Along for the Ride #157
10 Women-Led Startups Changing the Face of Sustainable Mobility
My name is Alex Mitchell, and I’m thrilled Sarah invited me to share my thoughts with you this week. A bit about me: I’ve spent close to 15 years in sustainable mobility, mostly funding or partnering with startups and executing corporate projects in the space. By day, I help lead Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) and, on the side, I run the Su$tainable Mobility newsletter.
One of the biggest disconnects in our transportation world is that men represent such a dominant percentage of leadership. While the lack of an equal playing field for women permeates every industry, it’s been particularly acute in mobility, where everything from engineering education to factories and logistics chains have historically been closed to women, either explicitly or implicitly. Knowing that talent is equally distributed but opportunities are not, this stifles innovation in mobility. To that end, the list below highlights exceptional women-founded companies tackling climate change in a very real way.
10 Women-Founded Sustainable Mobility Startups to Follow
Alisha Fredriksson & Roujia Wen, Seabound
The shipping industry is what scientists refer to as “hard-to-decarbonize.” While zero emissions cars and even zero emissions short-haul planes are becoming much more common, the physics of large ships make them significantly harder to get to zero emissions. Under current technology, emissions reduction is more feasible than emissions elimination.
Fredrkisson and Wen are on a mission to use carbon capture technologies to help ships reduce up to 95% of their emissions. Wen’s mathematics and physics background combined with Fredrkisson’s business resulted in a $4.4M seed round led by Lowercarbon Capital.
Raven Hernandez, Earth Rides
A decade ago, the concept of ridehail jumped on the scene thanks to Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. Today, over 50% of Americans have used one of these services. And while ridehail can be convenient, it’s generally not that sustainable, especially when drivers are relying on their gas-powered vehicles. While Uber and Lyft both have commitments to get to zero emissions ridehail in the future, it’s notable that Uber’s most recent sustainability report neglected to break out what percent of its rides were in EVs.
Enter Earth Rides, which provides safe, premium ride-hail in a fleet of all-electric vehicles. Present in Nashville and Austin, the company is going against the grain by classifying its drivers as employees and owning or leasing its fleet. While the company may not displace Uber or Lyft, the ridehail market has proven that alternative players can survive so long as they have a differentiated strategy, just take a look at Marcel in France or woman-founded and led HopSkipDrive in the US. Hernandez notes, “Earth is working alongside private entities to help speed up the adoption of electric vehicles.” That can be a huge competitive advantage vis-a-vis players like Uber taking a slower approach.
Madison Rifkin, Mount
Speaking of Uber, If you’ve ever stayed at an Airbnb, chances are you got around town via a ride-hail app. That’s a missed opportunity both for site hosts and tenants, as many site hosts do have transportation assets but haven’t historically rented them out. For tenants, it's a lost opportunity to explore a city more slowly and intentionally rather than via the backseat of a Lyft. Mount’s an asset management web app for property owners to track and turn their existing assets such as golf carts, bikes, and scooters into rentable fleets.
According to founder Rifkin, “We are helping to place electric vehicles at Short Term Rental properties to give guests a carbon-free way to explore the town.”
Jeyda Heselton, Fettle
Owning an e-bike can be a bewildering experience, especially because traditional bike repair shops can be hostile to the notion of direct-to-consumer sales. UK-based Fettle takes the pain out of e-bike servicing via treating it less like an esoteric, insiders-only experience and more like a BestBuy Geek Squad experience where all questions are fair and pricing is fully transparent. The e-bike market is scaling dramatically around the world, but to keep customers coming back, the ownership experience needs to make a leap into the modern era.
Natalie King, Dunamis
EV sales show no signs of slowing down, prompting the need for even more EV chargers. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act will pump billions of dollars into making sure that we have enough chargers in all the right places.
Unfortunately, our domestic manufacturing chain for EV chargers is fairly abysmal; leading manufacturers include Australia-based Tritium and Swiss-based ABB. Dunamis may end up changing that balance of power. Headquartered in Detroit, Dunamis is taking advantage of the massive amount of industrial know-how in the Motor City to start building a globally competitive EV charger company. An attorney by training, Dunamis’ factory is astutely located in Hamtramck, across the street from Factory Zero, GM’s first fully dedicated EV plant.
Kameale Terry & Evette Ellis, ChargerHelp!*
Anyone who has ever driven a non-Tesla EV knows the pain of the public charging experience. Despite what over a dozen apps might tell you about a charger’s availability or online status, the truth on the ground is often quite different. Simply put, EV chargers do break down and, when they do go offline, often stay that way for weeks at a time due.
This was a challenge Kameale Terry felt acutely in her prior job as a Director of Programs at EV Connect, where she saw the complexity in keeping a distributed IOT assesst online and operable. She quickly learned that most of the issues were not electrical issues but instead communication or firmware issues.
ChargerHelp! is one of those brilliantly intuitive businesses that makes you question why the entire eco-system didn’t work this way before. By training salaried individuals to become tier one respondents when an EV charger goes down, the public EV charger suddenly becomes a lot more reliable, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and growth in the EV market. ChargerHelp! isn’t just being adopted by corporations; the federal government has taken note and mandated that public funds for EV chargers must be tied to uptime performance.
Selinay Parlak, Bluedot*
Even if the public EV charger is up and running, finding a way to pay can be a nightmare. Nobody wants or needs 5 different EV charger apps on their phones, and the ensuing hassle of keeping credit cards up to date across all apps. BlueDot solves the problem by offering a flat-fee per kWh across major EV charger networks, all wrapped up in a debit card that gives you bonus points when your public charging session results in a latte at Starbucks or a shopping trip at Whole Foods. It’s a fintech meets EV charging play that helps both individual EV drivers and EV fleet managers.
Tiya Gordon, ItsElectric
The ambition to scale EV ownership in the US hasn’t yet accounted for the majority of households who live and park their vehicles in cities. Those households face significant barriers when they try to go EV, often giving up along the way when they are left with limited costly or inconvenient options to charge.
To scale EV ownership, we’re going to have to find a way to tap into street parking for charging. With 20 years of public-facing design under her belt, Gordon is focused on making sure that her startup leverages the power of building owners to be part of the curb-side EV solution alongside city authorities. Instead of connecting the charger to the utility main in the street - their posts are fed by a circuit from inside an adjacent building. This lowers the cost of installing a station and provides shared revenue for participating property owners.
Gordon notes, "we've developed a product that allows cities to install a charger in a matter of days, at no cost, in any location where there is a building and a curb."
Manal Habib, MightyFly
Manal Habib lives and breathes aviation, both as a private pilot and an aerospace engineer. So it’s no surprise that she would choose to found MightyFly, an autonomous hybrid eVTOL aircraft for cargo delivery. With a cargo capacity of 500 pounds and a flight range of 600 miles, it’s an eVTOL use case that makes a lot of sense in government and business operations. The company closed a $5.1M seed round in April 2021.
Monja Mühling, smart lane
Like maritime, heavy-duty trucking falls on the “hard-to-decarbonize” spectrum. Getting zero emissions heavy-duty trucks on the road is going to take some time.
In the interim, there’s a perfect opportunity to increase shipping efficiency while reducing environmental impact. Today, most freight forwarders and logistics companies plan routes based on time-intensive manual calculations. Smartlane collapses that complexity into an AI-driven software platform that can recommend optimal route dispatches in minutes. It’s the kind of business that isn’t visible to a generalist consumer and doesn’t always generate TechCrunch headlines, but has a genuine day-to-day impact on economic and environmental efficiencies in a poorly tracked sector.
I hope you enjoyed this issue of Along for the Ride and it inspired you to take further action in the field of sustainable mobility. If you enjoyed this guest post, please consider subscribing to the Su$tainable Mobility newsletter. If you’re a startup interested in joining LACI, you can find out more here. Finally, I would encourage you to reach out to the founders above with connections to venture investors, corporate partners, or to seek your next job in sustainable mobility.
* Disclosure: My employer (LACI) has an equity stake in both ChargerHelp! And BlueDot
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I’ll be back next week with my take on the news from the past few weeks. Until then friends,
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