Innovator Series First Interview - ChargeSmart adjusts to Covid-19
12 Jun 2020 | BusinessNZ Energy Council
ChargeSmart adjusts to Covid-19
ChargeSmart chief executive Nigel Broomhall was on his third trip to this US in 2020 when countries started going into lockdown in response to Covid-19.
“I was in New York of all places,” he says.
Up to that point Things were running very smoothly for the entrepreneur, so naturally, his response was frustration.
“It was a couple of expletives, I’ll be honest.”
ChargeSmart sources EV charging infrastructure from Europe and installs and sells it in New Zealand.
It’s an exciting sector to be in, with New Zealand’s EV fleet continuing to grow. The number of EVs in New Zealand is now more than 20,000 compared to 13,000 at this time last year.
Broomhall also owns a business called Invisible Urban Charging which provides cities, parking operators, and urban developers with EV charging-as-a-service solution, so when Covid-19 hit there was no telling how customers would respond.
Adding to the disappointment was the fact that ChargeSmart had some substantial projects in the pipeline with accommodation providers.
“Those guys are getting hit really hard, revenue just stopped,” he says.
“The industry we’re in is still a ‘nice to have’ - purchasing EVs isn’t really seen as a common-day occurrence. People really put that type of stuff on hold [during Covid].”
Adapt to thrive
After the initial shock of a potential stall in sales, Broomhall immediately took stock of where ChargeSmart was standing.
He reached out to suppliers and was talking to one he has known for four years and started thinking about how he could apply some of the knowledge he’s learned in the technology space in the fight against Covid.
The result was an integrated temperature and facial recognition scanner which enables rapid contact tracing.
“We pivoted, which is always what you do when you’re in hot water.”
The software can be used to make an assessment as to whether or not a person should enter a premise, sporting facility or even border.
The idea became particularly significant for Broomhall, who has an immune compromised 4-year old son.
“He had open-heart surgery when he was 3-months old so I’m pretty keen after that fight that we don’t lose him to Covid.”
While New Zealand’s Covid-19 response has seen it pretty well placed globally, Broomhall is in discussions with other countries much worse off.
He says the high-end thermal scanners already in production are great but not capturing any data like the individuals face and details.
“If it enables us all to expand our bubbles safer then that benefits all of us… We need to get our borders open because we are highly dependent on tourism.”
The company has some challenges ahead including working its way through privacy issues and scaling up production. He says it is crucial the device preserves the integrity of personal information and only collects data of those who are actually sick.
Broomhall says the hardware is in New Zealand now and he’s working with manufacturers to see what scale it can produce. He says the suppliers think they can get 25,000 units a week
“The big piece of work we are working on is how do we make a bigger, faster harder and stronger software platform that enables you to manage your own information, push warnings to health authorities so you don’t have to do anything manually
“It’s not good enough that we can identify symptomatic people – we also want the system to work so health authorities can tag people as probable or possible cases.”