Nodum: charging ahead

MacDonald grew up on a farm in New Zealand and was always active in the environmental scene there. He ended up doing a teacher's qualification thinking he could go and teach for a period of time while travelling. He came over to London in 1999, teaching Geography and Maths at a school in London, and never left the country! He commented that in 2016 he “wanted to move to an electric car but struggled with being able to charge it. So, I ended up working on a little side project whilst teaching, moved to part-time and eventually left teaching in 2021 and took this on full-time.”

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe

So, what is it that Nodum do exactly?

MacDonald explained the goal of Nodum and spoke about its flagship product, the Charge Bridge: “Nodum is a solution that’s seeking to give people who live in houses, or we've got a product that's looking at flats and apartments as well, but initially terraced homes, the ability to charge their car when their vehicle is on the street. So essentially, it forms a demountable gantry across a pavement or a garden. The key idea here is that if you can charge using the domestic tariff, you've got cheaper electromobility, and you pay a lot less for your electrons than you would with public charging. We've got a few different versions of it. There's one that is incorporated within a fully functioning drainpipe. The whole thing's supposed to be electro-mechanically controlled, so you just pull up, park outside, press a button on the app, and deploy the plug to the curb side.”

Charge Bridge has been designed to avoid the street clutter that can be associated with much of the EV infrastructure that is currently being deployed. When not in use it is completely discrete, as it integrates into existing infrastructure.

The idea was born in 2016, when he wanted to buy an electric car but the charging landscape in London at the time was poor, with very few places you could charge an electric vehicle on the street. From this, he fashioned something in his own back garden that would allow him to own an electric vehicle with the peace of mind that he would be able to keep it charged. So, the key concept of what would become Nodum and the Charge Bridge got going from MacDonald wanting to fix a problem that he was having himself.

The team

Nodum is still in its early startup stage, made up of a hardworking duo. Ben MacDonald is the Founder and CEO. Alongside him is Kohen Judd, Co-Founder and CTO. Judd has a Bachelor of Design Innovation (BDI) in Industrial Design, as well as a master’s degree in Industrial and Product Design. The pair met when MacDonald reached out to Judd to commission some contract work for him. Over time, they built Nodum into what it is now, and are the only two full-time members.

The competition

The EV charging landscape over the last few years has become a varied and competitive market, but this doesn’t worry MacDonald at all.

“I would argue that our approach is better on account of the fact that it doesn't require any physical inputs from the local authority. The airspace obviously doesn't require anything to be stuck in the ground. And I also think user experience is going to be superior to many of the other ones. As far as I'm concerned, every opportunity that we have to roll out a democratic charging ecosystem that allows as many people as possible to access cheap charging is a good thing.”

The challenges so far

As with any startup, there are plenty of challenges to overcome, and some are still actively being worked on.

A challenge for Nodum has been learning all about regulations and the procedures involved in this form of infrastructure, which are evolving so require constant studying.

MacDonald explained: “We exist in a space between public and private. That means that because we're moving out over a footpath into the public space, we're having to develop an understanding of planning procedures and local authorities. We're having to develop an understanding of the Highways Act and electrical regulations. There are some questions about the issues surrounding simultaneous contact risks associated with taking a charge from a household and putting it near another piece of electrified street infrastructure.”

To combat this, he stated, “we've engaged with consultants to make sure that we're absolutely compliant and absolutely safe, because that's critical.”

The Hustle Awards

Nodum was lucky enough to be shortlisted in the ‘Early-stage Innovation’ category at our Hustle Awards. MacDonald beamed about the nomination: “It was great. It was fantastic. It's nice to have that recognition, and it always pleases your mum.”

So, what’s next?

The biggest goal for Nodum is getting its product out to market, which is of critical importance to the company. Before that can happen, there is a lot for the duo to do, from the design for manufacturing and developing the ability to scale the product.

Another factor is funding: “We'll be getting ourselves ready for a more substantive seed round in Q4 of this year to Q1 of next year, and that's going to be something which is going to take up a lot of my time.”

Nodum isn’t planning on hitting the brake pedal anytime soon. MacDonald commented that the company is “also interested in exploring new product spaces and ideas and we've got. There's a lot of space that can be explored to do with building better environments for people thinking about integrating electromobility systems within energy spaces. It’s critically important to find a way of addressing some of these net zero ambitions and making things work for us.”