Micelio that happens to be India’s one-of-its-kind seed funding company is thriving to see innovation in the clean mobility and EV space. Micelio has four companies under it namely Micelio Fund (a corpus of 140 crore to invest in EV startups), Micelio Studio (incubation space for the startups to collaborate and create products), Lighting Logistics (an EV last-mile delivery firm) and Product Company (building an EV form factor with an initial focus on the Indian last-mile solutions). With India moving fast in the direction of pure electric mobility, a lot of development has been going in the said space. Micelio is also contributing its bit by supporting startups in multiple ways and is also, working on its own electric vehicle. In order to understand the company’s plans better and what impact Covid-19 had on the business, Express Drives recently had a conversation with Shreyas Shibulal, Founder & Director, Micelio.
Express Drives – Can you please give us an insight into the four companies that you have under Micelio and how they work in the convention for the EV respectively?
Shreyas – Micelio has 4 business verticals, which are divided into two broad categories- ecosystem initiative category and Commercial category. Under the ecosystem initiative category we have the Micelio Fund, which is a seed fund with a vision to enable innovation towards clean energy and creating a sustainable mobility ecosystem. This fund is for anyone who is working in the component technology or people who are putting together inplant visions for charging infrastructure and even technologies in drive agnostics. So we look at core investment opportunities ranging from a 1,00,000 to a million. The second company we have is Micelio Discovery Studio, which is a development facility for startups where they can access our equipment and infrastructure at a very nominal subscription rate to develop their products or technologies. The idea behind this studio was that many of these equipment are expensive which sometimes becomes an obstacle for startups as they cannot afford them. So at our Studio, they can use the equipment for their product to transform them from ideation to prototype. Now coming to the commercial Initiative aspect, we have two companies under this- Lightning Logistics and our Product Company.
Lighting Logistics is a last mile EV delivery company. We currently operate in three cities Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai. We are still very much in the pilot stage with around a 1000 vehicles in our fleet. Our customers, they come from different industries like e-commerce, courier services, groceries etc. And lastly, we have our own Product Company where we are aiming to create our vehicle for last mile logistics purposes.
Can you shed some light on the kind of vehicles that you are coming up with? Are there any vehicles under the Micelio brand name?
As far as the brand name is concerned, we have not finalised anything yet. Now coming to the kind of vehicles, in my opinion there’s no EV which is purpose-built for last-mile logistics operations. All the EV that we have in the market right now are built mostly for consumer use, so from that perspective we want to develop something that is purpose-built for last-mile delivery services. And as you can imagine the use cases will be quite different.
As you know the current times are quite difficult for brands and companies because of the current going pandemic. So how did Covid-19 situation impact your business?
From the larger perspective if we see, then of course this pandemic has brought in this own set of problems, like for our Discovery Studio, since its a common space, we have been having a lot of discussions on how to make it safe for people to work there. Luckily we were very early on and the pandemic did not hamper any of our operation or anything but still we had to pause the ongoing tasks because of the lockdown. Especially after the lockdown was lifted, many of our members were very keen to come back and resume their work here, so we had to discuss in detail about their safety and everything.
The other company which was affected was of course the Lighting Logistics, because everyone was at home and our lives had become standstill. For us the safety of our riders is of utmost priority, so we had to take every possible safety measures to make sure that they are safe. I feel they are the real heroes who have risked their lives to make our lives comfortable. Hence as a company, it took us quite some time to figure out how to keep everything safe and proper for our employees and how to cater to this unexpected situation. And finally, like any other company in the EV ecosystem, even our Product Company was affected as we could not import components regardless of the jurisdiction, which made it tougher.
Apart from the Covid-19 situation, what are the challenges, in general, that you are facing in the EV ecosystem, especially in a country like India where it is still in a very nascent stage?
We as a company focus a lot on globalization and what can we do in order to be sustainable and contribute to the ecosystem. From a component perspective, things have ramped up quite a bit however we are still in the very initial stage in terms of developing a robust set of component ecosystems to actually cater to our ambition of an EV future. This is definitely one of the main hurdles in the adoption of EV as it is not very sustainable to rely on import components, whether it be battery cells or motors. So we need a robust component infrastructure in India. The other main hurdle will probably be the energy infrastructure. Before even talking about charging infrastructure we should focus more on the electricity grid. Especially for inter-city transportation, that’s something that really requires our focus more.
Recently, the Delhi government rolled out a new EV policy where they announced subsidies and incentives on electric vehicles. What are your opinions on that?
So I think it is definitely a very good initiative which will go a long way in terms of an increase in EV adoption. I also heard that there are talks about additional tax to be imposed on ICE vehicles which might be an additional boost. In my opinion a lot has been said and done about subsidies on Ev vehicles and now the subsidies are also directly linked to the level of liquidization which is also very encouraging.
Apart from the subsidies that the Delhi Government has provided, what are your suggestions that the government can implement for faster adoption of EV?
If I have to put it in a few words then I think the government should also focus on the supply side policy. That’s a big sphere but as I was saying earlier, something should be done on local component manufacturer capabilities. I feel it’s too large a topic to discuss as it has so many various aspects, but the key topics would be listening to the EV industry and policymakers on how the supply side can be improved.
Recently there was a notification on electric vehicles that they can now be sold without batteries. So what do you think will be the impact of this notification on startups that specializes on battery manufacturing?
Honestly, for me, I think ultimately the biggest impact of these new policies will be on the consumer because the cost of EV is going to be more affordable. Now for individual battery manufacturers, current OEM and start ups I think they will have to start focusing on compatibility of their individual products and the regulation laws are also being directed in that way as well. My hope is that they will start focusing on this more.
What do you think will be the impact of these notifications on the EV ecosystem in the near future?
In the near future, I definitely expect to see an increase in adoption of EV. Right now the policies are a bit rigid in various aspects like the battery aspect of it, it has not reached there yet. But what will happen is that the cost of EV’s will definitely come down and as a result, it will be more affordable. Also, energy as service, which is where you pay for charge but you don’t really own the battery itself, for those businesses and startups in that space they have a great opportunity. This is because now you can buy an EV without the battery and then you can put it on your books.
For Micelio Funds, what kind of startups are you supporting right now?
So from the fund perspective, we have already made our first investment probably a month ago in a company called Cell Propulsion. We are hoping to close one or two more investments by the end of this year. From the discovery studio perspective, there are various startups who are using our facility but I’m not sure if I can provide you with their names at this moment.
By any chance are you in talk with any OEMs at the moment for a possible partnership opportunity?
No, right now we are not in any discussion.
Can you throw some light on what are the developments that are going on in the Lighting Logistics company?
We focus more on collecting data and provide seamless last-mile delivery experience for our customers. On the basis of the data collected we do take measures and modification to make the services a little better. The vehicles we are working with right now are consumer vehicles, hence we make slight modifications to make it more logistically viable. We also collect data on temperature or road condition, pollution to make the route more efficient. We are also looking to expand our fleet by maybe a 1,000 more and expand our area to other cities as well. We usually like to do it with an anchor customer to venture into a new market.
What are the categories of vehicle that you are currently working on?
From a studio perspective, I would say we are focusing majorly on the component state and not much into a complete vehicle. Since we receive more than 175 applications every year, we kind of have a clear picture on what most of the startups are working on in India and I would say that most of these companies are generally looking at putting together a two and three-wheelers because that is what the market is. From the fund perspective, we invested in cell propulsion where they aim at developing advanced technologies to accelerate the global transition to connected electric vehicles. Very few startups are working on passenger four-wheelers at the moment.
What are the future plans of the company both in the near term as well as long term?
All the companies that we have are kind of cross-pollinating and will grow together. From a fund perspective, we are aiming to invest in 2-3 more companies this year and maybe 4-5 in the upcoming year. From Discovery Studio we are always welcoming to new members who would like to access our facility. We want to see that space getting utilised and adding value to people’s vision. We work very closely with our members and get an idea on what they are looking for and also provide guidance if required. From lighting logistics we would love to explore new markets in new cities and maybe increase our fleet size by another thousand vehicles. From the product company side, our first vehicle will be for last-mile logistic use maybe for Lightning Logistics.
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