“Whirl’s target is what we call flipping the fleet — trying to substitute 50% of the current fleet of petrol and diesel cars in Australia with electric by 2030,” says Dr Alina Dini, Founder and CEO of Whirl, which recently finished as one of three Australian finalists in the ClimateLaunchpad competition for clean-tech startups.
The company, which provides a peer-to-peer “experience” platform on which would-be EV drivers can spend time online and ultimately test drive an EV (test drives will be available as soon as COVID regulations allow) with people like themselves who’ve already made the switch to clean-drive vehicles, also took home the competition’s grand prize of $50,000 from Humanitech (a think-do tank established by the Australian Red Cross in partnership with Telstra).
“Now more than ever, we need to support organisations like Whirl to amplify their impact and scale on the fight against climate change,” said Alastair Pryor, head of the Humanitech Lab, who was involved in judging the more than 60 Australian entrants to the ClimateLaunchpad training and mentoring program.
Previous Australian alumni of the global startup enabler include Sunovate, which developed technology to simultaneously cool rooftop solar panels, increasing their lifespan and efficiency, and channel put the captured hot air to further good use.
The other 2021 Australian finalists, who will join Whirl in virtual participation in the Southeast Asian final of ClimateLaunchpad’s global competition in October, are SEE Labs, which is repurposing old EV batteries for use in light vehicles in India; and Woodify, which has developed software that enables builders to easily swap traditional materials for more sustainable options.
Electric mobility options
Whirl, the trading name of Give It A Whirl Pty Ltd, also aims to promote EV options, not a hard sell, through its EV-owning ambassadors and the partnerships it hopes to form with EV rental, ride-share and secondhand businesses.
“We’re not selling anything,” Dini tells pv magazine Australia. “We want to encourage people to try clean technologies through peer reference.”
The company currently has some 15-20 ambassadors on its books, who own different EV makes and models, in various parts of Australia, and with different approaches to their EV ownership; some, for example, have rooftop solar which they use to charge their vehicle, some have more than one EV, some combine EV, PV and home battery storage.
For $29 would-be EV drivers can book time with a Whirl ambassador and, for the moment, their experience will be online, but even in the virtual world the value is in cutting to the chase and asking the kinds of questions that you might not find a ready or reliable answer to on a search engine, such as: “What’s it really like using a public charger?”, or “Everyone says the warranty and insurance on EVs is equivalent to petrol-driven cars, but what did you actually pay?”
Soon, the experience will encompass the Whirl team’s original intention, to provide EV test drives that are not tied to a sales pitch, that are local to the would-be EV driver, at a time to suit their schedule, and that come with an unbiased guide to the world of electric mobility.
Hey, this is smooth
“The idea is ‘Come give my car a whirl, see what you think,’ without having any pressure to buy. We really want to let people share an experience, realise that EV technology is mature and fun, and normalise it,” says Dini.
Ambassadors are vetted and coached by Whirl, and the rules of engagement are that each party treats the other with respect.
The Whirl team is constantly looking for new ambassador recruits —they’re typically enthusiasts who have done their homework on EV models and ownership, and are keen to share their experience.
So far, during testing and development of the platform, ambassadors have contributed their time on a volunteer basis, but as the partnership side of the model builds, they will be offered rewards in kind, such as discounts on a public charging network.
Rallying the ambassadors
Dini is also working to set up an ambassador’s-only area online, where they can debrief, talk about their client conversations and engage in some friendly competition.
She’d like to gamify their participation, providing “credit scores for the number of sessions each ambassador hosts”. And if they do happen to deliver an outcome or perhaps a sale, it’s recognised as an achievement.
“If you’re interested in sustainability, and you’ve sold five EVs even though you’re not an EV salesperson, that’s a carbon contribution! It’s something to be proud of,” says Dini.
Every climate innovation needs a little KIC
In Australia, ClimateLaunchpad is run by Climate-KIC Australia, an innovation community that aims to inspire and enable climate action, by working as a catalyst for innovation in the clean-tech field.
Dini says Climate-KIC was incredibly supportive of participants, and that the program of “focused sprints on key topics” was particularly valuable.
“When you have an opportunity to spend a whole day looking at your business model, or at the way you’re messaging your value proposition, with support from expert trainers in entrepreneurship and innovation, then you’re really well guided to an outcome,” she says.
Whirl has been online with its virtual offering for a month, and is also building up a blog portfolio of appealingly packaged information. For example, “We just put out a summary of the top four electric SUVs under $70,000, because we know the SUV is the biggest selling class of car in Australia and if we’re going to see more of them sold, we want as many of them as possible to be electric,” Dini says.
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