Bianca Orrey is managing director of EV OneStop, Europe’s largest EV (electric vehicle) charging online store. She set up the company to be a one-stop shop for EV charging equipment and associated accessories, including EV charging stations, charging leads, etc. for all types of e-mobility, including, electric vehicles, plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and electric bicycles / scooters / motor cycles.
“…Working in the electrical vehicle industry as a woman has certainly made me stand out, and I have used this to my advantage… I want people to know my name and think: “I know that girl. She knows her stuff!” It helps in opening up doors, and also when networking…”
Spotting the opportunity in electrical charging points and taking to the road
At the age of 17 I joined Rolec Services, an electrical manufacturing company, as a sales assistant for electrical hook up boxes for caravan and camp sites and I worked my up to become a sales manager. It was when we saw a requirement for supplying electrical charging points for vehicles I took on the challenge of business development for this sector of the business. For the first year it was just me working out what the possibilities would be for the company and trying to sniff out business opportunities.
When the market eventually started to take off I got myself involved in various groups and I could be found at most trade fairs, events and award evenings in this sector, which allowed me to network and get to know the industry of electric and PHEV (plug in hybrid electric vehicles) inside and out. Once I was equipped with all the information I needed I set about co-designing a charging point that would be suitable for the market. After lots of design / tooling meetings and testing I headed off, equipped with our new charging point, and I took to the road to start meeting large companies such as utility providers and vehicle manufacturers.
It was actually SSE utilities that gave me my first big order and an opportunity to see the huge potential in the market when I helped secure a tender with them for the first My Electric Avenue scheme, which was run by EA technologies in conjunction with Nissan Motors.
Meetings with the Transport Minister and Transport for London
With my new found confidence in the market, I accepted invitations to join groups such as the UK EVSE (the UK Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Trade Association) and the Ministerial round table discussions for the implementation of charging infrastructure. Here I was, a 26 year woman sat at the Transport for London offices discussing with Norman Baker, the Minister for Transport at the time, what I what thought the best charging solutions were for the EV market and what directions they should be taking.
As I was one of the very few people in the country at the time that had so much knowledge on charging infrastructure it got to the point where companies were asking me to go in to see them and I wasn’t having to chase everything down, which made life a little easier and gave me time to put a sales team around me so I could focus on the wider market.
Setting up EV OneStop in my Christmas holiday
It was during my Christmas holiday break in 2014 that I decided I was going to set up my own company in my own time, so I persuaded a web designer to work all over Christmas to enable me to launch in early January. I remember hearing fireworks going off outside on New Year’s Eve and I was sat on laptop writing up the terms and conditions page for my website! It was worth it though when it launched at the end of January 2015.
I carried on Working for Rolec and running my web store – EV OneStop – simultaneously for just over a year, but in early 2016 I left the security blanket of my full time employment to be my my own boss.
I love having EV OneStop as it’s at the grass roots of the EV industry. I try to make the website as simple as possible so everybody, young and old, can easily navigate around and pick out car charging accessories depending on which vehicle they have. I have just launched a customiser so buyers can now even create their own bespoke charger by playing around with colours and add-ons. I want them to feel as though they have designed their own charging point.
Not being afraid to stand out as the only woman
Working in the electrical vehicle industry as a woman has certainly made me stand out, and I have used this to my advantage by always wearing bright colours at conferences and events. I want people to know my name and think: “I know that girl. She knows her stuff!” It helps in opening up doors, and also when networking.
It’s very easy speaking to the gents when they are tucking into a cream bun when they’ve got sugar around their mouths you just say: “Enjoying that?!” Other men would not get away with comments like this, which opens up dialog, and you never know who you are talking to! It could be the chief buyer of a company you have been trying to get into for ages.
It’s not very glamorous lugging heavy charging points and cables around to take into meetings or to demonstrate at a trade stand but the perks come when I get to go to all the car shows and see the launches of the new cars, which is always special. I can’t say that it was my dream to work in the car industry, although I do like cars, so it was more of a gap I filled.
The only negative I have seen is the ‘little boys club’, where jokes amongst a cackle of male competitors can be a little annoying as I am the only woman, but I just give as good as I get. One time I had travelled to large corporation and the boss walked in and told me he would have a “tea with two sugars”, I had to politely reply he would have to ask his secretary because I was the one that had come to meet him, not the 40 year old man beside me who I’d actually only brought along with me for training purposes. That meeting actually went well in the end, just for the record!
A managing director with a ‘can-do’ attitude
As managing director of EV Onestop, I am hands on with everything. We are only two years old, so when I arrive in the morning after dropping my three kids off at school, I check through the emails and put them in order of importance, I check and update the social media accounts, I check and update our Google campaigns then start replying to my emails and responding to questions on our eBay shop. I also check the electric vehicle online news, press, and forums to keep up to date with everything.
I will answer the phone if Kerry – my right hand woman – is unavailable. I work with my web designer on improving the site or any faults that may occur and I do all of my own marketing and editorials. Rob, my graphic designer, brings all my creations and ideas to life as I am not so good with Photoshop. If money needs chasing up or my accountants need clarification I do this too.
The only thing I don’t get involved in is dealing with couriers and shipping – Kerry does this as my patience wears thin when parcels go missing or end up back on our doorstep and not with the customer where they should be.
I am not officially qualified in any of the tasks I undertake – I just read a lot of books at night about social media / marketing / Google / running a business and I learn as I go along. You could say I’ve developed a ‘can-do’ attitude!
Beyond the chicken and egg misconception
When I first started in the EV Industry six years ago, if I said to someone, “I work within the electric car industry,” they would look at me blankly and say, “Oh, that will never take off,” or “What’s that then?” But my favourite one was always, “Well, there is nowhere to charge them. They won’t sell cars if people can’t charge them!”
This left the industry in a chicken and egg situation. All the comments were very negative and / or sceptical, and no one was ever impressed, but as time has gone on electric vehicles are now common knowledge with help of great ad campaigns on mainstream TV from Nissan, Mitsubishi and BMW. I remember screaming my husband on the break of X Factor about three years ago when Nissan Leaf did a big campaign on prime time TV, and then again when Mitsubishi PHEV sponsored all the documentaries on Channel 4.
The next breakthrough for the EV industry was when the solar business dropped through the floor last year and electricians were looking to get into alternative markets. Now electricians want to fit charging points the EV industry has thousands of foot soldiers around the country banging the drum of EV because they want to install the charging points.
Today I cannot drive anywhere without counting the electric or PHEV vehicles I pass – they are in every city, town and village and hopefully people are now getting used to seeing them and the charging points spread about in our super markets, carparks, hotels etc. This means that the chicken and egg misconception is finally starting to subside.
Getting rid of the stigma
90% of charging takes place at home or at work, so why people would feel the need to be able to visually see charging points everywhere they go is beyond me, but it is a challenge we have all faced in the industry. The Government has spent a lot of time and money installing charging facilities in city centres and in very prominent areas which aren’t really warranted, they’ve had to be put there to get rid of the stigma of “there’s nowhere to charge”.
Electric vehicles currently only make up 1.3% of the UK’s vehicle market but by 2040 it will make around 35%, so this will have a huge impact on the way we think about cars, and also a great impact on our environment.
Being a finalist for an Innovate UK Women in Innovation funding award
When I set up EV OneStop as a one-stop shop for everything EV charging, I came to realise the amount of things people actually had to buy whilst traveling about with their electric cars. I also speak with car salesman regularly and they had one issue that when selling someone an EV – explaining all the charging cables and sockets – so I came up with a solution to make a product that combines all these elements together.
I shared my idea with an insider very high up in the industry and he suggested that I enter my idea for a grant to enable me to get it off the ground at speed as time was of the essence. He emailed me with Innovate UK‘s details, and this is where I saw the description for Innovate UK Women in Innovation funding award. This was the first time Innovate UK had done anything like this solely for women, so I wrote out a full scale business plan and the plucked the parts out of it which Innovate UK required for me to make the submission.
Advice for other female entrepreneurs who are considering putting themselves forward for initiatives like Women in Innovation
My advice would be: Do a full scale business plan as if you was going to take it to you bank manager to ask funding first – this way you will learn everything about your product / service before you actually come to doing an Innovate UK submission, or selling your product.
If you can’t put together a full scale business plan including, risk assessments, financials, SWOT analysis now at the beginning stages you are going to struggle in the future. I didn’t know how to do any of this but I jumped onto Amazon and brought a couple of books on how to write a business plan, read them cover to cover and scribbled notes and sketches besides paragraphs in the books.
Once this was complete filling in the Innovate UK submission was simple, and when I got the confirmation to say that I was a finalist, even though I only had a couple of day’s notice to prepare for the first training day, I didn’t panic because I already knew everything inside out.
Be confident, sell yourself as much as you’re selling your idea – people invest people regardless of their sex / race or whatever – if you believe in you so will everyone else around you.
How involving women in innovation in the automotive sector stimulates more creativity
For me, the WallPod charging point which I co-designed is the most appealing charging point on the market for women. The way we designed it was obviously less masculine. We like to add curves and colour and I think that is what I personally brought to the table. We also think into the future about the ‘what ifs’ and ‘whys’, and this is what I will do again with my next product for EV Onestop.
I would also add that women get the job done! Men often like a meeting for a meeting’s sake and we haven’t got time for that – we have a Tesco’s delivery coming after work, we’ve got to take the kids to swimming lessons, put a wash load on and check in with our mums over the phone before tea time we cannot afford to take unnecessary trips out of the office.
Preparing for launch
I have only just begun, but my aim is for EV OneStop to be a brand in its own right and to be the only place drivers go to buy their EV charging products. I also hope that by the time I file my third year accounts that the company will have tripled in size.
I also hope that Innovate UK will get behind my new product idea and I can launch by September 2017. This is a mainstream product so my dream would be for it to be stocked on the shelves of Halfords! I also have another website in the pipeline that is EV based, but not charging focused, which should be launched early 2017.
Viva Las Vegas…