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Turning e-charging stations into digital billboards

Electric cars need charging stations. At the Volkswagen Incubator in Dresden, the start-up LoyalGo is focusing intensely on regional businesses in efforts to expand infrastructure. Volkswagen is lending a hand as well.

The heart of all car production is the bond between the chassis and the body. This is why the process is called the “marriage.” In the Transparent Factory operated by the Volkswagen brand in Dresden, six start-ups are located just a few meters away from this nearly magical moment. They are members of the company’s own incubator and are working to develop the heartbeat of future mobility. For example: How can e-mobility in Germany be advanced further? Or: Could all-weather e-cargo-carrying bicycles be an alternative to package-delivery services?

The start-up LoyalGo is one of the teams that joined the Volkswagen Incubator at the beginning of August. Its focal point is expanding the electric infrastructure. “Charging station operators face one problem right now: They earn nothing when vehicles aren't using their stations,” Co-Founder Tarik Mian says. “For this reason, the charging station must offer other benefits to the operator.” LoyalGo intends to offer such benefits by turning the e-charging stations into digital billboards. Local businesses, in particular, should post their advertisements here. “This is a way to refinance the purchase of the stations even when few cars are showing up.”

The goal of advancing e-mobility is the primary motivation of the work done by the business founders. “We believe that the future of the automobile is electric,” says Mian’s partner, Sebastian Schramm. “The key to it is expanding the infrastructure.” Both of them began to delve into the subject of e-mobility while studying electrical engineering and information technology at the Technical University of Dortmund. “We took a particularly close look at Norway, which has a whole lot of e-cars,” Schramm says. “Our analysis showed that the large number of charging stations helped produce this success.” Mian adds: “When people know that they can charge their cars anywhere, they lose their doubts about e-cars, and demand for these vehicles climbs quickly.” This is also why investments in charging stations represent a visionary approach, he says.

Both men sold Volkswagen on the idea and beat out more than 60 competitors for places in the incubator. They will now receive €15,000 and free office infrastructure in the Transparent Factory where e-Golfs are produced. They have 200 days to turn their start-up into a competitive company.

Five other electric-mobility start-ups have also moved into Volkswagen's Transparent Factory in Dresden. They include the geodata specialist Geospin and the telematic start-up Ekoio, which has developed a smart driver assistant that pays a bonus for fuel-saving driving practices.

Some of the start-ups, including Geospin, have gained extensive experience. By contrast, LoyalGo is just getting started. At the moment, Schramm is making a prototype for an e-charging station housing that includes an advertising display, and Mian is taking care of organizational matters. His schedule includes meetings to find initial partners, a business plan and possible sales concepts. LoyalGo is being coached by several experts from Volkswagen and the start-up community about this issue. This is part of the package extended to young entrepreneurs in the incubator. Many other experts at the automaker also serve as advisers to the start-ups.

“The name ‘Volkswagen’ opens doors to institutions that we would normally have to fight our way into.”

There is one other benefit that the start-ups enjoy in addition to advice from experts, infrastructure and €15,000 of initial capital: As a result of their partnership with Volkswagen in Dresden, the state capital of Saxony, the teams receive a free apartment in the city. “This was a big help to us,” Mian says. “I don’t know whether we would have been able to do this work without the apartment support.”

Overall, Mian says, the move into the incubator has paid off in many ways over the past one and a half months: “Volkswagen has a vast amount of knowledge about cars that it has been gaining for decades. It also knows something about sales. And it is happy to share its knowledge with us.” Schramm also says he has made many new contacts with the help of VW. “The name ‘Volkswagen’ opens doors to institutions that we would normally have to fight our way into.”

The heartbeat of mobility

At the moment, the start-up is conducting initial discussions with trade associations. The interest has been very good. Nonetheless, both entrepreneurs are continuing to refine their business model in the incubator. Initial discussions were recently held with a parking-lot operator. This would be an ideal location for charging stations because cars stay for long periods of time here.

“After the first few weeks, we are confident that the majority of our start-ups will be successful,” says Lars Dittert, the head of the plant. The statistics back him up. As a rule, only 60 percent of start-ups survive the first five years. But the percentage is much higher at the incubators. Up to 85 percent of the start-ups there clear this hurdle, according to Gründerszene, a business portal for start-ups.

In March 2018, other teams are scheduled to enter the plant. Registration for new start-ups began last week – at www.ideationhub.de. The next generation of start-ups will also have 200 days to help drive the heartbeat of mobility.

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