It all started with a whimsical idea from a couple of graduate engineers. In 2009, Jukka Anttonen and Matias Mäenpää decided to try to turn a diesel-powered Toyota Corolla into an electric car. It turned out to be a great little runner so charging technology became the next requirement.
Now, ten years later, electric cars have changed from curiosity items to the choice of an environmentally conscious consumer, and Unified Chargers that started at Aalto University is ready for a commercial breakthrough.
‘We have developed the smallest, lightest and most cost-effective electric car charging station on the market,’ said Unified Chargers CEO Jukka Anttonen.
Quick charging enables the electric car battery to charge in less than half an hour whereas charging at normal charging station takes hours. However, high-performance charging stations take up a lot of space and are usually located at petrol stations or on the roads.
The approximately 80 kg charging station developed by Unified Chargers is specifically designed for urban environments and confined spaces such as parking garages. With this in mind, a space-saving curly cable has been developed in collaboration with Helkama Bica.
‘Straight cables can easily be damaged, for example, whilst left on the ground of a parking garage. The cable is an expensive part of the charging station,’ Anttonen explained.
Potential customers include car retailers, energy companies and the public sector.
Partners are a lifeline for a start-up company
The patented small space charging technology was created thanks to the electric Toyota Corolla. Originally, Anttonen and Mäenpää began to develop charging equipment that would fit inside the car. However, they soon realised that better benefits could be obtained from an external charging station.
Long-term development work was helped by Aalto University's innovation services and Business Finland's New business from research ideas (TUTLI) funding. At present, the five-person core business has their headquarters at Aalto University campus.
‘Aalto University has given us credibility, especially in the early stages. It has enabled us to have many meetings with potential partners, investors and customers. It makes a difference when you can approach different parties and tell them that you are from Aalto instead of just being two engineering students with an idea,’ Anttonen said.
Partners have been crucial for a start-up technology company. Development has been done in collaboration with business partners such as Powerfinn, which specialises in powerful electronics. The component parts of our products come from partners from all over Finland, which brings flexibility to production.
The electric car market is growing fast
The number of public charging stations has increased dramatically over the last couple of years and more of the services are charging a fee. Unified Chargers has also developed a payment platform and mobile application interface for their products.
Jukka Anttonen believes that the revolution of electric cars and the rapid growth of the market for charging technology and services are just emerging. Over the last few years, sales of electric cars have increased at a rate of 100% per year and even more in the case of chargeable hybrid cars.
‘Back in 2015 we were having long conversations with our investors about whether electric vehicles really have potential. The industry is developing fast,’ said Anttonen.
Unified Chargers aims to become an internationally significant player in the charging services market. It requires keeping up with the market and continuous development.
‘In a few years, wireless charging stations where vehicles can supply electricity back to the grid may become commonplace.’
In this series we present research-based startups from Aalto University. Each year, 5 to 10 research-based companies are founded with the university's support.