Powering India’s Electric Vehicle Revolution
TELL US MORE: Shreyas Shibulal '15
When Shreyas Shibulal launched Micelio, a company focused on India’s growing electric vehicle (EV) industry, no one in his family was surprised. He’s been fascinated with cars since he was a child, even building his own replica Lotus race vehicle while a student at Haverford. And Shreyas comes from a family of successful entrepreneurs headed by his father, SD Shibulal, who cofounded India’s second-largest IT company, Infosys. The family maintains a shared office in Bangalore, where they manage a philanthropic education foundation and family members run their own businesses and charitable ventures.
Founded just over a year ago, Micelio has 55 full-time employees and consists of four divisions: the $20 million Micelio Fund, which invests in early-stage EV startups working on everything from complete vehicles to batteries; Discovery Studio, a product development workshop with equipment and experts available to startups; Lightning Logistics, a delivery service powered by a fleet of electric mopeds; and Micelio’s own product team, which is developing its own electric delivery vehicle.
Micelio is both Spanish and Italian for mycelium, which Shibulal sees as the underlying ecosystem that connects all things on Earth. “It’s the basic geometry for any ecosystem,” he says. “You see mycelium patterns wherever you look in nature: on leaves, the roots of a tree, your own nervous system. Our logo is the simplified geometry of mycelium. We chose that name because we see ourselves as enablers of the larger EV ecosystem in India.
Why focus on the electric vehicle industry?
It’s a great opportunity to do what I love and to have a social impact. Globally, we are seeing a lot of countries looking at how they can transition to this [EV] technology. Dependence on fossil fuel is a huge factor, and climate change is another big factor, but also just urban noise pollution and pollution in general is the biggest factor. And from an economic perspective, EVs can reduce dependence on importing fossil fuels. India’s second-largest import is crude oil, and 70 percent of our vehicles are either motorized bikes, mopeds, or tuk-tuks—motorized rickshaws. They account for two-thirds of fuel consumption in India, and that’s huge.
What are the challenges of running your own company?
The biggest challenge we are facing is finding good talent. It’s such a nascent industry here, and it’s difficult to find EV experts. That curriculum isn’t offered in colleges. In terms of competition, there are so few EV companies here that at this point it’s about seeing how we can work together, rather than how we compete. We call it “co-opetition.”
What advice do you get from your father, who built one of India’s largest companies?
I consult with my father and even my extended family on a daily basis. I don’t think I’d be able to handle all of this if I wasn’t able to consult with someone who has years of experience under his belt. I’m a highly analytical person, and I take my time—all of my actions are very premeditated. But at some point you just have to get your feet wet and do it! That’s the biggest lesson he’s taught me so far. You can’t run a business without taking risks. Lightning Logistics was born out of that philosophy of “Do something.”
How did you end up at Haverford?
I was born in Boston and spent most of my life in Bangalore, but we went back and forth because of my father’s business. Haverford was very familiar to me because my sister, Shruti Shibulal ’06, went there. I’d been to campus many times, and I was really interested in the 4+1 Program with UPenn that was being talked about. [The program allowed Shibulal to earn a computer science degree at Haverford and then a master’s in embedded systems at UPenn]. Haverford was the only liberal arts school I applied to, and with the philosophy, economics, and linguistics classes I took, it gave me a larger perspective on the world.
What are your goals for Micelio?
We are running four different ventures within the company, but there are lines connecting all of them. In the future, for example, I see a cool company we are incubating in the Discovery Studio that’s looking for a first customer, and that’s where Lightning Logistics and the product team come in. We may be able to connect them with other companies, or pilot their product for them. We are also pushing long-term, sustainable EV production here, and to do that we need a stable, local supply chain, otherwise we’ll always depend on foreign economies to get vehicles to you. Batteries, for example, use lithium ion, and the raw materials aren’t necessarily available here. But there are local companies working on alternative battery chemistry. And the EV motor uses rare earth, which are elements available mainly in China, so we’re looking at what can be locally produced. By setting things up locally, we’re trying to push long-term adoption of EVs in this country.
Is Micelio developing its own version of an electric car?
The percentage of cars in India is relatively small. But eventually you are going to have companies—if not us, then other companies—introducing electric cars or trucks. But right now we are looking at developing large fleets of two- and three- wheelers, either motorbikes, mopeds, or tuktuks for businesses. That’s the larger chunk of the pie right now.