighed down by a heavy battery.
It has a much better performance with a lower power than what we started with. It’s a really big solution for this bike.
Won’t there be an issue with recharging the bikes every five minutes?
That’s exactly the problem we faced. You have a high performance bike but you get 15 minutes run time before it needs to be recharged, which isn’t acceptable.
The higher spec the bike, the heavier the batteries. It’s a vicious cycle. We’ve stripped it back as much as possible, made it very minimal and given it a cool, retro look.
It can now run for about an hour or 50km on one pack. We’re confident we’ve cracked the problem of getting a low-cost battery that has a bit of range. It’s taken a lot of work, but we’re very happy with it.
Why does the public at large need this, exactly?
We’re positioning this right at the target market of inner-city urban dwellers. The components are cheap so we’ll keep the price point down below $4,000.
There are two main drivers towards e-bikes – the first is economics. In China, in certain areas you can only ride electric bikes, by law. That’s a huge market.
The second is the people who want low cost short-range travel within cities. The sustainability part is a nice add-on, but people are mainly attracted by the price.
How has Ignition Labs helped you?
The mentorship and advice has been great.
We were looking for good advice once we got out of university, so it was such a decision to apply for the program. It’s been running for three weeks and I’ve never been so busy. It’s been full on.
We focused the pitch on the market potential – which is about $6 billion worldwide this year and expanding. The market is there and it’s growing.
What are your future plans?
We do have other projects that we can apply this innovation to, such as scooters, but at the moment we are focusing on getting the postie bikes right.
Our goal is to have amazing-looking postie bikes ready by the end of September to take to the Eco SXSW Festival, with the other Ignition Labs participants.
We have no firm sales targets. The game plan is to sell them online ourselves and keep it as close to home as possible. At a certain point, there’s no affordable alternative but to go to China for manufacturing, but we want to do things well before we get bigger.
There are a lot of challenges in general with electric vehicles in Australia. Cost is a big one – we don’t have the same incentives as the US or Europe, such as tax breaks and exemptions from toll roads.
We are a bit behind in Australia, but there are lots of good companies working on solutions here and I think that we have customers here that want them.