First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ivar Kruusenberg: Thankfully, everyone in my family is doing good. We are taking all the necessary precautions as I have elderly people in my family and two kindergarten age kids. And since they are attending kindergarten, we have to take a lot of measures; for example, you need to leave the kids outside the school or call the teacher when we want to take our kids home in the evening. It has affected our work life as well. But, at this point, staying safe and protected is most important, and therefore we are encouraging our team members to also work from home and come to work only when absolutely required.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded PowerUP Energy Technologies.
Ivar Kruusenberg: I have been surrounded by fuel cell-related research for more than 15 years now. It all started when I was in the United States doing my postdoctoral at Berkley University. For almost a month, I had no access to the labs there. That is when the idea of setting up my company came up. Since I had studied fuel cells as a part of my education, I wanted to build something with my own hands that could help society in some way. After immense research, I decided to build hydrogen fuel cell electric generators. I simply tried to use my fundamental studies to make something real.
How does PowerUP Energy Technologies innovate?
Ivar Kruusenberg: I believe that one of the key factors determining innovation is the people. Our team is full of creative minds who come up with brilliant ideas and solutions. This creative mindset helps us to innovate better. The team stays up to speed with industry trends and ensures that we use the latest scientific technologies. Also, our connection to the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics in Tallinn gives us access to all relevant research papers & innovations and judge what is possible to take from basic science to real life.
How did the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?
Ivar Kruusenberg: The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed impacted our business, like most industries, globally. Due to travel restrictions, we have been unable to install our generators and have not been able to give live demonstrations to our distributors. But I would say now things are getting better gradually or maybe we have learned to cope with the situation. We are currently conducting virtual demos with our distributors, though we need to touch and feel the product for hardware products. But this is the best that we can do in the current situation.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ivar Kruusenberg: Shifting to virtual product demos for our distributors and prospective customers, owing to travel restrictions, has been the most difficult choice we had to make. As mentioned before, this has been challenging since, for hardware products, buyers prefer physical demos. We had certain other plans as well for the year, which had to be put on hold. But this is an unprecedented situation that we are all collectively dealing with.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Ivar Kruusenberg: Usually, I try to get out of my work bubble, engage in some sports like snowboarding, or just take time off during the weekends and spend time with family with no laptops or phones. But with the current situation, it’s becoming difficult as we can’t travel and do any outdoor sports. Lately, I’ve been trying to balance it by taking time off for family, which has definitely kept me sane.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ivar Kruusenberg: There are different market players, a couple of them in Germany, some in England, and some in the U.S. When we started in 2016, there was only a handful of them. But, now, with a massive focus on the significance of sustainability, multiple hydrogen deals are being signed, and globally there is a surge in demand for sustainable products. This has given rise to more and more companies in this sector which can be considered competition to us in one way or another. However, I do also feel that as we started before many other players, we have an advantage, and we strive each day to stay ahead of the curve.
Your final thoughts?
Ivar Kruusenberg: I would like to conclude by saying that the pandemic has instilled a certain amount of realization and awakening among people globally, which also appears to be an opportunity for the sustainable solutions market. We are committed to building a sustainable world and a sustainable tomorrow for our customers and ourselves. We will continue to put in the best efforts to deliver best-in-class sustainable generators and aim to become one of the region’s unicorns soon.