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The Disruptors: The startup driving for more low-emission vehicles on our roads

PUBLISHED: 10:42 20 August 2019 | UPDATED: 12:06 20 August 2019

Justin Ott, chief executive of Spark:

Justin Ott, chief executive of Spark: "After years of driving electric vehicles, I was continually frustrated by the inaccuracy of existing range prediction systems." Picture: Spark

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For the latest installment in The Disruptors video series, Spark founder and CEO Justin Ott explains how its AI software is revolutionising journey prediction systems to improve driver trust in electric vehicles.

Tell us about Spark.

Adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is being held back by driver concerns about range. [UK ownership of electric cars averaged only 2.7pc of the new car market in 2018] Existing dashboard displays are inaccurate, meaning drivers don't have trust that they'll reach their destination without having to recharge.

Spark's AI-based EV journey prediction software overcomes these barriers, using a wide range of data including personal driving style, topography, previous trips and current atmospheric conditions to provide more tailored and accurate predictions than existing manufacturer systems.

What was the opportunity you identified that led to launching Spark?

After years of driving EVs I was continually frustrated by the inaccuracy of existing range prediction systems. After attending the University of Cambridge's Accelerate Cambridge entrepreneurship programme I decided to take action, writing the patent behind Spark's technology and creating the company.

How did you use invention and innovation to disrupt the market?

"Drivers don't have trust that they'll reach their destination without having to recharge" says Spark's Justin Ott; the Newmarket-based startup's journey prediction software is changing that. Picture: Britta and Ralph Hoppe

When I created Spark, nobody was addressing the market. People didn't see inaccurate range predictions as a problem. We showed the industry how important this was - and that we could help them overcome the challenge, using AI to deliver personalised, accurate predictions.

What were the challenges you faced along the way and how did you learn from them?

Initially we wanted to sell the solution to individual businesses to use it with their fleets via a smartphone app. Addressing this size of market was difficult for a startup and we realised that the greater opportunity was embedding Spark within existing in-car entertainment and sat nav systems.

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We reworked our technology and are now in advanced discussions with multiple major automotive companies, as well as having completed successful trials with BP.

What's been your proudest moment so far in your business' development?

Seeing the results of our trials with BP; it used Spark in over 10,000 km of EV journeys, comparing them with in-car systems. The results were clear - our technology was over 10x more accurate.

If you were starting from the beginning again, what would you do differently?

I would go after the bigger market opportunity by talking to automotive companies earlier. At the time it seemed daunting and I thought these big organisations would move slowly. In fact, they've all recognised the issue with their existing range prediction systems and are very keen to talk and move forward.

What's your advice to someone launching a disruptive startup?

Don't listen to the people that tell you it can't be done - believe in yourself and your idea. Access the resources around you - talk to other startups, advisers and accelerators. There is a lot of support in Suffolk and beyond, so make the most of it.

What are your plans for the future?

We're in advanced negotiations with several major car manufacturers to incorporate our technology into their vehicles. We're also fundraising to drive our international expansion and adapt our technology for aviation, buses, defence and trucks. While we've achieved a lot in less than two years, we're still at the beginning of the journey!

The Disruptors is a new video series highlighting the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge businesses shaking up their respective industries. Read more and follow the series here.

Want to tell us about how your business is disrupting its sector? Contact David Fieldhouse on 01603 772456.

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