Black Founders Of EV-Charging Startups Have More Than Profits On Their Minds

SHeryl E. Ponds, whose Washington, DC-based newcomer designs and builds electric vehicle charging stations, has been successful in attracting business from customers seeking home installations as acceptance of the new green technology increases.

But for Ponds, who is black, it’s hard to ignore that these customers are typically suburban, affluent, and white. She values ​​her business, but wants to ensure the infrastructure she develops reaches urban and black communities. So last year she began introducing her services to apartment property managers in areas where demographics tend to be more diverse — though it’s been harder to get sales.

“They’re not necessarily excited about installing an amenity that they can’t recoup by renting,” said Ponds, CEO and founder of Dai Technologies Corp forbes “In an apartment building if I’m not willing to deal with the extra [work] that comes with sales to property managers, then black families are served at the back end in this industry. They will be barred from adopting electric vehicles.”

Ponds is one of several black entrepreneurs with electric vehicle charging startups trying to ensure blacks aren’t left behind as America transitions to electric vehicles. At stake, they say, is the chance to improve health outcomes in ZIP codes that have long been plagued by air pollution and high rates of asthma, which tend to disproportionately affect black Americans. They also say that EV charging infrastructure will have an impact on green job opportunities, mobility and participation in the gig economy in urban areas, especially as companies like Uber promise to have all-electric fleets within the next decade.

“The thing is, we can benefit more from EV adoption than most communities,” Ponds said. “We tend to live in neighborhoods where we need decarbonization, environmental justice, and health outcomes that improve by reducing fuel emissions.”

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, black American children are nearly three times more likely to develop asthma and eight times more likely to die from it than white children. A 2018 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that black children are more vulnerable to ground-level ozone from tailpipes and chimney fumes, even at low levels and even when using asthma therapies like inhalers.

Environmental justice advocates are turning to electric vehicles to mitigate this. Only about 2% of electric vehicle owners are black. Vehicle costs have often been cited as a factor, but another is the lack of charging stations in predominantly black neighborhoods, which industry experts have dubbed “charging deserts.”

“In many of the communities that we live in, we just don’t have access to EV charging,” said Josh Aviv, founder and CEO of SparkCharge, which offers portable on-demand charging that can be requested through a mobile app. “But I think as we see these barriers gradually being removed, we will see more people in our community buying electric vehicles.”

Aviv, whose company recently raised $30 million in Series A funding, said he launched SparkCharge in 2017 in part because he believed brick-and-mortar charging infrastructure would not be deployed fast enough to keep up with demand . Even with recent federal funding for electric vehicle charging stations, the process of building a new charging station can take 12 to 24 months, Aviv said. “If we enter a city in less than seven days, that city will be completely covered with energy, so any electric vehicle owner anywhere in that city can push a button and have the range brought to them instantly,” he said forbes “We can do it in a few days instead of years.”

Aviv said his company also offers technical jobs and training for aspiring technicians. “Our hiring strategy when we go into a city is that we like to hire from underrepresented communities and basically put them in the green economy and give them green jobs,” he said.

Research firm Gartner projects that there will be 36 million annual electric vehicle deliveries by 2030, up from 3 million in 2020, or a compound annual growth rate of 26%.

Paul Francis is the founder and CEO of KIGT, based in Ontario, California, which installs its own and third-party charging stations. In an effort to gain a foothold in urban areas, he has begun making revenue-sharing agreements with churches in south Los Angeles that allow KIGT chargers in their parking lots. The upfront costs can be high, he said, especially with the tens of thousands of dollars required to upgrade transformers so the chargers can draw power from the local grid.

“If we’re talking about millions of people driving more electric vehicles soon, it has to come from these communities,” Francis said forbes. “They need to be charged appropriately and that’s why I’m willing to bet on putting capital there … and we’ll be there first and grow with them.”

William McCoy runs a software company called Vehya, which offers a marketplace to help electric vehicle customers manage projects and find electricians. He said his interest in making sure blacks are included in the EV transition revolves around the economic opportunities. He said it’s common for electricians in particular to pull in upwards of $150,000 a year due to demand in some markets.

“The people I see need jobs,” he said forbes. “So to be able to be the person that works with these companies, including the big automobile [original equipment manufacturers], I am able to get people jobs. And that’s what it’s really about. In my eyes, this is where I can make the most impact in these communities.”

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