One Triangle-based startup is hoping to usher in the future of electric vehicle (EV) charging.
Raleigh-headquartered Sovereign Energy was founded by Max Burden, who originally had the idea during his senior year at NC State back in 2018. But he decided to take a fulltime job in the utility-scale solar industry instead. It was there that a little over two years ago, he decided to pitch his idea to management. They didn’t want to pursue it.
Not one to give up so easily, Burden decided to move back to Raleigh and begin the venture that became Sovereign Energy himself. Sovereign Energy sells EV charging hardware, software and services to customers in what Burden calls a high-revenue model, notably targeting office spaces and apartment buildings. This summer it’s participating in the Andrews Launch Accelerator at NC State.
The impetus behind Sovereign Energy came as Burden began thinking of ways to capitalize on the price difference between electricity and gasoline. The original idea was to use low-cost solar panels to provide electricity to EV charging stations. Now Sovereign Energy has five customers and installs charging stations around the Raleigh area.
As the startup has grown, Burden said they are focusing on customer discovery and gaining insight into the problems that clients face. One issue lies in how EV charging stations have yet to adapt to niche types of customers since coming to fruition.
“At that time, EV charging was such a young market,” Burden said. “There weren’t a lot of EVs on the road. So when they were designing their initial charging stations, they had to create what I call a band-aid solution, so a one-size-fits-all you can install anywhere. That band-aid solution is inadequate because they have features that don’t really matter for our target markets, because it’s a band-aid solution they had to design for everyone.”
Sovereign Energy plans to eliminate these unnecessary features—for instance, super-speed isn’t as important to a customer whose car will be charging most of the day while at the office—and improve upon the ones customers do want.
“Getting into the mind of the customer and really understanding what they need and what they want and taking a step back from what we want to provide to them, listening to what they need from us and providing that for our customers, has been the biggest thing,” Burden said.
As a startup that launched in January of 2020, the unfortunate timing of the Covid-19 pandemic has not stopped Sovereign Energy in its mission to deliver an electric future. While Burden admits it delayed them at first, they still got their first deal done by October 2020.
“That was a big hurdle for us, but at the same time, once everyone’s working from home, there’s this big question,” Burden said. “We’re trying to sell the office places. The big question was, are people ever going to go back to the office? And I think now the answer is, yes, in some capacity.”
No matter what, office spaces aren’t entirely going away, so charging stations there still work, Burden said. Plus the pandemic enabled Sovereign Energy to chat with more customers over web conferencing platforms.
“People were more willing to take a Zoom invite than maybe they would have been six months earlier,” Burden said. “So that kind of helped us in that way and made it easier for us to get in contact with some people that maybe we couldn’t have before.”
So far in Sovereign Energy’s journey, Burden is appreciative he is located in the Raleigh tech ecosystem, where people are more than willing to take a coffee meeting or Zoom call.
“Just being in a top market is super important,” Burden said. “You get access to resources, more attention. There’s lots of funding available in the ecosystem right now.”
Ultimately, Burden said Sovereign Energy aims to be part of the energy solution for the future. The fuel supply is what Burden calls a modern miracle, but Sovereign Energy hopes to show there’s a better way to do things.
“We want to help make the transition to an electric future faster, so providing the electrification of everything,” Burden said.