Scaling to Zero

Building a Climate Tech Workforce with Evette Ellis of ChargerHelp!

Episode Summary

Evette Ellis is bridging climate tech, more specifically zero-emission transportation, and the workforce. She is the co-founder of ChargerHelp! and finds inspiration in her family and faith. In this episode, Dawn Lippert, Elemental’s CEO, and Danielle Harris, Elemental’s Director of Mobility Innovation, talk with Evette about building a climate tech workforce that represents the communities they serve, breaking generational norms, and the opportunity to address climate change and unemployment together.

Episode Notes

Evette Ellis is bridging climate tech, more specifically zero-emission transportation, and the workforce. She is the co-founder of ChargerHelp! and finds inspiration in her family and faith. In this episode, Dawn Lippert, Elemental’s CEO, and Danielle Harris, Elemental’s Director of Mobility Innovation, talk with Evette about building a climate tech workforce that represents the communities they serve, breaking generational norms, and the opportunity to address climate change and unemployment together. 

Episode Transcription

Dawn Lippert: Let's talk a little bit about, who you are and how you got here. So how did you come to co-found charger?

Evette Ellis: It definitely wasn't planned, but we do say what's destined, I, by Trey, I'm a workforce development.

Officer for department of labor's job court. so my entire career has been there. so I did some contract work on the side with Lacy, Los Angeles, Cleantech incubator, and that's where I met Camille. And Camille, she created this curriculum. So she, he was kind of in charge of the technical training and I was in charge of the career coaching and we would cross each other.

So after the cohort was completed, she invited me to become part of a charter hope. I initially, I don't think I said no, she says, I said, no, I don't think I said no, but I definitely said why I didn't get it. I didn't understand it. It was foreign to me. And it just came out of her mouth so easily.

Like you could tell she got it. So after learning more and more about how I could, it tribute to charter, help, I saw the vision, but just naturally easy charging stations. I was like, I dunno, I don't know why you want me to do that.

I feel like I'm going to mess up your business. But then when we started talking about workforce, which is my passion and my, the area I love to talk about when I found out it was room for that was exciting.

Dawn Lippert: Yes, it is exciting. helped me sort of build a bridge between your career in job training and workforce development and transitioning to the charging world. And Camille has an amazing deep background in ed charging and everything electric vehicle, and what's happening in the industry so build us that bridge. How do those two connect?

Evette Ellis: it's interesting. That question is always interesting to me because, Workforce development is in every field it's in every industry. and really as I grow in this industry and get to know people, I won't call it a pet peeve, but I will say that in order for the inclusive green economy to happen.

We're going to have to take like tech, clean tech, climate tech offer this pedestal. Like it's different are it's over there. Right? And if you're going to be a part of this, you gotta go over there and be a part of their setup when really it's the wild, wild West. Right? What I'm learning is everybody is learning.

Everybody is trying to match it together, but it's this facade that you got, that'd be like deeply seated, passionate about. The earth, you know what I'm saying? It's this idea that anyone can't come over here, the fact is that workforce development happens. Everybody needs janitorial services. Everybody needs administrative assistance. Everybody needs director's management. All these skills are transferred. Terrible. So when we separated, there's not a structure or, there's not already, a way that we do work for us, at least in America, then it keeps tech away from everybody, right? 

Changing and shifting our thinking around workforce, as it relates to any industry, people should have access to the industry, whatever industry that is.

Danielle Harris: thinking more about, you didn't say no to Camille, um, but could you give us an idea of what went through your head when Camille first approached you.

Evette Ellis: I come from a background of like my grandparents, my grandfather and my father, they were worker bees. And my father, he passed in, in 2018. And every time I would get a move, a job or move, I said, girl, you need to sit down somewhere, just getting your job and beat steel somewhere.

Y'all move moving. And it made him just totally nervous. So it was ingrained in me to get somewhere, stay, work your way up. And you can't skip the line, right? I'm not aligned skipper. I'm a very, is the path and let's go. So the conversation I had to have with myself and then with my husband, cause he comes from a similar background.

It's like, so what does money look like? Like, how does this work start up? Nobody's getting paid in for like how many hours did that take? It was foreign to us because we just didn't come from a background where that is what you go do. You get a job and you stick to it. So the thought process behind it was how can I make my ends meet?

And that is the real thought process behind most people, a lot of people I'm sure my dad and my granddad had. Ideas and dreams and things that they want to aspire to do. However, when you have responsibility and you're not 18, or you not privileged enough to come from a place where there's a lot of support, or you don't know how to access grants, you don't know how to do all that.

You are working and you are happy to have a job. And you crazy. If you want to go out finding yourself at 39 years old. Right it was a big step for us, But I would say when we started, those are the real things that we had to consider. 

Danielle Harris: when I first talked to you in Camille, I think the thing that really stood out for me was.

The promise of the green economy, and you guys creating a pathway towards that. And I think it's something that, we talk about, globally in terms of, moving clean tech forward and getting to a sustainable future. Um, but in terms of like boots on the ground and making that happen, there hasn't been that much color put to it.

And so, um, I think. That's what's really unique about charger health is the workforce component is built into your business model. and so I would say that's pretty unique right now. and so just wanting to get an understanding of kind of like what's the feedback that you've been getting from clean tech, from investors, from the startup ecosystem. When you guys share a which I help is all about.

Evette Ellis: It's new, right? Like you said, it's a new concept to build it in which for us is wild that we even have to build in the workforce. We would think that naturally these things could happen. but it is exciting and we've really gotten good. Feedback, investors and folks are really interested to see how this is going to happen.

And I won't say it's a check the box for them, but it is definitely something that people want to be involved with that they don't necessarily know how to do themselves. And if they could partner with someone that is not only doing it, but passionate about doing it, you're like, Hey, let me get on with you. Cause it looks like you're going that direction. and we welcome it. 

Dawn Lippert: I'm sure folks want to know what is charged your help? What do you do? What problem are you solving? 

Evette Ellis: Okay, so ChargerHelp. We fix EV charging stations on demand. To put it simply.

So a charging station goes down, it could take weeks, it could take months to get someone out to fix it. The EV network provider may send a, uh, engineer out to fix it and. That doesn't work. and then maybe even someone from their office, we had a couple of meetings and some of them from their office may have to come out and go to the gas station or wherever office and fix it.

My genius co-founder, figured out that, Hey, this is a part of the industry that is missing, but not only is it missing, but. It will really help with math ed adoption, because some of the biggest issues that Evie drivers have is what range, anxiety getting somewhere. And then it doesn't work.

You have your baby, you, you know, it's getting dark. you're in a city you're not familiar with, or you just have somewhere to go. and the charging station is down. And so as we move into, This new frontier of EVs, you know, this is going to be a big problem. And we are so excited. It's like perfect timing because it's a lot going on one in our world, but we are just like, it's just, it's magic.

Like you're right in the middle where everything is happening. And you're like, we're here provide this service. But what we do is we fix Evy charging stations on demand.  So we dispatch, we have our own platform, our own app, and we dispatch our techs out depending on where they live and, all that good stuff to go out and fix it and we can get someone out. Sometimes same day at the latest, maybe the next day, which is like gold for Evie drivers. and we're really proud of that.

Dawn Lippert: Yeah, that's huge. and with RDV, we've been in those exact situations, you mentioned have the baby in the car, it's getting dark headed to the North shore of Oahu, texting and calling my friends that work at the utility and work at the state. Do you know if this Evie chargers up or not? You don't know if we can stay up on the North shore, we should turn around.

So this is a problem. Many of us have experienced firsthand. . So, I mean, just growing an early stage business or being an entrepreneur, you're learning how to solve a hundred problems at once and learning new things at once.

So what are some of the challenges you've seen or problems you've seen as you've been building the company and that you've overcome something you've figured out? 

Evette Ellis: On the technical side with our techs. Retraining this last cohort virtually, since COVID has probably been our biggest challenge, because EVs are a thing, right? You touch them, you feel them. getting our curriculum, set up in a way that could be taught virtually, having to train people one, two people at a time in order to be safe, to prepare for our pilots and our.

Things we have coming up because business doesn't stop. so that has been probably the biggest challenge on the technical side. I would say, with Camilla and I just adjusting To the different industry, right? As a team, as women, as black women, we've had experiences, sometimes being ignored sometimes, people saying things like you're like, would you say that to anybody else?

and trying to find that balance between professionalism and like. I don't know, you know, but I need this business right. Kind of get somewhere. But I, I don't know where the mine is. I don't know how many times are you going to say that to me? So try it to figure that out. Right? So just feel like sometimes you just I really need this and you have to really figure out what works for your business, because the bigger goal is for us to get off the ground.

Danielle Harris: so one thing I was thinking about is. as a black woman, I feel like when I talk about what I do, my friends are like D does something with like sustainability tree hugging, you know? and one of the things that I was wondering when I first heard about this training is like, When you go into community and you recruit people to do the technician work, like what is the initial feedback?

And what has kind of the, the experience been that you've seen?

Evette Ellis: the interesting thing is this is why. You know, having diversity and being included at the table is so important because my experience has been that people really trust what I'm saying. They may not understand it. Cause I get what you get to Danielle.

they may not understand it, but they trust me. And so I've had a couple of people apply for, the last cohort we didn't know anything about it. I had a couple of folks and I don't know if everybody got in, but I had a couple of women.

It's like, my husband is applying for that. Cause you know, this new stuff is happening. Right. Get in on this. And I'm like, okay, to the husband, he's like, what is it? She told me to fill out the application. So people are like, Wanting to be on the cutting edge. They want to be in the loop, they just don't have all the information.

So I think they trust my decision and they are following, which is exciting because I'm hoping, as everything yeah, expand from, I guess, with charter help, but just Evie and our environment, our air and energy that people will. To a certain extent follow, right? Like just come on and we'll definitely, we'll make sure that you get in here, but just come on.

Danielle Harris: Yeah, it just really quickly, I was listening to Dan Lewis, the CEO of convoy, and he was just talking about how trust was such a big piece of getting drivers onto the app. And so as you guys are building out the app, what are some of the things you're considering in terms of like, how do we scale trust, I guess, for lack of a better term?

Evette Ellis: as we build our app, we actually had our techs on. For three days and they, they got to put in input. So it's not just me and Camille who would be not using the app. Right. So, um, it was interesting to see what infants was important for our techs to have. And we got to one part and they were really, really adamant about knowing because they've had pests experienced our have been, gas folks that went out and meet her read.

they've worked for cable company. They've worked for oil, the oil industry. So they were really big. And especially as, black and Brown men, this particular group, they wanted to know what we have, has this location ever had a problem? If I come here and I come on their property, will I experience something?

And if so, is there somewhere in the app where we can put that. Can, is there somewhere in the app or we can put that, you need ID or, whatever the relationship is with charger help in this particular client. And it's something that me and Camille had not really thought about.

And they made it a big deal and it became one of our, bigger parts of making sure that was something they could see. That was something they could see. I even believe they can see some of that before except the job. So we really want to make people feel like they're in control, of what they're doing.

And I found that to be. Really, enlightening for me as a leader, especially in your workforce. Cause sometimes we can think we know everything, but you're not boots on the ground. Okay. And my text, let me know, girl, you are not boots on the ground and we need it. No, BNC, fill that out and we'll be back, but they ended up happy with the final product.

Dawn Lippert: I love that story. Cause it is such a different way. Think of like the soft inclusivity, right? It's this is what it actually means. Work on the ground and work with the people who are using our app and that we're employing and they're talking to and Cole relationship,

Evette Ellis: Especially with this climate, right. Our role is our country is what it is right now. And, while we're praying that things get better, this is our current state. So we have to plan and act and protect, in this current state. and as a wife having a dad, a brother, a whole lot, yeah, friends, it has to become a part of what we're doing to think about these things.

Which maybe it wasn't six months ago. And now it's something we have to think about when we talk about sending our texts out and then you get back into equity, you get back into opportunity and just crazy barriers to keep folks locked out. That we're gonna, we're going to push past.

Danielle Harris: I would say for me, I had heard that you guys were looking to kind of broaden the group that you guys had for, to recruit for technicians. I'm specifically thinking, a lot about. Cut 50 the organization focused on helping, previously incarcerated folks.

And so just wanted to hear a little bit more about how you're reaching into those communities, and what that's been like.

Evette Ellis: to be perfectly honest. It's not so much of us reaching into the community. It's us not withholding ourselves from any community.

Right. So it's not like I go out and like, are you, were you previously incarcerated? Cause if so, we want to talk to you. That is not. Well, we're doing, we're saying if you apply or if you want to learn the curriculum and you were previously incarcerated, that doesn't stop you. Right we are not trying to build barriers to keep people from working and making a decent wage. I always like to put that out there. Equal opportunity. and I think when people hear that we are not withholding anything, then that's where people will come.

If you have a reputation that you don't do this and you don't do that and you don't do this well, then you'll never get those communities of folks to come and apply to your company.. So as long as it's law abiding, Then, if you've served your time, that's not really my business, you know, and that's where my own personal, what I think and how I think feeling who I want to be around.

That's not how you run a company. That's supposed to serve everyone. 

Danielle Harris: Yeah, and I think so. Great. I think it's honestly, you guys are really ahead of the time, honestly, AB 1950 just passed, we were reducing probation, you know, get maximums, I think right.

Gavin Newsome talking about, People that previously, worked on and kind of the fires and while they were incarcerated family. 

Dawn Lippert: Can we hear that story or either the story of that person you just mentioned or, or someone else from the internet?

Evette Ellis: our first cohort during the curriculum, we had a student who was previously incarcerated, but more than that, at the end of the cohort, I had someone told me like who the students were that I didn't teach based on that.

But I did learn from him that he fires. and he a decent amount of time. So that mean he fought a decent amount of fires and the fact that he was in our class, not that he didn't need to be, but his skill set in a whole different industry. It's crazy that he fought literal brush fires. 

Probably for just about nothing and now he's out and he has to look for training, but he's literally trained for a different venue that it was nuts. so when this passed, I was really excited to hear that this was up and really happening because I'm thinking, well, how many people have served their time, paid their debt to society,

Actually have a skill and in our, does our workforce really have to be like this, our unemployment rate, does it really have to be like this? If we allow people to do what they do best. so I'm really, really hoping that, this opens up some other avenues for him. Cause he truly loved fighting buyers.

Danielle Harris: so just the ever present pandemic. and I think, the fire's on top of that, We got firefighters flying in from all over the world to help California. We could definitely use some more firefighters for sure.

and so just thinking about, there's. Been, the announcement that we're not going to be selling a combustion engine vehicles after a certain time. And then we got the fires happening. we have a global pandemic, which means now we have a struggling economy. and so it just really thinking about, charger help is perfectly set in such a way to help with a lot of those challenges. and so where do you see the most opportunity for charter help right now?

Evette Ellis: okay. Charger, we are like in a super lit situation, right? Like we are a fire because this comes at a crazy, amazing time., but I think, it's a about perspective. you could see this half empty or half full because we do have businesses that are closing and folks are really going through things slots.

However, I think the phase out. to electric cars, phase two electric cars. I think that is genius because that is there's going to be a boom in the economy. This is just Yvette ology right now. I believe there will be a boom in the economy. I think the trick is. Who will be a part of that boom, who will know that the boom is happening, who is preparing for the boom, all the things with the boom.

Okay. Right. But it's going to happen. And I think the job of folks that really believe in equity is making sure that the workforce knows it's coming and they don't have to stuck in this place of, I lost my job

What I'm hoping is that people don't get lost in all their theories and what they think. Cause now this is moving to LA, right? So I'm hoping people just accepted let's move to X. Right? So we can get folks trained because if. The people at the top and the people making decisions are still making decisions based on what they think there's going to be a whole generation of minority folks that's left out of this loop.

That is about to happen. It's boom. That's about to happen. So that's my biggest concern, but I do think the biggest opportunity. It's in your neighborhoods because if everyone is going to have to get an electric car, that means electric, charting stations, car dealerships, anything that has to do with electric car manufacturing, all that is going to have to grow.

That's jobs. That's more people. we have to, Oh, but you have to retrain, you have to find people anyway, this is new brand new. Nobody knows how to do this, but the person that designed it, so they're going to have to train somebody. So, you know, getting rid of these ideas is going to be so much work, really trying someone to how to do it and let's get this thing moving.

Danielle Harris: I want to touch on this training thing because, when I was just, yeah, when I was doing due diligence and I mentioned, an V technician training, the utilities went crazy and they were like, we've got all of these, EVs chargers, ready to be trained on, uh, what is happening with this curriculum.

And so previously, like how are people getting trained on, you know, doing ed technician work and like who was doing that work? 

Evette Ellis: It's us, it's their 60 Evy technicians. In the state of California, trying by us curriculum written by Camille.

Danielle Harris: wait, there's 60 of you guys. Wait, how many charges are they in California though?

Evette Ellis: all I know is this is why charge your help is genius. now there's no shortage of manufacturers. Don't get me wrong. Everybody putting them in the ground. Put them in the ground, go. but there's a difference between putting them in the ground and maintaining them, keeping them clean, keeping them updated.

And I actually, I was talking to someone and I was like, Oh, what's the plan with the, you know, do you guys plan on the maintenance? Was it a surprise that the maintenance had to happen? And I was like, no, we just don't. That's not what we wanted to do. Commit always says it's not the sexiest part of Evie charting.

Nobody wants to do. this part for whatever reason. but that's a lie cause we want to do it. And we got a lot of people that want to work and do it. So we're excited to feel that, to fill that gap. 

Danielle Harris: So I really like the analogy of like, you know, put, people put these charges in the ground and then they just leave them and hope for the best.

Yeah. And so Who exactly I guess, is the customer that's asking you guys some more or less kind of prune these charges for you guys.

Evette Ellis: So our customer is the Evie, network providers. if a charging station is down, you Dawn will call whatever number, let them know you're calling the Evie network provider. Then our customer, our relationship is with them. That we get the ticket. We go out and we fix the charging station. So we don't really interface necessarily directly with, the customer, the driver, unless it's set up that way for some reason, but generally we're working with the network provider.

And now, now the more charging stations are putting, in the ground.

The more you're going to need people. To go out. And you know, when this is when this started, people were putting any charging stations anywhere. I'm sure you've seen them in, like, why is that there? and we love Googling. My husband will Google, like Evie charging station. And they're like on the side of a building on the top floor, it's like, how is anyone supposed to find and use this?

so right now I think we're moving from putting them in the ground to now putting them in places that make sense. Since, and now making sure that their maintenance and they can be fig. And they're just not this piece of machinery in the ground 

Dawn Lippert: Yeah, that's a great point so we want to move into a glow up section. You know, you folks are really good at this giving other people's shout outs.

But we just want some. Some quick thoughts from you. we're going to ask you a whole bunch of questions. Some of them will be blow up some of them just ways to get to know you better.  What is one thing you would tell yourself when you first joined Camille with charger health that you now know?

Evette Ellis: I would tell myself. Like you could so do this. You can still do that because that definitely wasn't my mindset. It was like, let me try this. Let me see. I guess if she leaves most of the way, I'll do my little part. I'll stick to the side. I would not have ever dreamt, even in these couple of months that I would be this passionate about what I'm doing.

Danielle Harris: Yeah. I feel like so much of it is just like getting the energy to shoot your shot. so another rapid fire is, growing up. What was your favorite movie?

Evette Ellis: I am such an old person. I loved overboard with Goldie Hawn. I also loved ghost and I love the never ending story.  However, Anna Green Gables was like my favorite series.

Danielle Harris: So, um, I just have this feeling like COVID is just hell bent on teaching as gratitude and so what is one thing you've discovered during all this chaos that you're grateful for? 

Evette Ellis: I am grateful for.  the. Stability in my life. I'm grateful for my faith, my relationship with God. I'm really, really grateful for my friendships, solid friendships that with good COVID.

and then lastly, I'm really. Really grateful for my husband. much like my faith. I realized we really do like each other, So actually as things back up or when they open back up, that will probably be one of the things that I missed.

Because I feel like this is probably the closest that we've had to be, and deal with the ins and outs of the day and each other. So I'm really proud of that. 

Danielle Harris: so one of the other questions that we have is, how do you come up with new ideas or inspiration? I feel everyone's always talking about the shower, but you know what's your take on it. 

Evette Ellis: I think the  moment comes and not so much trying to make stuff so innovative, but making the innovation that people with these big ideas have how to simplify them so everyone can use them.

And I would say Camilla and I bounce things off of each other. and using each other's insight for why something might or might not work.

Dawn Lippert: Yeah. That's great. Where do you find joy? What is the one thing you do that just brings you joy?

Evette Ellis: I would say since the pandemic, like I have to exercise every day. And while it will definitely contribute to weight loss and all that good stuff for my mental health, I have to exercise every day, whatever exercising does, and I'm sure there's science to it.

It doesn't for me. Exercising is my thing that really me joy and in the morning doing my morning devotion and my worship having my time with God it's E central. So if I have an early day, I gotta get up earlier.

Because my commitment level in that area is crazy. I can't really function.I would say definitely my devotion. Time my time by myself with God and my exercise taking care of me first. And that's crazy because that hasn't always been the case, 

Danielle Harris: yeah, I feel like COVID has definitely created like very clear self care routines that you can commit to because it's really otherwise you're going to stay in this bedroom all day.

Um, so I think similar to that is while you weren't taking care of yourself, you know, you develop super powers. And so what would be your superpower? 

Evette Ellis: I think my superpower within my, my birth and life has been and influence.

I'm good at making you a believer because I know what people want to hear and all the extra stuff that they don't want to hear. And, I also. really, make an effort to be transparent. And I make a real effort to speak the language of whoever I'm talking to.

Dawn Lippert: Speaking the language that people can understand and listen and absorb it's so important. And I also think it's related to this whole idea of. Take big ideas and make them simple. That's actually so much harder than doing something complex. It's doing something simple. Right? So it has been such a pleasure to talk with these.

The thing about, We're so impressed and excited by the work that you and Camille and your team are doing. and really excited to be part of this whole journey. So Yvette, we are delighted to have had this conversation with you today. 

Evette Ellis: Thank you. We're super excited, 

Danielle Harris: Yeah, I'm a super juice about you guys. and I couldn't be more excited about moving forward with you guys and figuring out what we can build together.