Electric vehicle recharging company Pod Point Ltd, founded in 2009 by Erik Fairbairn, an alumnus of the Ignite entrepreneurship programme at Cambridge Judge, and Peter Hiscocks, Fellow in Management Practice at the Business School, floated on the London Stock Exchange on 4 November with a valuation of around £350 million.
“The IPO confirms Pod Point’s position as the largest CleanTech company started up from CJBS and the largest CleanTech company founded in Cambridge,” says Peter, a longtime Cambridge Judge faculty member and former CEO of the Business School’s Executive Education offering.
Erik joined the CJBS Ignite programme, part of the Entrepreneurship Centre at Cambridge Judge, to gain the learning and skills needed to start and grow a new business venture. He collaborated with Peter on starting a luxury car-sharing venture; this was sold in 2008 and Erik moved on to study the potential for starting a new company that would provide a network of electric vehicle (EV) charging points.
With Erik’s background in mechanical engineering at Ford, drawings were quickly made: a 12-inch-high wooden charging point model was ready in about a month, followed by a five-foot-high plastic prototype about six weeks later.
“One of the things that I always emphasise to Cambridge Judge students and other entrepreneurs is the importance of making a prototype,” says Peter, the first Director of the Entrepreneurship Centre. “You never get it right the first time, and it’s really important to have a prototype so customers can provide honest criticism that allows you to improve the product.”
Gaining lead supplier status
Erik built a top management team whilst waiting for the market for EVs to develop, and the team was able to build relationship with automotive original equipment manufacturers that gained Pod Point lead supplier status with most car companies.
In 2020 Pod Point was acquired by EdF, the French energy company, for around £112 million. This helped provide additional capital for the business to grow, and revenues increased by 100% in the last year. London-based Pod Point now has more than 400 employees.
Evolution of Pod Point
Although founded as a car-charging company, Pod Point has evolved into an energy-management firm given that the amount of electricity needed to charge a car is often more than most homes use for all other purposes.
The company’s charging units have a communication module that sends information back to a central computer, so Pod Point knows which customer is charging which type of car and how much electricity will be needed to fully top up the battery. The computer can therefore see if there’s a potential overload (if 50 cars on that street are charging at the same time, for example) and modulate usage, and can programme the devices to charge not at 18:00 but at 14:00 when electricity is cheaper.
As with most startup ventures, Pod Point’s journey has had some bumpy moments. The first charging stations were not as waterproof as intended, so they were redesigned and replaced with more robust models. And while major automakers are now investing heavily in electric vehicles, the market developed more slowly through the early 2010s than many people expected. The UK government, as part of a “green industrial revolution”, confirmed earlier this year that sales of cars and vans powered solely by petrol or diesel will be phased out by 2030 (moving up an earlier 2040 date), coupled with grants to help buy EVs and charging infrastructure.
“I provided initial funding for the business, but in the early days sales were thin and there were some difficult times” recalls Peter. Pod Point then successfully raised crowdfunding rounds through Seedrs in 2015 and Crowdcube in 2016, followed by venture capital funding rounds in 2017 and early 2019.
“With the sale to EDF, this was one of the two or three largest UK paybacks to ‘crowd funders’, at two to three times their investment depending on when they came in,” says Peter. “So, I think the story of Pod Point sends really important messages about crowdfunding, about clean-tech innovation, and about entrepreneurial education at Cambridge Judge Business School.”