Virta gets fuel for growth from EV charging stations

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Finnish growth company Virta is driving a global revolution by offering a unique solution to launch, scale and operate commercial EV charging services for different industries such as energy, oil and real estate. Virta already has a strong presence in Europe, and it will use the €30 million recently raised to expand its footprint in Asia. New investors in the round were Jolt Capital, Vertex Growth and Tesi.

Virta was ranked 180th in the Financial Times FT1000 list of Europe’s fastest growing companies in 2020, and is the fastest growing company in EV charging solutions. This came as no surprise to Virta’s CEO Jussi Palola. He is now convinced it will grow strongly on two continents.

“According to Goldman Sachs, electric vehicles will account for 80 per cent of new passenger cars in Europe by 2030, up from the current figure of 40 per cent. China is leading the way in vehicle electrification, but Europe is growing its relative share of the EV market. In terms of the number of vehicles, Asia will dominate the market in the near future,” Palola explains.

Virta’s digital charging platform enables the launch, scaling and operation of commercial EV charging services for different industries such as energy, oil and real estate. Currently, roughly seven per cent of European EV drivers subscribe to Virta’s platform.

“We already operate one of Europe’s largest charging services with a network of tens of thousands of charging points and more than a quarter of a million users in over 30 countries. A platform solution paving the way to future growth is important to our customers, and that we can certainly deliver,” states Palola.

Next step: the EV charging market in Asia

Virta is a product of the Finnish innovation system. Business Finland supported a programme promoting e-mobility innovation that produced a dozen or so growth companies in the 2010s. Virta was one of them. Jussi Palola and Elias Pöyry decided to found a company and invited 35 energy companies to join them. Altogether 17 of them participated in Virta’s first financing round in 2013.

“We were international from the word go, and we always tried to find the best partners in the market both in Finland and internationally. Our first customer was the Swiss company Swisscharge, which has grown into the country’s leading supplier of EV charging services. Since 2018 we’ve built a pan-European charging network together with German E.ON. Japan’s EV market is growing strongly, and just after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 we signed an agreement with the country’s leading integrated energy company ENEOS,” comments Palola.

Virta will set its sights on other Asian markets next. Last year, it decided to seek financing from tech investors to maintain its level of operations through the pandemic. Laurent Samama, Partner at Jolt Capital, an investor scaling impactful technologies, had been following Virta for some years. He started leading financing negotiations when he saw that the claims Palola made in 2018 about success and growth were proven.

“Also, influential Singapore-based tech investor Vertex Growth’s investment was its first in Europe, and together we’ll seek out new partners in Asia. Virta’s earlier investors also participated in the investment round,” says Palola.

Coming soon: bidirectional charging (V2G)

EV business is responsible and has a positive societal impact, too. Palola estimates that the batteries of tens of millions of electric vehicles will become energy stores that level out imbalance in renewable energy production. Virta is currently testing bidirectional V2G (vehicle-to-grid) charging technology, which enables transfer of energy from a vehicle back into the electricity supply network and participation in regulating the energy system.

“Our goal right from the start has been an ecologically, economic and societally sustainable future. Making electric vehicles a part of people’s everyday lives is our way of mitigating climate change,” sums up Palola.

Finland has a long tradition of technological innovation. Virta owns patents for many inventions that enable an electric vehicle to be used as a part of the energy system and that make life as easy as possible for the end user.

“The ratio of the patents we own to our capital employed is one of the highest in the world,” notes Palola.

“The ratio of the patents we own to our capital employed is one of the highest in the world”

Special asset: the ability to listen to customers

Virta’s product is co-branded with the customer’s, so the end-user appears to be buying and paying for electricity from Virta’s customer. Palola points out that the entrenched Finnish custom of listening to a customer’s needs and then accommodating them is a definite advantage for a business based on empowerment.

“We can serve both big brands and mid-sized customer segments. Our charging platform is ready for millions of motorists to use, but if one of our energy company customers wanted to start a charging service for snowmobiles, that would be possible too. All segments of transportation are being electrified. We already operate snowmobile charging points on the Arctic Circle, which is testimony to the success of charging in cold conditions,” Palola says.

Energy companies were previously the most active companies in launching EV charging business, but oil companies are becoming more involved to avoid missing out on the growing market. Electric vehicle charging will in the future be a service, and one that real estate companies will also need to offer, so growth prospects for these offshoots look extremely promising.

Virta Ltd (Liikennevirta Oy)

What it is: A technology company providing a reliable platform for charging electric vehicles. The second largest roaming network player in Europe, and Europe’s fastest-growing player in EV charging.

Where it is: Head Office in Helsinki. Offices in Berlin, Stockholm, Paris and London.

Established: In 2013.

Founders: 17 Finnish energy companies, Jussi Palola and Elias Pöyry.

Personnel: Over 120 employees.

Customers: Corporate customers in over 30 countries. Over 30,000 charging points in Europe are connected to Virta’s platform.

Owners: Future Energy Ventures/E.ON, ENEOS Corporation, Jolt Capital, Vertex Growth, Tesi, Helen Ventures, Lahti Energia, Vantaan Energia and four other Finnish energy companies.

Jussi Palola

Who he is: CEO and co-founder of Virta Ltd (Liikennevirta Oy).

Education: Doctor of Science (Technology), Aalto University. Executive MBA, Aalto University.

Experience: Worked in the energy sector with electricity networks and new energy business, former chairman of the Business Finland programme for e-mobility systems, international research into electric power systems.

Why Virta in particular: I’ve always been really interested in electricity, studying it and working with it. About 12 years ago, I looked at the energy and transport revolution with new eyes and realised that e-mobility was a way to change the world for the better. I saw the opportunities when I was writing my thesis at university. Since then, I’ve wanted to promote sustainable transport and sustainable energy systems. These link together nicely in the work we do at Virta. Seeing the beginnings of success gives me even more motivation. At Virta, I feel I’m doing important work that has a positive global impact.