The electric vehicle segment is growing leaps and bounds every passing day, and the start-ups that entered the segment early have now started reaping the benefits of being early betters. Mumbai-headquartered Ion Energy, begin its journey in 2015, a time when many companies were mulling the potential of the electric vehicle segment. Instead of jumping on the easy bandwagon, Akhil Aryan, co-founder, and CEO, Ion Energy decided to focus on the BMS (Battery Management System) an area that was still in its infancy stage in the country.
In a conversation with Financial Express, he reveals the thoughts behind the move, plans for the future, and focuses on telematics as a new business area.
The acquisition for many may mean the end of the journey for Ion Energy’s original management, but in fact, as Aryan says, “The entire team, all the engineers, including Alex and me, the co-founder, CEO, and CTO will continue to work on Maxwell. From a management standpoint, we are only strengthening the management by maybe hiring. Now with the additional resources, bringing in a new VP of product or bringing a CFO, or inducting a new VP of operations can further help us with supply chain operations. But the entire core team, including Alex and I, will continue with Maxwell moving forward.”
He says “not all acquisitions are the same. Some acquisitions are where a business has a well-oiled machine, and everything is working. You can sort of just buy the business and keep doing what they were doing. But in our case, we are building forward-looking technology. And so what’s very important for me, even as a company at Ion Energy is to retain our talent and to invest in our culture and environment, to showcase and set a new standard not only inside the company but really for the industry that acquisitions don’t need to end continuity, they don’t need to mean exit, they can become amplifying vehicles to really take your mission to the next level and that’s really what I want.”
At present, Ion Energy was mainly focusing on two- and three-wheeler EV applications. But with Endurance’s backing Aryan believes that there is a whole new set of possibilities that have opened up.
India as an R&D hub
It is no secret that when it comes to investing in R&D and new product developments, Indian companies have traditionally lagged far behind their global counterparts. Aryan too seems to agree that one of the deterrents for many organisations has been “because R&D has a certain amount of risk associated with it. If you invest in R&D, you don’t know if that will eventually make it to mass production and in turn mass adoption. There is some sort of risk associated with that.”
But on the other hand, with greater risks comes greater rewards. He says for a country like India, which has a mass consumer market, if the technology/product/solution can be deployed successfully in the country, one can also derisk the R&D to a great extent.
Sharing the focus for Maxwell, he says from the initial days the idea was to “bridge the gap between the electronics and software engineers”. The country already has access to some of the brightest minds globally, the need is to nurture them essentially “taking the R&D risk on India instead of outsourcing that IP and then licensing it back, taking the responsibility of converting the talent into technology, into products and then export it from India. And I think that that’s really worked for us. And I would say that is probably the core of why we’ve been successful is because we’ve identified high-quality global talent in India, worked on technologies that we designed for the world, not just for India, and then invested heavily into customer support and technology adoption and integration into the market, which sort of has a cascading effect on adoption.”
New products and focus areas
Ion Energy begin its initial focus on providing BMS solutions under the Maxwell Energy Systems subsidiary to the two- and three-wheeler segment.
Aryan explains that the way Ion Energy has been created is “essentially at the intersection of three core capabilities – sensing, estimation, and functionally safe actuation.”
It means all Ion Energy products in the foreseeable future will use sensors to collect raw data; then they will use proprietary algorithms to estimate values from that sensor, and third based on that estimation they will take some action in a functionally placed manner. Citing the example of the BMS, he says that it senses the voltage of the cells, provides an estimate of the state of charge & health and then it will take action on, potentially, for example, deciding how much current it will allow to flow to the motor or how much current it will allow the charger to get inside of the battery.
According to Aryan, the company will continue its focus on designing BMS for “practically the entire gamut of applications, right, from kick scooters, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, three-wheelers, four-wheelers, buses, trucks, forklifts, industrial UPS, residential UPS, and so on. we’re already a market leader in the two and three-wheel space. We are now investing heavily in the four-wheel and high voltage spaces. And so that’s going to be an area of focus for us over the next couple of years.”
The next product that Ion Energy is working on is telematics. “We believe that the world is not only going to move towards an all-electric but also a connected future. All modern electric vehicles are connected to the cloud. But as you do that from a data security and encryption standpoint, it becomes very important because if you have two-way communication, you can have a lot of breaches on security that can update software for these vehicles. And from a functional safety standpoint, apart from just battery, we believe that telematics has a lot of scope to add value not only on the hardware but on the embedded software and the safety encryption. So that’s the second product platform that we’re building that will be launching, I would say either end of this year or early next year.”
Despite being a young start-up, it is interesting to note that the company is already working with close to 70 to 75 customers, which is a mix of OEM as well as battery pack makers. The business is split about 50-50 between India and international customers.
“We will probably be bringing on in the pipeline many high-value customers in India, some of the world’s largest OEMs – not just India’s largest OEM – will be going into production with us very shortly and that will mean that in the foreseeable future, the India business will continue to grow. But we still have an ongoing focus on European customers because like I said we have designed our products and technology for the world. And even today, for example, we have customers in more than 15 countries,” concludes an optimistic Aryan.