Swobbee, a Berlin-based startup that’s working on commercializing battery swapping for micromobility vehicles, has raised a $6.5 million Series A led by new strategic investor EIT InnoEnergy, a major accelerator of sustainable energies in Europe that’s supported by the European Union.
The startup will rely on both the funds and InnoEnergy’s network in the European green tech space to build out its battery swapping station network across Germany and into two new European countries, according to Thomas Duscha, the startup’s CEO and co-founder.
If Swobbee’s business concept sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking about Gogoro, the Taiwanese electric moped-producing, battery-swapping giant that’s absolutely dominating in its home country and expanding across Asia. The company recently launched a battery-swapping network in China and has plans to do the same in India.
“Our role model is Gogoro,” Duscha told TechCrunch. “Gogoro’s is a highly vertically integrated model with e-mopeds, but as we know, the e-moped will never be the number one transport mode in Europe, so we believe in small mobility like e-bikes, cargo bikes and kick scooters.”
Aside from Swobbee’s focus on smaller micromobility vehicles, there are a few other differences between the German startup and Gogoro’s business models. By manufacturing its own mopeds and forming partnerships with OEMs, Gogoro has been able to commercialize and scale one battery type. Swobbee’s swapping stations can host six different battery types to suit a range of vehicles, and the startup plans to onboard two more battery types this year to open its network to more players.
“We have standardized it so that only a compartment that is designed for a special battery needs to be swapped, and you can really set up the infrastructure once and then adapt to the needs of the city,” said Duscha, noting that Swobbee has integrated batteries made by vehicle makers Segway and Okai into its battery swapping system.
Since its founding in 2017, Swobbee has mainly targeted companies with homogeneous micromobility fleets, like last-mile delivery providers or shared micromobility operators, as a way to test its model and expand. The startup has provided charging infrastructure to logistics providers like Hermes, DHL Logistics and DPD, and it works with shared operator Tier Mobility. While Tier does have its own battery-swapping energy network geared toward riders, the work Swobbee does for Tier – and previously did for Spin before the company exited European operations and was bought by Tier – is on the back end. Tier employees have used Swobbee stations to swap out the batteries for dockless vehicles on the road.
Swobbee has recently signed on one of the “top three” micromobility operators as a client, said Duscha, but he declined to specify. He did say, however, that the nature of that partnership would look a lot like Swobbee’s deal with Tier.
The goal for 2022 is not only to expand its fleet customers, but also to reach average consumers with personal vehicles, which is closer to the Gogoro model.
“This year, we are piloting together with the European Union a B2C model where we would like to discover if swappable batteries or battery-sharing services could be a thing for European customers,” said Duscha. “We know that in Asia, especially in East Asia, it’s pretty much working, but we need to see if this also works in Europe.”
This pilot will involve giving Berliners vehicles without the battery and seeing how they get on using Swobbee’s existing battery swap network to charge up. The logic behind this is that, while many companies exist to sell electric micromobility vehicles directly to customers, there isn’t yet much of a service or maintenance network that allows riders to easily upgrade a battery that will likely die in a few years time, and far before the rest of the vehicle wears out.
For the pilot to be successful, Swobbee will need to expand its network. According to Swobbee’s app, the company currently has 19 public stations in Germany, with nine in or near Berlin, four in Stuttgart, two outside Düsseldorf, one in Frankfurt and three in Freiburg. Duscha said the actual number is over 50 because many are exclusive.
Swobbee’s current tactic for growing its footprint is to either deploy stations on its own or through partnerships with gas stations, utilities companies or the retail market, Duscha said. Each station is less than 1 square meter, which makes it easier to squeeze into prime real estate in city centers where swapping will be most needed.
The Series A brings Swobbee up to a pre-money valuation of about €30 million, or about $33 million, according to Duscha. Later this year, the startup aims to raise an A+ round that will be in the double digits and bring on another strategic partner, such as a large-scale, pan-European utility company or even a vehicle manufacturer from the east that’s open to expanding into new markets.