The Disruptors: Equipmake boss on his firm’s ‘adapt or perish’ ethos

When Equipmake's Ian Foley spotted a chance to future-proof his company, he grabbed it with both hands. The latest in The Disruptors video series, he explains how a change of direction was key to the Snetterton electric vehicle systems start-up's success.

Tell us about Equipmake

We launched in 1997, and for the last 10 years we’ve been developing electric drivetrain systems for buses, electrics supercars and aerospace.

What was the opportunity you identified that led to the launch of your business?

I could see that as a small business we would need a competitive edge, and realised around 10 years ago that electrification of transport was going to grow, so started to develop know-how about electric motors and power electronics to meet the future anticipated demand.

Before that, the business was working on control systems and suspensions – half the field at Le Mans was using our system.

I’m convinced that within the next five years electric buses will be the norm all over the world – our biggest customers are in Argentina, India and Russia, where emissions in cities are a big problem. In the long run, electric is cheaper than diesel and once people realise that, the switch will happen.

How did you use invention and innovation to disrupt the market?

A lot of the work we’re doing is trying to develop technology to be as cost effective as possible, because that’s one of the barriers to adoption of electric vehicles. I come from an F1 background, so I’m used to thinking about how to create the most powerful motor with the lightest weight.

We’re also looking ahead to new modes of transport, like flying electric taxis – the idea is that in 10 years time there’ll be small vehicles, with electric power propellers doing short distance taxi journeys.

What were the challenges you faced along the way and how did you learn from them?

Finding the right engineers is always a challenge because there’s a skills shortage in this area. We’re very diverse for a small company, with talent from Japan, Germany, Nigeria and Spain.

What’s been your proudest moment so far?

Participating in the largest bus expo in the world with our electric bus chassis was a major boost for us – the feedback was fantastic and we got a huge amount of interest. As a result, we’re about to sign a contract with a Russian company.

What are your plans for the future?

We’re doing the final testing on the drive train system for an electric bus that’ll be on the streets of Buenos Aires next year, and we’ve moved into a brand new factory in Snetterton as we gear up for production.