We aim to accelerate India’s energy independence, says Mohal Lalbhai of Matter

Ahmedabad-based startup Matter is building future energy products in the electric vehicle and energy storage space, with a focus on R&D, building India-specific products, and offering value through design, functionality, and pricing for its consumers.

India has gone more than halfway to do its bit towards saving the planet. Technology led innovations within constraints of climate commitments, call for transformation across many sectors, one of the most important being road transport and the automotive industry in India.

As one of the top emission sectors in India, the road transport sector and automobile industry is seeing a rapid shift towards electric mobility. Among the various potential policy interventions, the most emission reduction benefits can come from vehicle electrifications. This transformation is witnessing a number of stakeholders who are building quality, cost-effective electric vehicles. New-age, indigenously built technologies are undergoing development to meet the country’s need for electric bikes and scooters.

Mohal Lalbhai, Founder and CEO, Matter, is one such innovator driving an electric energy transformation and disruption. As materials engineer with deep inclination towards technology, he shares his mission to accelerate India’s energy independence through homegrown technology and innovations, in an interview with Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO, YourStory.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

YourStory (YS): Can you elaborate on your journey with Matter and where did the idea come from?

Mohal Lalbhai (ML): Matter is a startup in the energy technology space. We are working on all elements of technology associated with renewable energies. Realising Chinese imports are not suitable to work in the Indian EV space, my conversation with my co-founder Arun began in 2018, when we started to think about how to accelerate the adoption of EVs in India. Our conversations narrowed down to four fundamental needs that EVs lacked in – safety, security, reliability, and performance. Our discussions pointed in the direction of owning one’s own technology.

In January 2019, we started Matter, where we worked on the core technologies that differentiated an EV from an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). We designed and built our own motors, transmission systems, battery packs, management systems. As India faces a supply constraint in the EV space and has limited product offerings that cater to needs of the market, we wanted to accelerate India’s energy independence. The first starting point for us was to get into the EV space and with that vision, we started building out our technologies for Matter.

YS: Matter is working on filing\ more than 100+ Intellectual Property (IP) patents in a short time since its inception in 2019. How did that milestone happen?

ML: The journey started with understanding what is available that falls into the criteria of an Indian product. Our consumption patterns in India and use cases are very different from those in the rest of the world. We understood the requirements and came to the conclusion that some of the products available did not fit the time span or the cost point for a product that needs to work in India. That was the driving point to making these technologies. Along the way, innovation followed to solve basic conversations like thermal management for high heat environments, and other such technologies that led us to today, where we are a team of 175, from where this 100+ IP pipeline was created. Most people have a perception that India is incapable of building core technology. We always look to international partners for this. However, I have a very strong belief in the India story. This entire concept of ‘Made In India, For India’ was the core behind our patent pipeline.

YS: You are building a startup from Ahmedabad. What are some of the strengths and challenges of doing this, away from the conventional norm of setting up shop in the startup city of Bengaluru?

ML: Gujarat has a good edge in terms of the supplier ecosystem. The state has its core competencies in auto manufacturing, as TATA and Ford were located here. So the supplier ecosystem already exists. The Gujarat government for the past decade has also been promoting the power electronics industry. From a hardware perspective, Gujarat is a go-to state as we don’t have to travel to get suppliers and core manufacturing facilities. However, getting talent and manpower in Ahmedabad haven’t been easy. But once they realise what the city has to offer, they convert. So, it is getting the first foot in.

YS: Tech talent has a massive demand in India today. How are you building your engineering capabilities?

ML: When we build a team, we first define the attitude. We need go-getters. They are the first step towards creating faster solutions as there are glass ceilings in technology, which with the right approach can be broken. The technology team also has to have an entrepreneurial approach towards building. We also look at people, who have the ability for value maximisation, finding the right balance in terms of approach. An example that I would like to share is of one of our co-founders, Sharan Babu. He is a trained architect, but he understands technology, design, and consumer experience. So, for us, it is not the qualification of the person, but their ability to learn new things. With that outlook, we have managed to get the best talent in the country, ranging from PhDs, to fresh graduates, everyone coming in from all parts of the country.

YS: What has been your funding journey? Have you raised external capital, or are looking to raise in the future?

ML: Till date, Rs 7.5 million has been invested in Matter. In the future, we will be looking to raise external capital, as we gradually reach the right stages and milestones.

YS: You want to accelerate India’s energy independence. That is a very powerful vision. How do you see Matter in two years’ time?

ML: For the near future, we plan to launch products in the two-wheeler segment. Matter would also be playing a significant part in the grid stabilisation aspect, because the core technology that goes into a battery pack is the same that can be used for energy storage systems. Our brand Matter Energy will be focused on providing new-age batter solutions. We see ourselves playing a part in building the grid-ecosystem that will include home inverters, and other battery packs.

YS: With a degree in Materials Science, what drove you to get into this space? What are some of the learnings that you are bringing from your past, into what you are building currently?

ML: I have been following Elon Musk for quite some time now. Back in 2011-12, he said that Lithium-ion prices are going to drop below $100. In 2018, prices were just around $200, and everything began to make sense. I come from a value system where we believe frugality can create an impact. These circumstances and my own knowledge of Materials Science along with the economies of scale began to come together for me to begin in the segment.

From a learning perspective, this has been a crash course in the automotive sector. There are a lot of improvements in the thought process that can change the space. From a product building approach, we follow a rigorous pattern of testing. One of the major learnings has been to transition from prototype into production, being confident about your product is of utmost importance.

YS: Matter is a very powerful and unique name. How did you decide on it?

ML: When my co-founder Saran and I thought of the name Matter, we had very different views on the same word. For me, from a materials background, it resonated coming from the smallest building block, while for Saran, the view came from an experience, ownership and environment standpoint that ‘yes, everything matters.’ And these views struck a chord and we decided to go by the name ‘Matter’.

YS: Design is a crucial part of launching vehicles in the automotive industry. What have been some of your experiments to build cutting-edge design?

ML: Design for a two-wheeler that offers limited real estate is always a challenge. And differentiating on that is a tricky affair. But fundamentally, it goes down to a company’s core belief of what we stand for and what we understand for our consumers’ needs. Design cannot be just aesthetics. It has to be a mix of technology, functionality, and delivering something to the user.


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