In India, bikes are among the top 3 most popular ways to commute, as evidenced by a staggering metric of 1.5 crore two-wheelers being sold annually. Therefore, it is no surprise that two graduates of IIT Madras, Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain, sought to build a company that makes smart electric scooters for the bustling Indian automotive market. The Tarun-Swapnil duo, the founders of Ather Energy, a Bengaluru-based electric vehicle (EV) startup graduated from IIT Madras and set up their company in 2013, based on the strong belief that "electric vehicles were inevitable."
Both founders of Ather graduated with a dual degree in Engineering Design. Tarun started his career as a Deputy Manager at Ashok Leyland before venturing into entrepreneurship. During his time at IIT Madras, he interned at Mercedes Benz and BHEL. Swapnil was an intern with BHEL and General Motors, and later joined Tarun in their EV venture. Both of them started their research on lithium ion batteries when they were at IIT Madras. Their primary goal was to create a lithium replacement for fast-degrading batteries of existing electric scooters. When they quit their jobs in 2013, IIT Madras welcomed them back with a research grant of Rs 5 lakhs. Later, they received backing from fellow IITM alumnus V Srinivasan and his company Aerospike. Mehta recalls how his professor in the Engineering Design department, R. Krishnakumar, asked them to leave their jobs and that the institute would take care of everything, a great morale booster for the duo. During his M.Tech degree days, Mehta had applied for a patent for a swappable battery system. They also remember camping out in the department and hanging around other labs before setting forward to build a completely new product. Once they successfully attained the goal of making the battery, they gathered confidence to build the scooter by themselves. They received financial support from the founders of Flipkart—Sachin and Binny Bansal—and this association helped them raise funding from New York hedge fund Tiger Global. In 2016, Hero received a 26% stake in the company with Hero Motocorp investing 180 crores in it.
IITM-incubated Ather Energy developed a first-of-its-kind Android tablet dashboard for an electric scooter. The tablet could help the rider with navigation and offer information on power, battery drain, system temperature and how long the scooter could go before the next charge-up. It could track theft as well. The duo made a close-to-commercial electric scooter, called the S340 that takes only an hour to charge on a 15 ampere point with a top speed of about 70 kmph and a range of 70-80 km on a single charge. They made significant strides, including putting together a critical mass of 250 engineers, and finding a deep-pocketed backer in Hero Motors. The company decided to design and engineer the scooter from scratch, which hindered work, despite having a sleek prototype available as early as two years before they expected to deliver their first scooter. It was difficult to find people with enough experience in new product development or electric vehicles, according to Jain. However, the business has advanced significantly, as seen by the development of a solid staff and its present valuation of around $800 million.
The company has raised a total of $170-180 million, according to Tarun, with the most recent fundraising round taking place in October valuing the business at roughly $800 million. Ather Energy is expected to reach $1 billion in revenue by the end of 2023, having already generated over Rs 2,000 crore ($300 million) in income in January.
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