Body bags, a pig shed and tears of relief at a £13m investment - the story of one of Suffolk’s most successful young entrepreneurs

Charlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Charlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

And despite now being at the helm of one of Suffolk’s most exciting, pioneering tech firms, which is an Archant ‘Future 50’ company, he was “absolutely not” interested in science as a child.

The Jardines are a farming family from Creeting St Peter, and Mr Jardine attributes his entrepreneurial spirit to his father, John Charlie, who had a business that produced compost mulch and bark and then built recycling centres for local authorities.

Body bags

Mr Jardine’s first business, which he formed with an enterprise scholarship while a student at Leeds University, involved making one-piece waterproofs for music festivals.

Charlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Charlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

“We decided to call the brand Body Bags,” he said. “We made a massive mistake, which has taught me a lot for my business today. We tried to get them manufactured in China, which didn’t work particularly well. We’d get a prototype and then say we need to shorten the legs and lengthen the arms. Ten weeks later, they’d come back to us and the arms were shorten and the legs longer.

“When I moved to London after graduating, I was surrounded by people who were post-partying days, and the festival scene had fallen by the wayside.”

Falling in love with EVs

Charlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Charlie Jardine, founder of EO Charging Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

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After a spell doing cold calling sales calls - “I was definitely the worst salesperson in the company” - Mr Jardine joined Pod Point, one of the first companies in the UK to manufacture electric chargers, and swiftly moved from sales to marketing. “I ended up spending 18 months at Pod Point, and fell in love with electric vehicles,” he said. “They weren’t deemed to be cool back then - there was the G-Wiz, made by Reva, which was the smallest electric car and sold about 2000 vehicles in London, mostly to architects. Then there was the Nissan Leaf and the Vauxhall Ampera. But then Tesla came to the market and immediately changed the game. Elon Musk just made them cool. Until this year, they were the only company to get the branding side of electric vehicles right.”

Mr Jardine became frustrated at having to work for somebody else at Pod Point, and recalls the moment he called his dad to tell him he was handing in his notice. “He used some impolite words to tell me ‘no, you’re not. You have a stable job!”

But realising his 23 year-old son shared his entrepreneurial zest, Mr Jardine senior decided to team up with him, and together they drew up a business plan for EO Charging - armed with some industry knowledge and a few contacts.

EO Mini Pro (Juice Net. Picture: EO Charging

EO Mini Pro (Juice Net. Picture: EO Charging - Credit: Archant

The pig shed

Their first ‘office’ in Stowmarket was hardly luxurious. “We started off in the old pig shed at my grandfather’s farm,” said Mr Jardine. “We decked it out with some ply wood and put some heaters in - that’s where we produced our first chargers.

Mr Jardine was inspired by how Apple had been able to dominate the market with appealingly simple brand designs.

“We started with a blank sheet of paper and said ‘If we were to design a charging point, what would it look like and how would it work?’

“We saw a photo of that curved, sexy Apple mouse, put a socket on our design and the words ‘EO’ with a Thunderbolt.

“I walked into the Haverhill Mould and Tooling, which makes plastic moulds, and said ‘this is what we want to build.’”

Three years on, EO Charging is producing electric chargers not only for customers in the UK, but also in 25 countries worldwide.

A £13m investment

A contract signed in June for a £13m investment by London-based infrastructure investor Zouk Capital prompted “tears of relief” from Mr Jardine.

“Its been really hard, especially when you put quite a lot of family money on the line - enough that you have to think about selling the house, which is obviously an uncomfortable position to be in,” he said.

The investment is being used to form a sales team and increase the marketing budget, as well as to accelerate key product and software development.

Although Mr Jardine believes that there isn’t enough charging infrastructure in the UK yet, making the commercial case for electric cars will be the market gamechanger, not building up the number of power points.

“In Norway, where 56% of new car sales are electric, there aren’t very many charging points. The tax on petrol and diesel cars is significant there, because it means that buying an electric car is cheaper than buying petrol or diesel.

“Plus you get additional benefits by driving an electric car there, like you can drive in bus lanes and park in certain spaces for free. I’d like to see the British government introducing those initiatives.”

Mr Jardine admits that electric vehicles “only make sense” from an environmental perspective if the energy used to charge them is renewable. “If you go through a rapid change station that is powered by green energy, or use charging points at your workplace powered by green energy tarrif, then it makes sense,” he said.

Becoming smarter and greener

EO Charging is bringing the electric eco system together by developing technologies, initially focused on charging electric vehicles, but also around combining electric vehicle charging with solar panels, battery storage, and a smart grid. “What we’re developing is software that helps a home manage energy, with a primary focus to be cheaper and the added benefit of being totally green,” he explained.

EO Charging is currently working with local authorities in Suffolk on a pioneering charging infrastructure project in Suffolk, but is staying tight-lipped on the details until the project is launched later this month.

EO Charging has also just teamed up with eMotorWerks to deliver what Mr Jardine claims is Europe’s smartest home electric vehicle charger, the new EO Mini Pro.

It delivers smart scheduling, charging with power from photovoltaic systems and grid services, and is aimed at lowering EV operating costs. The charger will launch in early 2019 in the UK, then will be rolled out in other European countries.

“Electric vehicles represent the most disruptive technology the modern power network has ever witnessed, and we are working to ensure that EO is at the forefront of the e-mobility revolution where EV drivers and consumers are playing a more active role in their energy generation and usage,” said Mr Jardine.

“Our partnership with eMotorWerks allows us to launch a cost-effective smart charger for the domestic EV driver that can integrate with solar, onsite storage and offer a plethora of energy management benefits. eMotorWerks is leading the industry in terms of smart grid charging and we’re excited to integrate the company’s JuiceNet platform into the EO Mini Pro for our customers in the UK and soon across Europe.”

Stowmarket hub

EO Charging currently employs 25 people in all - 15 at the company’s headquarters in Stowmarket, four in London, four in Cambridge and two in Ipswich. While Mr Jardine says that having split offices serves the company’s needs well, he also feels that Stowmarket “needs some serious work.” “The high street is not that appealing,” he said. “I think generally, Stowmarket requires some investment.”

But he also supports a campaign by local business leader Peter Brady of Orbital Media to make Stowmarket a tech hub.

“Why wouldn’t we support it? Making Stowmarket a tech hub would be an advantage to us in terms of helping us to employ the right kinds of people.”