#135 Joshua Aviv, Co-founder & CEO of SparkCharge

And the truth about minority talent recruitment in cleantech.

Joshua Aviv is a certified Data Scientist and the Founder & CEO of SparkCharge. His experience in entrepreneurship and startups spans over 6 years and he is a dynamic figure in the cleantech community. Joshua is also the most recent winner of the world’s largest pitch competition, 43North. Joshua holds a B.A. in Economics and a Masters Degree in Information Management and Data Science from Syracuse University.

Joshua joined us on the Bigger Than Us podcast to talk about the opportunity he saw to make electric vehicles more accessible, what it’s been like to follow that opportunity through SparkCharge, and why he recommends that college students start companies of their own.

He also shares resources for minority talent recruitment and explains the link between BIPOC startup opportunities and neighborhood-level economic improvement.

Stick around to the end to hear about Founders Only, Josh’s new podcast, which is coming out soon.

Take me to the podcast.

A Drive to Make Electric Vehicles Accessible

This transcript has been edited for readability and brevity.

(13:13) I’ve always been really fascinated by the automotive industry. I’ve always been a car person. And I was a big believer early on in electric vehicles and the potential that they could have to have a positive impact on our planet.

And I think when I saw that there was this limiting factor around EV adoption and around the infrastructure needed to get EV adoption where it needs to be, I was really intrigued. I started doing research and started learning more about it. And obviously, I had really amazing mentors along the way while I was at Syracuse University, building this startup. And so I think it’s a factor of having a passion to do something good and to solve a problem for the world. And then having really great mentors that pushed me along and helped me solve it.

(17:47) My “why” was that this was a problem that was going to need to be solved, right? My “why” was that I believed that, by solving this problem, we were going to grow the electric vehicle market at a much faster rate. And I knew that electric vehicles were going to have a positive impact. But I knew that there were a lot of limitations to owning one. And so by solving this problem, I knew it was a problem that was going to be solved for millions of people. And being able to solve it, I felt opened up the door for EV adoption.

As we’ve grown up, one of the things that we’ve realized is that not only was this a problem for EV adoption, but when you think about electric vehicle adoption, in terms of who owns electric vehicles, and who are electric vehicles marketed to? Typically they’re marketed to affluent, middle to upper-class people.

That’s who you see driving electric vehicles, and one of the things that we’ve realized is that even if you wanted to own an electric vehicle in an area that wasn’t upper class but wasn’t middle class as well. But if you wanted to own an electric vehicle, or at least get into electric vehicles, their opportunity isn’t there.

If you think about it, if you live in an apartment complex that doesn’t offer EV charging, or you live in a neighborhood where EV charging isn’t readily available, then you really can’t join in on this revolution, you can’t take part in it. And so being able to also remove the barriers for neighborhoods, or locations that don’t have access to charging is also something that we discovered is going to be a big part in the role that we play as well.

So if there’s a neighborhood or a section of town that doesn’t have EV charging, but the residents there want to drive electric vehicles, want to create a better community, then, now that door’s open to them as well. So that’s something that we’re discovering along this journey that we’re proud of.

How SparkCharge Breaks Down Barriers to EV Adoption

(05:05) AtSparkCharge, we’re creating the world’s first intelligent mobile and on-demand electric vehicle charging infrastructure. We believe that electric vehicle owners should have the freedom to have their car charged wherever and whenever they want.

What we mean by this is that basically with our technology, which is split into two pieces, the Roadie which is our portable charging station that can charge an electric vehicle at an ultra-fast speed, one mile every 60 seconds. And then our platform or mobile app Boost EV. Together, you’re able to create this on-demand network where an EV owner can take the phone out, push a button, and have range delivered to them. The same way that you would order food or order a pizza while sitting on a couch, you can now have your car charged.

Ultra-Convenient EV Charging

If you think about it, if you remove the where, when, and how out of charging your car, then you’ve really helped improve the market and you’ve made it easier for people to adopt electric vehicles.

(10:31) Boost EV is really putting the power of the charging station in the palm of your hand. When we think about the day and age we live in, my grocery store lives on my phone with InstaCart. My chauffeur lives on my phone with Uber. My pizza delivery guy lives on my phone with GrubHub.

With Boost EV, now your charging station lives on your phone. You can take it out, push a button on your phone, and have range delivered anywhere. So you can be at your house. And you can say hey, you know, I really want an additional 50–100 miles of range. You could be at a coffee shop, take your phone out, push a button and have range delivered. You could be shopping.

(11:25) If you think about it, if you remove the where, when, and how out of charging your car, then you’ve really helped improve the market and you’ve made it easier for people to adopt electric vehicles.

(09:17) You can [charge the Roadie] from a regular outlet. And it was really designed to be that way. You can plug it into a regular outlet, the same outlet that you would charge your phone charge your laptop on. You can plug it in, recharge it. Takes less than four hours sometimes.

(12:44) [Charge speed is] one mile every 60 seconds. And so when you boil that down, you know, if someone says hey, I really you know, I need a quick top-off of 25 miles, it’s only gonna take 25 minutes and someone said, Hey, I really need you to know, a little bit extra juice at about 50 miles, it’s only gonna take them 15 minutes.

Accessible Pricing is Key

(12:17) Pricing is pretty affordable [for on-demand charging]. The average price is going to be around 25 bucks. So it’s going to be pretty affordable. You know, we really wanted to make the consumer feel comfortable with it. So it’s about the same as it would cost to order a burrito online, right? It’s around 25 bucks, and you’re good to go.

(06:32) Most people typically pay as little as 300 bucks a month to operate and use one.

(06:47) Most people prefer to lease [the Roadie], but we do allow people to buy the unit outright. And it depends on the size of your business and your use case. So it fluctuates quite a bit.

SparkCharge Partners Make Charging Easy

(07:07) We sell to businesses and those businesses go out and service EV owners. We work with everyone from big companies like Allstate, we work with a lot of OEMs a lot of automotive companies. We work with a lot of on-demand service companies like Spiffy. We really sell to businesses that want to service and help grow the electric vehicle market. So our customers can range anywhere from an on-demand delivery company, utility, a roadside company, and automotive manufacturer, you name it, the gambit is far and wide.

(07:52) We really work with apartment complexes and our partners work with them as well to make sure that you know if they have a need for EV charging, they can actually set up services where if they have tenants who have electric vehicles, one of our partners can actually come around and charge those cars on site.

So this means that the apartment complexes don’t need to spend a lot of money and uptake, they don’t need to spend a lot of money and putting in poles or chargers into the ground. You can essentially, any parking spot any parking garage on that property is now essentially a charging station with Boost EV. And we’ve actually been really focused on getting out and getting in touch with these complexes to open up EV charging to more of their tenants.

When you think about the limitations of you know, hey, I’m going to put a charging spot in this parking spot. The moment you have two cars pull up, now you need more chargers. When you have four cars pull up now you need more chargers. And then you have to really block those parking spots off to make sure that a non-electric vehicle doesn’t park there and take up that charging spot or block that charging spot.

With SparkCharge and Boost EV, every parking spot in the law is now an EV charger, right? Doesn’t matter. You know where it’s located. An EV can park anywhere and our partners can charge their car.

Intelligent Technology for Optimal Service

(26:19) There’s a level of intelligence where the device will be able to communicate with the platform and the providers, allowing them to really be able to maintain or see what’s happening with their device where it’s located. You’re really going to be able to get real-time data out of the device and allow our partners to inform better decisions on how they’re servicing EV owners.

So it’d be a really comprehensive way that partners can understand their business and understand the effectiveness of how they’re going about serving electric vehicle owners.

Made in the USA

(15:35) We’re really proud to be doing our manufacturing here in the United States, specifically in Buffalo, New York. We set up our very own manufacturing facility in Buffalo, New York, where all our units are manufactured. We’ve got a great team out there that’s dedicated and hardworking.

I’m sure as a lot of people know, Buffalo, and in upstate New York, they’re part of the rust belt. And so there was a lot of activity with people leaving upstate, there’s a lot of job growth kind of being stifled. And we believe that upstate New York is really a great place and a great opportunity to not only build a business but also to help grow the economy and help grow upstate New York. And we believe that we’re doing a good job of that by setting up manufacturing there, hiring people inside the community, and making it a great place to work, but also having great impact as we’re building out this company. And as we’re doing our jobs.

How to Make CleanTech Accessible for Minority Talent

…if I start a startup in a neighborhood that was previously underserved, and underrepresented, and I hire in that neighborhood, and I deployed capital in that neighborhood…I can change the face of that neighborhood.

(20:11) One of the things that we’ve learned is that you really have to go to the source, right? So what are the ways that you can get more people who look like us to join this movement? It’s by really going to the source and working with organizations that cater to minorities, right?

So a really good example of that, people always tell me all the time, “oh, you know, it’s so hard to find minority talent.” And quite frankly, that’s bullshit.

There are organizations out there like NSBE, National Society of Black Engineers, where all they do is facilitate introductions facilitate really top-tier candidates in the field of engineering to help get these engineers, these minority engineers, into companies.

And so I think that number one it’s making it known to other startups, other organizations that, there are programs out there where you can get in touch with minority candidates, and bring them into cleantech, bring them into startups.

And then I think the flip side of that is, when you start doing that, I believe, personally, that startups have a huge role to play in the communities in which they impact. I think it’s very clear to see that if I open up a startup, or if I start a startup in a neighborhood that was previously underserved, and underrepresented, and I hire in that neighborhood, and I deployed capital in that neighborhood, and I hired people out of that neighborhood, I can change the face of that neighborhood. Because now I’m deploying capital, and I’m creating jobs in that neighborhood, and therefore that neighborhood is going to change. There’s going to be more jobs. And that means that more money will be spent in those neighborhoods.

And so I’m a huge proponent that, like we startups, companies, in general, have a huge role to play in reshaping neighborhoods, reshaping the way that job growth has seen here in this country. I think it’s it’s a huge role that we play, and it often goes unnoticed. So I know that that’s a mouthful, but that’s kind of like some of my thoughts on that.

(22:50) I think it’s something that I would encourage more people to do, right, look into how, you know, who are you hiring? And then what communities are you impacting? And how are you impacting them? I think it’s something that I would encourage more startups to take a hard look at.

Advice for Startup Founders

…make sure if you’re going to start a startup be dedicated, be passionate, and really be focused on solving a problem and making sure that that problem makes this world a better place.

(02:32) Starting in college was definitely an interesting route to take. But it’s something that I would recommend any college student do is start a company. It’s going to give you such a leg up on the world and your environment, and you’re going to learn so much.

(04:17) You wear many hats in a startup. And I think that’s both a really good thing, you know, learning to do all those roles. But it’s also a really good thing, learning how you delegate all those roles, and how do you know once you start growing and scaling, how you take those hats off? So I think entrepreneurship, starting a business running a business, it’s going to teach you more than any job could ever teach you.

(27:04) It’s never too early or too late to start a startup. But I would say with that in mind, you can’t have one foot in and one foot out. You need to be both feet in, 10 toes down committed to growing your company. I would say my one piece of advice would just make sure if you’re going to start a startup be dedicated, be passionate, and really be focused on solving a problem and making sure that that problem makes this world a better place.

Coming Soon: The Founders Only Podcast with Josh Aviv

(28:52) My podcast will be called Founders Only. And it’ll be interviewing founders from across a wide array of different backgrounds, different companies.


Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

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Raj Daniels