Famed investment group BlackRock has more than doubled its backing of a Cincinnati startup, funneling millions in fresh dollars into the company as it looks to further expand its footprint in the electric vehicle charging space.
Electrada, a developer, owner and operator of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, received $22 million in additional funds from BlackRock in mid-May, per a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It’s the second tranche the Over-the-Rhine-headquartered startup has received from the firm – BlackRock led Electrada’s $20 million Series B in 2021.
Electrada CEO Kevin Kushman told me the funds, considered expansion capital, will primarily be dedicated to a series of new fleet electrification project investments.
The startup serves customers in the logistics industry, including Ferguson Enterprises; institutional and campus-based clients, like Vanderbilt University, which in mid-May teamed with Electrada to launch an electric shuttle service; and the telecom, energy, last-mile and point-to-point delivery sector, among others.
Kushman said he expects the company to grow both organically and through mergers and acquisitions this year.
“It’s simply a refresh. We’re starting to see more opportunities pop up, and the funding allows us more traction on the market,” he said. “There are several acquisition opportunities, since there’s been a lot of consolidation in the space. (EV) pilots are easy; scaling is hard, and now, it’s all about how you deliver a better cost per mile.”
Electrada initially made its mark by installing EV charging stations in high-profile locations throughout the region, like Findlay Market and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
Kushman said those projects served as the company’s “training wheels.” The company’s initial work – coupled with the BlackRock investment – has boosted its reputation and afforded access to large enterprises and Fortune 500s.
Today, it operates a “charging-as-a-service” model. Electrada pays for, installs and maintains the EV infrastructure so commercial fleets nationally can convert to clean, electric transportation – without making the capital investment themselves.
Electrada then charges a long-term fixed price for the electric fuel.
The company’s deal with Ferguson, one of North America’s largest distributors of plumbing and HVAC supplies, was initially a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract. Kushman declined to give an exact value for the agreement but said both parties are “evaluating a second wave of opportunities.” Electrada’s goal was to install its charging stations at five Ferguson depot locations in California.
Electrada is also working with a large telecom customer, which Kushman declined to name.
And in February, Duke Energy Corp. announced plans to build a first-of-its-kind performance center to model and accelerate the development, testing and deployment of zero-emissions commercial EV fleets. The site will be located at Duke’s Mount Holly center, west of Charlotte, and will incorporate microgrid integration.
Duke is teaming with Electrada as part of a larger fleet electrification collaboration, he said.
“In the beginning, these folks wouldn’t even have picked up the phone if we didn’t show how this could work in the field,” Kushman said. “We’re small. We’re competing with the likes of BP, Schneider Electric, Shell. The (BlackRock backing) is crucial when you’re making multiyear commitments. They have also invested up and down the chain in EV. This way we can add capacity.”
Electrada, founded in 2020 and a previous Cincy Inno “Startup to Watch,” has grown to a team of nearly 30 and counting.
Half its employees are based in Cincinnati. The rest work from California, which remains a big focus; Texas; Michigan, given its ties to the auto industry; and along the East Coast, Kushman said.
Besides BlackRock, Electrada is backed by a number of undisclosed local investors. The firm has also received past grant funding from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.