The BwB Talk Series is where we bring innovative leaders in impact, finance, and the environment to speak with our network around the world. The BwB Talk Series helps generate new ideas for our network by bringing experts to share their deep knowledge of sustainability topics.
The July edition of the Talk Series introduces us to Sasha Serafimovski, a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and finance executive with extensive experience in financial services and early-stage technology companies. Today he joins us to discuss his role and journey as the CFO of the start-up EV software company SwitchEV.
Born in Macedonia, Sasha served in what was then the Socialist Army in Yugoslavia before the country fell apart. He spent his formative years in Denmark before moving to London to work in Finance at many notable institutions. There he met Angus Forbes, BwB co-founder, whom he had worked with at Merrill Lynch.
Sasha holds an MBA from world-class business school, Ecole des Affaires de Paris. While studying in Paris, Oxford and Berlin, his fascination for tech began.
He started his career in banking as an Equities Analyst at Morgan Stanley, focusing on tech companies. Thanks to his fluency in 6 languages, he was invited to join the European bank's team where he analysed major banks and fintech companies for 10 years. In 1997, he began investing in internet stocks and start-ups and has since been involved in 8 companies as an investor in multiple startup accelerators across London and Copenhagen.
After a stint of entrepreneurial experiences, Sasha met Dr Marc Mültin, whose focus was creating interoperable open communication protocols for EV charging. This brought him closer to the e-mobility sector and eventually co-founded Switch EV with Marc Mültin who would act as CEO. Marc co-authored ISO 15118, a communication protocol for the EV charging market, to heal its fragmentation by providing interoperability for all EVs, charger types and countries. Except for China, who is already a global leader in this space,
“Think Android for EV charging.”
Over the last three years, the company has raised funds from angels, early-stage VCs and a large technology player, ABB E-mobility, which may have an interest in acquiring the company. Switch has over 40 partnerships and more than 30 global industry experts. The two main products are Josev, an embedded operating system, and the Switch platform, a charger management system, which received dual OCPP 2.0.1 certification by the Open Charge Alliance (OCA). It is expected to launch in September this year.
“I think the switch to EV will be the greatest transformation that we see in our lifetime,” Sasha comments when reflecting on the future of the EV industry.
With over 350M EV cars expected to be on roads by 2030 in the U.S., the ability to charge becomes greater. “Charger and range anxiety” is the main reason why people still hold back. However, this is being addressed rapidly.
“Depending on which estimates you look at, we are expecting to have more than 200M chargers installed by 2030. This means there is significant greenfield opportunity that we’ve ever been exposed to in the charging world. We provide the brains and operating system to make chargers and EVs across the globe talk together,” he says.
Sasha and Switch are happy to discuss with potential partners who complement their future-oriented technology and mission, or how they can help electrify your charging infrastructure, simply and sustainably.
One of the most engaging segments of our Talk Series is the Q&A session between our speaker and BwB. This talk’s Q&A segment was filled with insightful moments, a few of which we have captured below.
Alison Lobb, BwB Executive Director, asked how current car charger providers can be approached.
Sasha answered: “Thus far, much of the interest has been inbound. Our CEO, Dr Marc Mültin, has spent the past 5 years training big companies in interoperability and protocols, so this now pays off, and they return to us to learn more. The transition is happening. Even if not as fast as we like, it is happening.”
Steve Smith, Managing Director, Global Head of Carbon and Forestry Finance: “One of the biggest challenges in the UK, and I imagine it’s the same in other parts of the world, is connecting to the grid and it being robust enough to support that capacity. Do you have a solution for that and if not, how do you think this can be addressed?”
“You are right, it is a problem that needs to be addressed, and we are doing this through one of our earlier investors and partner, Nuvve, from San Diego”, replied Sasha. “They are the leader in vehicle-to-grid. They aggregate the batteries of the fleets which they manage and trade the excess power with the grid to optimise it.”
Rupesh Madlani, BwB co-founder and CEO, wanted to find out more about what megatrends Sasha sees next in mobility.
Sasha responded: “I think keeping an eye on car manufacturers and how they solve their problems will be fundamental. Could be good, could be bad, but I think the next big movement will come from carmakers.”
Emre Eren, BwB Senior Analyst, asked: “You mentioned that China is well ahead of the game, and I’d like to know if Switch EV has had some learnings from China. Also, what are the big challenges which you foresee in the market over the next 3 - 5 years and how do you prepare for them?”
Sasha responded: “China is well ahead of us in terms of number of vehicles, planning long-term, and without the market fragmentation that we have. They are doing fantastic work in other sustainability areas as well, for example, solar and wind.
What we have learned from China is that pace and ambition are important. Doing business in Europe is sometimes difficult because the Old Continent is fragmented. For us, the U.S. is more interesting because they are a little bit later on the EV journey, compared to traditional Europe. It’s a bigger space and therefore a bigger problem but is being addressed correctly by policymakers, I think.
In terms of market challenges, one of them is healing the fragmentation in the charging infrastructure world, making chargers compatible. I think this will change dramatically over the next 2-3 years.
Our other challenges are long sales lead times. You need to go to the market with a solution, not with a product. Once you win 2-3 important clients with the new protocols, the whole world will realise change is happening. We have to increase the revenue potential for the charging infrastructure if it is to scale rapidly and profitably, and that’s what the protocols are about.”
Jennifer Faust, Talk Series host and BwB Managing Director, wanted to find out more about the impact of AI on the company and technology that Sasha and his team are building.
“As much as we like or dislike AI, it’s important in every business.”, responded Sasha. “For us, it brings in the important feature of predictive maintenance so that you can remotely fix most problems. The major problem now is downtime of chargers, and by using AI and the granular information that you have to predict when you’d need technical assistance. We now have a requirement for 99% reliability, so you need some pretty smart AI to achieve this.”
Chris Smith, BwB Managing Director and Head of Sovereign Sustainable Finance, asked: “We speak to many sovereigns and municipalities. Given your insight and knowledge of the EV industry, what should we be advising these senior leaders and governments at sovereign level in terms of how they respond and implement EV charging networks in their countries?”
Sasha replied: “Just recently, we had discussions with Saudi Arabia, which wants to establish themselves as the leader in the EV world.
The key message we want to send to sovereigns is that they need to have the same operating system which enables them a bulletproof foundation on which to build future services, like an Android for the charger world. You can have healthy competition between the different players, but what you have to be careful about is the current lack of interoperability between the units, and that’s where the software comes in.
We put a lot of effort on the educational side. We work closely with ABB, the largest manufacturer of chargers, on this as well. They are particularly strong in the Arab world and Asian countries. I think one of the reasons they invested in us is because we have part of the solution - they have the chargers, but they see the value in the OS software, which is where we come in.”
Jennifer Faust concluded the session with the final question on what area Sasha would like to focus on and invest in next.
“It will surely be in medicine.”, Sasha replied. “The biggest advancements are in health. The biggest problems are in health. The biggest opportunities are in health. I would be interested to hear interesting ideas related to remote learning or the simulation and education within health.
Sasha and the SwitchEV team are always happy to speak to sovereigns and partners interested in developing their networks. Do not hesitate to reach out through our channels if you would like to explore these opportunities further.