Early Enablers. (Episode 82)

Early Enablers. (Episode 82)

Interview with Richard Berkling, CEO of PowerCell.

“My biggest competitor is not my competitors; it’s status quo”

The words belong to Richard Berkling, CEO of PowerCell, one of the world’s leading fuel cell companies.

Fuel cells have been “the future” for decades, but the increased interest in sustainable fuel solutions that exploded in the last few years has led to a huge increase in investments, research, and innovation into all things sustainable energy. And fuel cell electrification is one of the most promising technologies out there.

Hydrogen has so many advantages, (primarily to store energy, saving the sunshine for a rainy day), and it seems it’s time has finally come.

One of PowerCell’s customers just earlier this year flew the world’s largest fuel cell electric airplane powered by PowerCell’s fuels cells. Zero-emission flights are within sight.

But, as with all new technologies, you need support, and that’s where “Early Enablers” come in.

Early Enablers are companies that are willing to buy new products based on new technologies and who, by doing so, enable not only these companies to survive in their early stages but accelerate the ramp-up of a new market.

Without Early Enablers many tech-start-ups would falter.

Established industry players are usually too invested in old technology and paradigms, making it hard for them to switch to a new technology.

The established players might sign up for small test-orders from companies offering new technological solutions, they might do “tech explorations” or “feasibility studies” etc, but they will not sign up for the big orders early. Legacy companies are victims of their own success. They are just too invested in the past.

Governments are often also slow to adopt new tech as clients, even if they can be good at investing in research projects.

That is why Early Enablers are so valuable for start-ups. Early Enablers enable companies offering new technology a way to make money by putting in substantial orders early.

An example of an “Early Enabler” for PowerCell is Zeroavia.

Zeroavia is developing a hydrogen electric driveline for airplanes and they came to PowerCell for supply of hydrogen fuel cells.

In a deal announced in October 2022 Zeroavia signed up for an order of 5,000 hydrogen fuel cell stacks with deliveries planned to start in 2025.

Richard Berkling told me that the day after the Zeroavia order was announced he got phone calls from large established airplane manufacturers who wanted to discuss how to collaborate and use PowerCell technology. Richard: “We see the same characteristics in all our segments. New entrants build the market as the legacy companies struggle with internal inertia from both resistance but also from having a very profitable current core business that cannot be jeopardized. “

Early Enablers push established players to adopt new technologies.

Start-up companies get a lot of praise for disrupting old and stale industries and for pushing innovation. And they should.

It’s thanks to start-ups that much human progress has happened.

But we should also give some praise to the Early Enablers. Because without these Early Enablers deciding to put in those early orders a lot of innovation would never turn into thriving businesses.

Early Enablers enable success.

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