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This Startup Has a Vision for an Electric Vehicle-Driven Future

A Q&A with Ahsan ul Alam, CEO of Electrefy Inc.

By Kiki Cekota

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Electrefy founder Ahsan ul Alam and cofounder Joseph Tam

As the need to address climate change gets more urgent every day, many big car companies and customers are making the transition from gas-powered to electric vehicles. The problem is, there aren’t currently enough electric car chargers around to meet what will soon be a huge demand for them. Ahsan ul Alam, founder of iCUE startup Electrefy and a graduate of Ryerson’s engineering program, says his business is different from other EV charging companies. I sat down with Ahsan to find out more.

Q: What is Electrefy?

A: Electrefy makes charging stations for electric cars. Our concept is to redefine charging – anything to do with charging, either a product, infrastructure, or user interface, that’s what we plan to work on.

Q: How did you come up with the idea?

A: I started venturing into the EV market when I was an intern working in Cambridge, Ont., and living in Toronto. I had to travel 200 kilometres a day, so that’s when I started exploring some more fuel-efficient ways to travel, and the electric car caught my attention. The problem then —and that we still face today— is that there aren’t enough charging stations on the road to make such long trips feasible in electric vehicles. So I started exploring what kinds of problems there are with infrastructure, and using my engineering background to see if I could come up with a solution. That’s where the journey started.

Q: How long have you been working on developing the charger?

A: About two years. It was initially just me and then my cofounder, Joseph Tam, came on board earlier this year. From the initial idea to actually making something happen is a lengthy process, and for hardware the process is even longer sometimes because you’re dealing with something that’s physical and tangible. You have to spend a lot of time and effort on it. Innovation in hardware is very expensive.

Q: What has it been like to work at iCUE?

A: The experience here is really phenomenal. What iCUE brings that is important for us is the industry connections. Being part of this system gives credibility to what we do. We’re trying to make a charging station that can minimize the grid impact, so it’s important to have opportunities to network with utility companies down the road. After we have a successful product launch, we plan to reach out to them and propose our idea.

Q: What sets your company apart from other EV charging companies?

A: We have created a unique charging station. Our focus is to work from the user experience side of charging, to make it easy for anyone who drives an electric car to come by our charging station and recharge without much hassle. One of the problems that exists in EV technology is that you have to use a key fob to activate a charging station or to initiate payment. We want to eliminate that phase and go completely mobile, so that from your phone you can activate a charger without carrying anything else. Ultimately, it’s this inconvenience for the end user that we want to tackle.

Q: Where do you plan to go from here?

A: We’re working towards commercializing our product. Our product launch is planned for the end of 2017. We’re currently in the product development phase, in phase 4 of the TRL (technology readiness level). We’re still under development, and that’s why next year our goal is to utilize this space and of course the academic experts that work in energy management at CUE.

Kiki Cekota is a second-year Journalism student at Ryerson University.

"The experience here is really phenomenal. What iCUE brings that is important for us is the industry connections. Being part of this system gives credibility to what we do."