Alumni Profile: Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain

Founding Ather Energy

In 2013, Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain, graduates of IIT Madras, embarked on the journey of founding Ather Energy, a Bengaluru-based electric vehicle startup. Their venture was fueled by a strong conviction that electric vehicles were inevitable for the Indian market, where bikes are a primary commute mode.

Academic Roots and Early Research

Both founders, with dual degrees in Engineering Design from IIT Madras, began their journey with research on lithium-ion batteries during their time at the institute. They aimed to replace the fast-degrading batteries in existing electric scooters with a more robust lithium-ion alternative. A research grant from IIT Madras supported their early work.

Support from IIT Madras and Industry Backing

Upon deciding to quit their jobs in 2013, IIT Madras provided support through a research grant of Rs 5 lakhs. The duo received further backing from IIT Madras alumnus V Srinivasan and his company Aerospike. Prof. R. Krishnakumar, their former professor, played a pivotal role in boosting their morale and encouraging them to pursue their entrepreneurial venture.

Evolution and Funding

Having successfully developed a swappable battery system, the founders gained confidence to create a new product—the S340 electric scooter. Financial support from Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal, along with funding from Tiger Global, facilitated Ather Energy’s growth. In 2016, Hero Motocorp invested 180 crores, acquiring a 26% stake.

Innovations in Electric Scooters

Ather Energy’s focus on innovation resulted in the development of the S340, featuring a groundbreaking Android tablet dashboard. This dashboard provided riders with navigation assistance and crucial information about power, battery status, system temperature, and theft tracking. The company aimed to design and engineer the scooter from scratch, facing challenges in finding experienced talent in new product development and electric vehicles.

Corporate Advancements and Valuation

Despite obstacles, Ather Energy made significant strides, building a team of 250 engineers and securing a deep-pocketed backer in Hero Motors. The company’s valuation reached around $800 million, with cumulative funding of $170-180 million. Ather Energy is anticipated to achieve $1 billion in revenue by the end of 2023, reflecting its remarkable growth and impact on the electric vehicle sector in India.