Chennai’s Kings of Li-ion

Born in Delhi, made in Chennai (as they proudly label themselves)—Hardik and Gautam Narula are the rare passionate engineers who are often found with their sleeves rolled up, pursuing esoteric hobbies such as scavenging obscure mechanical parts or with their heads bent over a pile of old and new hardware pulled apart from diverse electronic paraphernalia scattered across a table. “We enjoyed playing around with permutations and combinations of the laws of physics, mechanics and electronics from a very young age,” the brothers share a glance before they break into laughter, “We wanted to make technology that could help the world.”

Following their engineering degrees and Hardik’s career at a Pune-based startup in the space of hybrid electric scooters, the brothers decided that 2019 (with the EV market scaling) was the year to start their own company. They moved back to Chennai, to set up their very own venture in energy storage solutions—Eclectech Power Packs LLP.

The brothers were back in the city they grew up in—this time as entrepreneurs. They set up shop in Thiruvanmiyur designed modular lithium-ion battery technology and began reaching out to various stakeholders from a diverse range of sectors from medical to construction and everything in between.

“The aim was to get started in the simplest and fastest way possible,” explains Hardik. As a result, Eclectech started with a small setup where lean manufacturing was enabled. Companies from various sectors poured in with their energy storage needs, and the duo would design and manufacture a solution exclusive to the company’s particular use case. “Interacting with various stakeholders, did not just help us understand the other industries better, but also gave us an idea about where lithium-ion storage solutions would have the most widespread application,” he reveals.

Very soon, Eclectech had lined up a diverse B2B client base—both in the private and public sectors—including a stint with SmartBike, India’s public cycle sharing initiative. By then they believed it was time to dip their toes in the B2C segment with a sustainability-focused product line. Sleepless nights went into coining the name for the new product line before finalising on Yougen. Layer by layer the founders dissect the name and its vision—starting with the Japanese word ‘Yugen’ which means a profound knowledge of the universe (hinting at the awareness that comes with sustainable living). The subtle alteration of the spelling is suggestive of the product’s young target audience, and the brand’s openness to ‘you generating ideas for the future’.

Hardik’s background in automobile engineering made EV the obvious starting point for Yougen. Though the popularity of electric scooters is on the rise in India, the time and investment that goes behind manufacturing the scooters are still very high. Merely developing the product could nearly take six years—perhaps more with the dawn of the anti-China movement across India. The engineers turned entrepreneurs decided they would jump into the industry with the simplest solution and pivot along the way. “We started with the most basic form of hybrid vehicles,” narrates the young engineer, “E-bicycles.”

Chennai as a city has seen a steep rise in the number of cyclists, especially in the last couple of years—as a means of leisure, exercise or simply to cut cost on fuel and time spent in traffic. The Yougen e-bike has found a niche for itself amidst the college students, young corporates and even newly married couples within the age of twenty-four and forty. Compared to the consumer mindset in North India, the entrepreneurs believe that South India has a wider audience that is more receptive to new brands with novel ideas and products.

Yougen’s first model, the Mach-I e-bike comes in two sleek designs, Walter White and Sonic Blue with a five-level pedal assist sensor, a removable charger and a mileage of 45km (on pure electric mode) when fully charged. The bicycles sold out proving that the product had potential in the South Indian market. The second edition, Mach-II will involve sourcing more parts manufactured in India and a reduced price point. “At the end of the day, increasing the volume of manufacture is what helps cut costs,” Hardik shrugs, “It’s a good thing that a niche market in India is still a big market!” they chuckle.

Momentum is an important element while trying to make an impact. The pandemic came as a blow to the operations. “When your work involves making a physical product, work from home becomes a challenge, especially with the supply chain,” says Gautam describing the time-bound hurdles they faced during the lockdown. “The flipside, however, was that more people have begun to realise the importance of sustainable living while being locked up at home,” Hardik adds.

Eclectech has been bootstrapped since its inception, three years ago. They compare onboarding investors to filling a car with fuel. With a quick afterthought, amidst a roar of laughter the co-founder corrects his analogical statement. “You’ll need to identify the right time to apply the right amount of electrical energy to ensure the vehicle runs smoothly and efficiently,” he says, “It is difficult for us automobile engineers to let go of the engine,” he gushes about the technological marvel that stood the test of time, “However, electric is the logical path forward.”

Yougen is currently working on expanding its product catalogue to include Li-ion battery replacements for electric scooters that run on lead-acid batteries, which have a shorter lifespan of about two years. The possibilities are endless for the young entrepreneurs as they reach out into Pandora’s box filled with exciting future use cases from solar powered-icecream vending stalls to electric wheelchairs.

Yougen aims to kickstart a revolution by designing sustainable solutions that are ubiquitous and uber cool in the eyes of India’s young population. “We eventually want people to ditch their SUVs and show up in their electric cycles to impress their dates!” they grin.

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