Power is readily available for most people in North America these days, which can make it hard to grasp how annoying it can be when it isn’t – especially if you’re trying to run a business. TechCrunch Battlefield NY 2014 competitor Simply Grid aims to offer power from the established electrical grid in situations where people would otherwise have to use gas-powered generators or other more expensive alternatives.
The first use cases that Simply Grid is working with are providing power to food carts like hot dog vendors, and also to idling vehicles, like emergency services providers and repair/utility trucks. Before, these vehicles and food carts had to employ costly gas generators, or simply run their engines (which ends up adding a lot of wear to a vehicle) in order to stay powered on, heated, and ready to operate.
“In New York, just about on every other corner there’s a Halal cart, or a hot dog cart or a coffee and pastry cart,” explained Simply Grid COO and founder Jeffrey Hoffman. “And these guys are sitting there running those little two kilowatt generators to power their carts, their blenders, lighting and all this type of stuff. These are really expensive to run, and cost about $5,000 or $6,000 to run per year for them to operate and fuel those, plus you’re looking at something that produces a tremendous amount of pollution.”
Instead, Simply Grid offers simply stations that connect to the existing power grid in frequently used locations on the street. Food cart vendors essentially have staked territories that they return to over and over again, so it’s fairly easy to install the permanent locations that Simply Grid uses to get them connected. Service and emergency vehicles likewise tend to park and idle in the same areas while doing their work, so it’s a matter of consulting with the agencies involved to figure out where to place them.
Each installation costs a few thousand dollars, with costs varying depending on whether the spot is located on private or public land, how far away it is from a mains to tap into, and so on. Once set up, it works by offering vehicles a place to plug into, and then once those people unplug and send a message to stop their billing, they’re charged for the amount of power used. With emergency vehicles, there’s a way for it to automatically shut down provision of power when the vehicle departs to make the whole process easier.
The company is currently looking at possible expansion into powering refrigeration units at huge delivery depots like Hunts Point Market in the Bronx. The opportunity here is to simplify and make green a process that has been super expensive, complicated and terrible for the environment in the past, and Simply Grid has leveraged tech new and old to make that happen.
Q: What are your margins like?
A: They’re reasonable.
Q: What exactly is your product, is it the hardware, software, both? What’s your core competitive advantage?
A: Yes it’s all of the above. We’ve got really good hardware, we’ve got patents on the hardware we built for the fire department. Our cost of building the control system is only a couple hundred bucks, which is much better than competing tech.
Q: 20 years from now, will you be all over, or will you dominate a single market?
A: We’re strong in solving the problems for municipalities and I think that’s where we’ll excel.
Q: How long is the payback period? What’s the cost after the payback period?
A: Depends on location and other factors, and the cost can still offer 70 percent margins and people are happy to pay that.