In an era of evolving technologies, there are no experts. So this is a great time to explore, fail, learn and improvise by converting obstacles into opportunities.  

Prem Bhojwani, our next pathbreaker, Electric Vehicles Consultant, helps companies set up battery manufacturing plants, cut costs, build teams, source materials, and develop products through R&D and Innovation to electrify people’s lives.

Prem talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his work on an affordable multipurpose electric motorcycle, design of low-cost charging stations to develop the EV ecosystem and many other projects focused on batteries, swapping stations, IoT controlled vehicles that strengthened his belief in electric powered vehicles.

For students, the future is here and now. India has an all-weather geography and with that comes the potential to tap the country’s natural energy resources !

Prem, tell us about your background?

Hello everyone. I was born in Rajasthan and brought up in Godhra, Gujarat. I graduated with a B. tech in Electrical from RK University Rajkot, Gujarat. I’m from a tech. background family and my family business directly deals with  end consumer problems. So, from a young age, my interest was to solve problems with a limited budget. My toys were mostly circuits, DIY project kits, tools, a bunch of metal crafts, wires, magnets, and so on. My friends used to call it my tinny scrap yard though no one knew how obsessed I was with it and that’s how my childhood passed. In high school, I started to show interest in my dad’s business positively. I heard one common sentence while paying the vendor, and it was “ Petrol ke price badh gaye hai toh abhi itna percent bhav badh jayega”. Sometimes due to a shortage of laborers at my dad’s business, I used to visit a site. Once I was installing the fan and suddenly I noticed how electric power got converted into mechanical power, whether it is a fan, pump, doors, IC engine self-starters, etc. I was very angry to hear that “petrol ka price badh gaya hai” and all. So my initial interest started with connecting one motor with a battery and one extra mechanical couple for the generator to generate electricity which would feed that battery or motor and infinite power could be generated, and hence no need for extra power. Petrol problems would be solved. As I discussed this with my science faculty, things were getting clear slowly that this wasn’t possible, though electricity can be generated in many other ways and electric vehicles can reduce the import quantity of petrol, as well as mitigate the effects of climate change. Apart from that I never felt bored of my exploring habits like mobile phone repairing, computer repairing, software troubleshooting, art & craft, manufacturing methods, scrapyard visits (especially automotive scrap yard), daily medical hacks, myth vs. fact research, etc. 

 What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

After completing my 12th in science, I took charge of my dad’s business as I was waiting for my exam results. Those days, I was confused between computer science and electrical engineering.  After talking to professionals who were already doing great in their individual fields, and some introspection, I realized that any project related to electric power was very easy for me. But my father did not agree to allow me to choose electrical engineering because of unemployment and lower quality of the education. I was below average if we talk about the grades. But somehow, I convinced my parents that I wanted to do electric engineering because my father is also passionate about the same domain. I could see how happy and satisfied he is by following his passion no matter how much money he is making. So that kicked my inner soul and I decided to go with electrical engineering. 

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

In my hometown, there is a well-known place called “Shimla Garage” where any type of vehicle can be repaired irrespective of whether it is damaged by accident or flood. So on weekends, I used to go there to clear my imaginary thoughts about how things actually work. Since the first day of my college, I was very clear about my passion which was in field of renewable energy sector and electric vehicles.

I was very active in any practical kind of work and so I used to interact with seniors, lab assistants, and get involved in all kinds of department projects. In my second year, I joined the National Service Scheme club for social activities in order to directly interact with people, school kids and get to know their lifestyle, farming, etc. I enjoyed those experiences because I strongly believe that whatever we learn without execution and without adding value to the ecosystem is a waste of time. I got nominated for National Integration Camps and National Youth festivals. During that time I got a chance to interact with many impressive national leaders from different NGOs and learned personalities from the government, which were some of my best learnings. I will always be indebted to a few personalities like Dr. Nilesh Kalani who gave me wings and taught me how to fly, Professor Kapil Pandya & Professor Harshal Desai who increased my confidence level, and Professor Dhaval Pipaliya who planted the seeds of belief that anyone can do anything with limited resources. I wasn’t aware that they were my mentors because of their friendly nature. But till today, I’m very thankful for having those personalities in my life.

After graduation, I narrowed my questions and asked myself, “Either make your career in the existing field which has been there for many decades or take a risk and pretend that the new field will be the future”. So I decided to go with the electric vehicle and renewable energy industry.

 How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.

As I was very clear about what I wanted to do, I did some analysis from scratch and listed the work environments where I did not want to make my career, though they were very important for my foundational skills. So I started to apply for internships. My first internship was at a coal-based thermal power station where I learnt concepts related to the generation of electricity – how to manage and control the entire system to meet the demand for power, backup systems during fault conditions, efficiency, maintenance, etc.

In the third year of my graduation, I did my most awaited internship in the Indian Railway Loco & Wagon workshop where I deep dived into the locomotive traction system, working on individual traction parts, testing of LOCO on track, cabling, cooling system, parts level testing, manufacturing process etc. This internship was a major source of learning in my career.

To summarize all my learnings, I decided to choose my final year thesis on “Speed control of the battery-operated car” where I sharpened all my skills with hands-on R&D experience which was very close to real-world problem-solving.

After graduation, I was looking for a paid internship, especially at startup companies where I could work on the development aspects of the product rather than just assembling. And finally, I got the opportunity from Menza Motors where I worked on the powertrain and advanced high discharge battery packs along with the on-road testing. At Menza Motors, my key role was to design and develop major parts within India using local vendor networks according to the Indian weather conditions. To understand more about the project, I was helping my colleagues with design and fabrication of small parts, and procurement of raw materials. Our deadline was 13th Feb, the Auto expo launch. We successfully rocked the stage and introduced India’s first electric motorcycle with made-in-India components.

After that, I joined another startup Darwyn Ventures. We started it with a very small team. We were working on an affordable multipurpose electric motorcycle for business and successfully developed a modular chassis to test variable power trains on the road. We achieved a top speed of 97 KMpH with a 90 KM range which was best in class. But due to many circumstances, we dropped that project. After that, we changed our strategy and started working on a new product. Our target for the product was low cost, efficient, zero plastic parts for last-mile logistics vehicles, for daily commute, with a unique design. And of course, Made in India was a common priority. During my tenure, we cleared the nomination round of the “Innovate to Inspire” 2019 awards organised by EESL and we secured the first rank in the smart mobility sector. After successfully launching Candy Scooter, we started working on a low-cost charging station to develop the EV ecosystem with its easily noticeable unique design. After that, I worked on many projects like batteries, swapping stations, IoT controlled vehicles, etc. I explored a lot in Darwyn as Co-founder and CTO.

 How did you get your first break? 

As I decided to make my career in the electric vehicle industry, I started to apply for internships on Internshala in my final year. One day I received an email from Menza Motors for a telephonic interview, but I wasn’t selected. After a few days, I again contacted the founder to know about the selection process and reason behind the rejection, and somehow convinced him by showing my potential for practical work. I clearly told him one thing, “I’m not a classroom theory guy, I believe in execution”. He gave me a chance to join the team and I received my joining letter.  After the successful launch of India’s first electric motorcycle “LUCAT”, the Founder and MD sir told me, “ Giving you the one chance was the best decision, without you maybe launching Lucat wouldn’t have been possible on time”.  

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: A big challenge was working on projects with fewer funds including limited manufacturing resources without compromising quality and wow factor. To solve this problem, I challenge myself by knowing each and every manufacturing process which will solve the entire challenge.

Challenge 2: Working with freshers and tuning problems with experts’ input was my favourite challenge. And to solve that I used to spend more time with them and strategically give them an opportunity to face real scenarios to apply their classroom theories. 

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I am currently working as an independent consultant and exploring many projects. Specifically, I help companies to set up battery manufacturing plants, cut costs, build teams, source materials, and develop products through R&D and Innovation to electrify people’s lives.

What are the skills needed in your role ?

For this job, you need passion, good communication, ability to identify the root cause of the problem, mind mapping, and last but not the least, you need to keep asking yourself what you’re delivering. Some of the tech skills are design, simulation, prototyping, testing with hidden variables, and grip on the certification norms. These all are the standard skills, but the most important skill you need is the ability to see positivity in every opportunity and experiment with your ideas.

My typical day starts with meditation in Brahma-Murat, exercise, and prioritizing my work according to the ongoing projects and the day ends with learning sessions to upgrade my skills.

Sometimes I feel very lucky that my passion is my work. And working on unique ideas with execution is the best part of this job. 

How does your work benefit society? 

Umm, well I’m working in the electric mobility and renewable energy storage field which benefits society by increasing the quality of the environment, decreasing dependence on import of oil. It has the potential to change the lifestyle of those who are living in remote areas, by using solar energy storage which will power their home and personal mobility.

Technology is transforming, which means everyone is new here with their basic knowledge. So it is a great opportunity to deep dive into it. In India, we have all-weather geography and culture as well, so more variables with more obstacles and that means great opportunities.  

 Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Let me share one incident with you. When we received a nomination from Innovate to inspire for a bootcamp, we were a little bit scared because we had to be present there in one week and had a lot of work left to complete, for the jury presentation. I forgot my sleep and was skipping my meals to complete the product on time. I was leading all sections like fabrication, assembly, testing, painting, sourcing, battery design, and all kinds of stuff for our stall. Though we somehow completed it, on the last day, I got sick as I didn’t sleep for the last 50 hrs. My train was around 6 pm and at 4 pm I was in bed. We were living in Ahmedabad and the event was in Mumbai. My Co-founder was already in Mumbai as someone had to be there to participate in the bootcamp. I didn’t want to miss that opportunity, but my health wasn’t supporting me. There was very little chance to catch the train as I had to carry a scooter and battery swapping station with me. I had almost given up when after a few minutes, I got a notification from Indian Railways and the message was that our train was running late by 3 hrs. I don’t have any words to explain the feelings I had at that moment. I took my medicine and got ready. Our vendor helped me catch that train. He came with the scooter and swapping station. I took some rest as I wasn’t feeling well. The next day, I woke up at Bandra station on a wooden bench. After a few hours, I woke up in the hospital and explained everything to the cops. I lost everything, and somehow the police officer found everything except my phone. Later my co-founder came to pick me up and we reached the hotel. I took some rest as the final announcement was the next morning . In the second half, our name was announced as the winner in the smart mobility area and that feeling was like boom! Later I was admitted to the hospital for a month. And after a few months, cops found my phone which was also a piece of big news.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I don’t have many things to say as I’m still exploring. I would like to say that finding happiness will drive your passion and life. No matter which background you’re coming from, it’s about your belief. If you need any kind of help I’m always available, my dear friends. E-mail or you can contact me at +91 73830 29618.

 Future Plans?

My future goal is insane and that is free mobility and electricity for everyone especially in remoteareas without damaging nature, by using reusable materials.