#Interviews

Meet Madhumita Agrawal, First Indian Woman To Head An EV Company

Madhumita Agrawal
We are witnessing a paradigm shift when it comes to women leaders. Women today are risk-takers, brilliant in every capacity and have created a niche for themselves in the corporate world, be it any sector, banking, manufacturing, IT, or medicine. Meet one such woman Madhumita Agrawal, who, after founding IPexcel, a technology and innovation consulting firm, also recently became the first woman to co-found an Indian electric vehicle company, OBEN Electric Vehicle.

In an interview with SheThePeople, Agrawal shares her journey from running a consulting firm to founding her EV startup.

Madhumita Agrawal Interview

After pursuing a degree in Intellectual Property Law and starting out with IPexcel, a technology and innovation consulting firm. How and what triggered the transition to the EV industry? 

I always had an inclination towards technology, even during my engineering days, which is also one of the reasons I picked up the IP law program. This was only for engineers who could help technologists in their ventures. With IPEXCEL, we worked in technology consulting and patents. We began working in the tech domain when EV was an emerging business abroad, and since I had a bent towards Research & Development, we ventured into R&D support and tech consulting.

We started in the EV industry, getting hands-on experience, identifying gaps, building a foundation and understanding the entire technological landscape. Tech is an involving category in EV, and it was never a ‘eureka moment.’ It was a very thoughtful process, years of understanding and observing the industry. Slowly and gradually, knowing EV was a huge future opportunity, we decided to get into the product.

What sets apart Oben Electric from its contemporaries? What unique prospects does the company offer to its customer base?

As a company manufacturing two-wheeler, we are not introducing a new product. Two-wheelers and automotive products have been around for ages. A two-wheeler is a commodity that every Indian household has, it is a primary mode of conveyance. We are building a “motorcycle” and not a scooter. It has to work, perform, and ride like one. It was the first box to be ticked. The second was the smooth tech which can be added and built upon. Our focus is that it has to function like a motorcycle, and be transparent on the range, how many kilometres it runs, and lastly the charging time. We want to give our consumers good products, products they can be proud of.

We don’t want to be caught up in a marketing gimmick regarding the software. If the motorcycle is not stable, if it is not performing, if the acceleration troubles, the vehicle ends up being a waste purchase. As a consumer, it is a necessary utility that can be easily substituted, there are petrol vehicles too. Consumers have high expectations. First, it must be a motorcycle and then a software gadget.

EVs are known to be quiet, comparatively inexpensive to run and gentle on the environment. While people are making a shift, the process is slow. Why do you think more people are not considering switching to electric vehicles (EV)?

As a consumer, if I want to shift to another vehicle, it has to be better or comparable in pricing and technicalities. In EVs, sure the operational cost is zero, and they are effective and economical, but there are hardly good products available in the market. We need products that are made for Indian consumers, roads, demographics, weather, and usage. Most of the products available today are in the fleek segment. Hence, if you give the consumers the right kind of product at the right cost, they will surely switch.

Another thing in EV that has changed is the refuelling experience. Petrol vehicles can be filled up in just 5 to 10 mins, but while charging my vehicle, I have to be at it for six hours. Hence, that is what needs to be addressed. Yes, the transition is slow, but with the government push and consumer preferences it will happen gradually.

Technology is predominantly a male-dominated space currently, and women have to go above and beyond what’s required to convince stakeholders. How do you handle the pressure?

Any business needs to put in the effort and know your space in and out. I don’t think expertise knowledge discriminates, if you what you are doing, your gender shouldn’t matter. If you don’t know your subject, people will put you down no matter if you are a man or woman. As women, while we strive for equality, we should also make ourselves capable enough to be answerable in the boardrooms. In today’s world, women are making huge strides in the tech domain, let’s collectively celebrate that. If at any point, I find biases at my workplace, I continue to work and prove them wrong by just being a normal professional. I know my subject, my business well; and I can shut them up with my knowledge – that’s the approach one should have.

Did you face any biases?

There were biases, but you should change those thought processes. Everyone keeps questioning you were motive; will she make sense? We need to show them that women bring different perspectives, and the moment you start making sense you are just another guy in the room. If you add value to the discussion, you are indispensable in any business sector. Screaming, “I am a woman, don’t look down on me” won’t help. Start making sense, and people will appreciate it.

So what advice would you give to women looking for careers in science and technology?

First and foremost, know your subject. It applies to all if you make business sense, and create value. There will definitely be enough space for you. This applies to all domains. Increase your value, and make yourself be heard. Be confident and build upon that confidence. don’t sound empty, have content.

Keep learning, have an open mind and life might just surprise you.


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