MO Batteries – electrifying Southeast Asia’s motorcycle scene
Established in August 2019, MO Batteries is an EV (electric vehicle) company aiming to spread usage of the electrical equivalents of motorcycles for a greener tomorrow. Their target? Southeast Asia’s bike-heavy roads. Their starting point: Singapore.
About their ride
The first thing that probably comes to many Singaporeans’ minds when they hear ‘EVs in Singapore’ is BlueSG. But what about electric motorcycles? The founders of MO Batteries realised that while electric cars have been present on the roads for a while, ‘e-scooters’ have oddly been relegated to the status of Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs). While PMDs have now been banned, MO Batteries co-founder Olivier van Hardenbroek and his partners saw the still-untouched potential of road-going e-scooters (or more accurately e-motorcycles, given the former term’s past usage in this country). Thus, MO Batteries was born.
But it is not just the type of vehicle that is different from BlueSG. Olivier makes it clear that their target customer base is vastly different as well: “We aim specifically at corporates and public service providers that utilise motorcycle fleets – for example, companies in the post and parcel sector, those in the security sector, and food delivery businesses. There are many more sectors, and we enable them to make the transition from petrol-driven to electric vehicles.”
He says this is largely because corporates stand to gain the most from converting to EVs. Mainly, transitioning from petrol-based vehicles to EVs positively impacts the bottom line – EVs are cheaper to operate and maintain, and are also more energy-efficient. Additionally, EVs help larger corporates meet rising sustainability development goals by reducing carbon emissions by up to 75%.
He puts it simply: “If corporates want to make an impact in reducing their footprint, this is an obvious way to approach that.”
Of course, these corporate-focused reasons only tell half the story. Olivier and gang noticed that in Europe and the Middle East, corporates and public service sectors are the ones leading the switch to EVs due to business needs. MO Batteries believes that by focusing on the ‘bottom line’ and sustainability goals of corporates, consumers will eventually be inspired to make the same transition away from petrol-based vehicles.
Their unique road bumps
Despite the clear benefits of making the switch, MO Batteries has their fair share of challenges to deal with in pushing for it. Chief among them is the “knowledge gap” when it comes to EVs; people will not usually think of motorcycles when they hear the term, with the industry and news having been dominated by four-wheelers so far, thanks to giants like Tesla. That is partly why Southeast Asia is their market of choice – there are about 200 million motorcycles on roads here, about 8 times more than there are in Europe, according to Olivier. The impact of convincing companies of the benefits of adopting electric 2-wheelers will be far larger here.
Another challenge comes in regard to the regulations. “If we want to make this transition as a society, there have to be suitable regulations and guidelines to enable that,” Olivier says. “Most of the regulations have been honed to facilitate the transitions for cars and trucks, but not so much for 2-wheelers. There is currently a lack of clear regulations to support the transition.”
For that, he says Singapore is well-poised to take the lead with its level of technical innovation. The country’s position allows it to act as an effective hub of information and regulations for the rest of Southeast Asia, which is why their biggest challenge “has been and still is to convince that there is a need to quickly implement a supportive regulatory regime”. The risk MO Batteries is concerned with is that if Singapore and its businesses do not move fast enough, they will lose the opportunity to pave the way for this change. Thankfully, Singapore is technologically ready for this change – similar regulations and systems are already in place for electric 4-wheelers here, and must mainly be adjusted for 2-wheelers.
Olivier is a 39-year-old Dutch national who has been in Singapore for 10 years as a Permanent Resident (he also attended school in Singapore when he was younger, for a few years). After getting a Masters in Finance in the Netherlands, he went into commercial and corporate banking, but always wanted to do something entrepreneurial. To that end, his plan was to take on the role of relationship manager for medium- and large-sized corporates so that he could meet with entrepreneurs and see how they operated.
“With the bank, I moved to Singapore in 2011; and when the opportunity arrived for me to start something new, I took an Executive MBA in 2017 to immerse myself in the leading innovations and find the right partners to start the business with. That’s how I came to the EV space.”
Olivier left his work in 2018 when he graduated, after which he spent a few months with his family. He has been building MO Batteries with his partners since then. And while he thoroughly enjoyed his time at the bank, he has found himself happy and motivated as a result of the conscious decision for change he made at that intersection in his life.
The value of NTUitive’s help has multiplied since their initial interactions sometime back, Olivier says, which is why he recommends that people approach NTUitive early if they are interested. To get a grant from Enterprise Singapore, MO Batteries needed an accredited mentor-partner – which is where NTUitive came in. Olivier and his partners have always had a high opinion of NTU and NTUitive, having been aware of NTU’s affiliations in the EV ecosystem and its supportive structure in innovation.
They managed to get the grant thanks to NTUitive, and received “tremendous mentorship” that helped to offset “the first 100 mistakes every startup makes”, which he says saved them a lot of time.
MO Batteries also managed to come in 3rd place in NTUitive’s ideasinc 2020, a nationwide startup challenge to groom promising ideas into viable businesses. Their participation in the programme helped them bounce their ideas off like-minded individuals in different industries for various perspectives he says they would have had difficulty getting otherwise. On top of that, they also managed to meet many potential investors.
“The competition was extremely valuable. We were very fortunate to have come in third.”
“And again, start early with parties like NTU/NTUitive. They add a massive amount of value as time goes by in the form of potential investors, getting your name out there, and getting your branding clear. It’s also important to be able to associate yourself with a reputable entity like NTU for credibility. We’ve also been given a workspace, which is great.”
Their message to Corporates & Public Sector Motorcycle Fleet Owners
“If you want to have access to lower costs and lower carbon footprints without sacrificing performance, what we offer is the most cost-effective, safest, and most seamless way to that transition. Using our extensive network of suppliers, we’ll find the most suitable equipment at the best possible price to suit the needs of each of our unique customers. We can provide vehicles under a leasing structure, and we handle recharging, insurance, and maintenance too. Those are just some of the advantages we have to offer.”
Aside from these benefits, Olivier says EVs lend themselves well to data gathering towards the improvement of vehicle fleet efficiency, which is something they are looking to offer as well.
Their message to Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Olivier says you will want to find “really good partner(s)” – in both your personal life and for business.
“One thing that’s important is that you can’t do this by yourself. If you have a spouse or (personal) partner, they need to support this. Because it’s not just your journey – it’s the journey of everyone around you as well. You need that support. I enjoy that every day; my wife is very supportive of what I do, and knows why I do it – why I’m so motivated. It helps in getting through the tougher times.” Good business partners are important, too, because as he puts it, “1+1 can be 3”.
“Some people inspire you to be creative and make more,” he adds. “It’s also good to get partners with different skillsets so you can complement each other.”
“Also, don’t stay in your room for months. You need to speak to people like potential clients and other players to learn more – you learn a lot and it saves you so much time. You’re a founder/CEO, so don’t be afraid – people will take you seriously if you have a good idea. Try to reach higher in organisations! The worst that could happen is that the bigshots tell you they have no time, but there are so many more upsides to trying to reach out to them.”
He also reminds entrepreneurs to expect that everything will take three times as long as they should, and to safely assume that “nothing happens according to plan”.
Finally, it is important to set boundaries – you must be clear in your limits, so you know when to stop chasing a client or providing a service that is making you change your whole business in ways you do not intend. “Don’t digress. You’re robbing yourself and your investors of time and money that can be better spent!”
Visit their website for more information: https://www.mobatteries.com