Interviews with start-up founders

Chris Cardé - HeyCharge

Chris, you and your partners founded the start-up HeyCharge. You want to retrofit apartment buildings with easy and cheap charging for electric cars. How did the idea come about?

I bought my first electric car three years ago and drove it home with great pride. I live in an apartment in Munich, and it was already clear to me that I wouldn't always find a charging station everywhere. But I never anticipated how frustrating it would be to charge this car - it hurt! So I decided to look for a solution. In the end, I'm not alone with this problem: There is electricity everywhere, but you can't access it as an electric car driver - especially if you’re not a home owner.

Finding a solution is one thing, founding a company is another. What is your motivation?

Our vision is that recharging electric vehicles will be very easy and possible everywhere. We see great potential here: experts say that we could shift upwards the predicted adoption curve of electric vehicles by 10 to 20 percent if people living in apartment buildings no longer had to worry about recharging. In Europe, that's more than 180 million people! If we make it easier for them to integrate an e-car into their lives, we will get more electric vehicles on the road and drastically reduce CO2 emissions.

The official launch of HeyCharge was in March 2020, shortly before the first Corona lockdown. Is the pandemic currently your biggest challenge?

Sure, this was a scary time to start a business. But it also opened our eyes. You could even say that it was a happy coincidence. I often think about the mistakes we would have made if we had started before the Corona pandemic. We would probably have rented offices that would now just burden our cash flow. Or we would have hired too many people too quickly. The pandemic forced us to take smaller steps. On the other hand, the pandemic has pushed forward the public discourse on sustainable living and economic activity. From the federal government to private households, people are asking themselves the question: "What kind of world do we want to live in?” These are very good prerequisites for us.

What have been the most important milestones for you so far?

We have spent a lot of time trying to understand exactly what problems we actually need to solve so that residents of apartment buildings can charge their e-vehicles more easily. In the process, our range of services has also evolved: It all started with the idea of developing an online platform that facilitates the sale of electricity between landlords or building managers on the one hand and tenants on the other. At the beginning, however, we were not aware of the amount of tax and accounting work that would be involved for the landlords in such a model. Therefore, a very important milestone was the decision to change the business model: We retrofit underground garages with charging stations and sell electricity directly to users.

We had the biggest “aha”-moment when we turned our attention to the hardware. Originally, we wanted to use existing charging stations and so-called wallboxes. But we realized that the hardware on the market was simply too expensive to be installed everywhere. This is the real problem that needed to be solved. In a world where e-cars can be bought for 20,000 euros, it makes no sense to spend thousands of euros on a charging station. It became clear to us: For residents of apartment buildings, these costs are the biggest blocker preventing them from switching to e-mobility.

What does your solution look like?

As multiple tenants use a charging station in apartment buildings, they previously needed Internet access. This way, the station could recognize who was authorized to charge electricity in the first place and then transmit how much the person was using. All of this makes the hardware, installation, and operating costs very expensive. With our app we circumvent this problem. We have developed the appropriate hardware that does not require an Internet connection and with which we can reduce costs considerably. In addition, our app is very easy to use. Building managers can simply log in and create their tenants as users. Extensive training is not necessary. We are ready for our first big pilot phase - what is still missing are investors.

Since October you have been part of the Accelerator Program of EIC Climate KIC, which is supported by ERGO and Munich Re. What do you hope for from this cooperation?

EIT Climate KIC has already exceeded our expectations. The training and financial support are very helpful. We benefit most from the network of experts and the mentoring we receive. The cooperation with ERGO and Munich Re is very exciting because there are many overlaps: Anyone buying an electric vehicle today has to insure it, park it and recharge it. We are looking forward to working together on solutions for the future.

An aerial photograph of the Green Garage with solar panels on the roof – the venue for the Climate-KIC accelerator’s pitch day in June 2017.
These start-ups are already on their way to success

Their creative solutions are as different as the start-ups themselves. But there is one thing they all have in common: Their applications for support have been selected in the Side Call of Climate-KIC and Munich Re/ERGO.