Hear from Future of Energy Challenge: Mobility Winning Team - Petal Transport | Net Impact

Hear from Future of Energy Challenge: Mobility Winning Team - Petal Transport

Net Impact, supported by Shell, once again challenged thinkers, inventors, and entrepreneurs to design collaborative, innovative ideas addressing mobility as a part of the Future of Energy Challenge: Mobility. Both organizations share a common goal to explore how we can enable cleaner and more efficient mobility. 

The Future of Energy Challenge: Mobility winning team has been announced: Petal Transport, consisting of team members Alejandro Perez and Cara Ciaglo! This team has been on an inspiring journey for the past several months bringing an initial idea of re-imagining how Petal fleets operate to a fully developed and scalable concept, while also encountering a few unexpected challenges.

Rethinking the last mile in supply transport

The story begins when Alejandro and Cara noticed an equipment crisis happening in large cities: trucks have limited access to city streets, but bikes and electric scooters lack cargo room. Their solution, Petal Transport, sustainably addresses the challenges of last-mile mobility, the movement of people and goods from a transportation hub to a final destination. Their idea focuses on introducing Petal fleets— short-trip mobility equipment that are pedal-assisted and can act as a “truck” for the bike lane. “We are reinventing the pickup truck and shifting the source of energy,” Cara explains. 

Alejandro and Cara entered the Future of Energy Challenge: Mobility as team Petal Transport in late 2019.  During the next few months, their team explored how they could create an alternative-fuel exchange network using hydrogen for their Petal fleets. They defined their idea through mentoring sessions with Shell's research teams and with input from business and industry experts. Petal Transport had reached the home-stretch of the competition when in March 2020, current world events forced the cancellation of SXSW only days before the event. 

Alejandro and Cara persevered with new levels of innovation and adaptability and were able to redirect their focus from a live Pitch-Off to a virtual event. “It became an added benefit that we didn't have to travel and deal with the loss of time, logistical challenges, or stress of traveling. We all made the best of it,” says Alejandro. 

Cara and Alejandro have continued to succeed even in the face of changing circumstances and now they have been announced as the official winners of Future of Energy Challenge: Mobility!

“One of the amazing things about Petal Transport has been seeing people's reaction to the equipment. People get excited and I look forward to bringing this solution to more people. We believe in this solution,” - Alejando Perez, Petal Transport.

             

We had a chance to catch up with the winning team and hear a little more about their concept and development through the program. 

Q: Why are you passionate about this idea? What motivated you to participate in the challenge?

Alejandro (A.) We both have a strong background as designers, specifically in logistics. I ran a distribution business in the Dominican Republic and here in New York City. I started and ran a last mile business out of New York City, but it was very difficult moving around the city in a step van style delivery food truck. The challenge was due to how poorly the hardware (the truck) interacted with the city.  

Cara (C.) I have previously worked in logistics with my father when we started a small business in Southern California. I live in Detroit now and walk and bike everywhere, but there is a big gap in the market to get from point A to point B with something larger than a backpack without the need for a car. We look at the movement of people and goods from a high level and we have the ability to take on the challenge while creating something that is well designed and well built.

Q. How has your participation in the challenge impacted your view on the future of energy and mobility?

A. Shell has been a light in the horizon for us. We had the same mobility idea before Shell, but we did not like the lithium battery model as an energy source. Shell asked us to consider alternative energy and an alternative fuel source. Two weeks later we realized hydrogen worked for our scale as a much more sensible solution than the lithium battery model. 

C. As designers, we would consider using batteries as the energy source, but Shell made us question what is the best source to use. It was instant harmony when we paired the solution of hydrogen to our idea. 

A. Problems with lithium ions often get ignored, including the need to install charging units per stall which would be costly and take hours to recharge. Hydrogen equipment can be charged in under a minute and with a portable unit, meaning it can be charged anywhere.

Q. What does it mean to be selected as the winner?

A. It’s nice to be seen. It’s been tough to propose to develop hardware in the US. There is stigma behind creating hardware from an investment point of view because of the upfront capital investment. We know that this can change mobility and we have known it for a while, but there was work we needed to do to get that message clear. This program gave us the opportunity and resources to spread that message.

C. When we entered into the accelerator, we started researching Shell and seeing the investments they are making in companies and individuals working to create more sustainable energy. It would be great to see a piece of Petal hardware going down the street!

Q. Will you look to further develop this idea?

A. We want to continue designing our product and we are actively doing that right now. We look to start building prototypes and it’s likely that this challenge will outline resources to help us do that and build our network. We seek partnerships with fuel cell makers (electromagnetic devices used to power the motor) and energy distributors to be able to produce the product. 

Q. Do you have any advice for emerging leaders reading this blog?

A. The world will whisper to you when the world is not aligned properly. Listen to yourself when you realize that something is a miss. That's how the world changes, when people listen to that voice.

C. I think it takes courage to see our own worth and value even when no one else does. We knew we were capable of taking on the challenge of last mile mobility. Start conversations as a way to develop a solution. Those conversations help make you feel less alone in the process and teach you how you can help society shift and for us, that all blossomed through the conversations we had. 

 

Net Impact would like to congratulate the winning team, Petal Transport, and all the finalists in the Future of Energy Challenge: Mobility. Representing various academic institutions and professional industries, these teams have shown great promise for the future of mobility! 

About Net Impact

Founded 27 years ago, Net Impact’s network has grown to more than 150,000 people worldwide with chapters in 466 locations including at 28 of the top 30 MBA programs in the US. The Net Impact Conference convenes more than 2,000 of the best and brightest talent from across our global ecosystem to learn from and engage with some today’s most exciting thinkers and leaders in corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and responsible investing.

About Shell 

Shell is an international energy company with expertise in the exploration, production, refining and marketing of oil and natural gas, and the manufacturing and marketing of chemicals. Shell is working to power progress together.