Updated: Feb 22
Tiya Gordon and itselectric are disrupting inconvenient EV destination charging with simple, neighborhood-enabled EV curbside charging.
Growing up on Long Island, N.Y. in the 1980s, Tiya Gordon loved to “tinker.” The daughter of a New York City school teacher and an architectural designer––and a self-described latchkey kid––she often pulled miscellaneous items out of her parents’ garage and integrated them into “highly non-functioning machines.”
Gordon’s desire to live in a slightly altered universe extended to the TV shows she watched, including Sesame Street and later, The Cosby Show. Both shows were set in Brooklyn. And both featured urban neighborhoods of brownstone houses filled with people (and sometimes Muppets) sitting on stoops, working together, and building their lives around enduring social infrastructures.
“Brooklyn was a unique, even magical kind of place in terms of how people interacted and the ambitions they carried,” she recalls fondly. “I absolutely wanted to live in this place called ‘Brooklyn’.”
Adding Access, Convenience
Today, as co-founder and chief operations officer of Brooklyn-based startup itselectric, Gordon is recreating that magical world of her youth with a 21st-century enhancement––electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
“We are curbside EV charging infrastructure specifically built for cities,” she explains. “An estimated 40 million drivers in the U.S. will likely not transition to owning an EV until they have access to convenient and affordable EV charging infrastructure.”
Free and Easy
To this end, itselectric has come up with a novel way to do business, one that could help energize and accelerate the installation of EV charging infrastructure in urban environments, particularly those with dense on-street parking.
Instead of tapping into a city’s electrical grid, a process that can get bogged down in siting, engineering, and capital expense issues, itselectric installs a submeter on the existing electric meter of building owners, then runs a 240-volt line just below the sidewalk to the curb where they install a small EV charging post. The charging posts will be compatible with all EVs and micromobility vehicles, including e-scooters, and e-bikes.
“itselectric pays for the installation and maintenance of all of its EV charging posts,” emphasizes Gordon. “The posts are free for property owners and free for cities. Once installed, the posts not only provide charging for drivers, but also enable monthly passive income for property owners who host a charger on their curb.”
The company’s model allows it to install a Level-2 EV charger in a matter of days in any city where there is a building and a curb, she adds.
Discovering Her Passion
Gordon has not always been an expert in infrastructure, but ever since high school, she's known she wanted to pursue design.
During high school, she began auditing pre-college design classes, which helped her land a scholarship to Parsons School of Design – the New School in Manhattan.
After a foundational year of sampling various disciplines, Gordon discovered her true calling: designing for public spaces. At Parsons she also crossed paths with Nathan King, a fellow student and aspiring architect who would later help co-found itselectric.
Learning How to Reach People
After Parsons, Gordon continued maturing her public spaces design skills with positions at the American Museum of Natural History and Local Projects, a New York exhibition and media design firm specializing in museums and public spaces.
“My background in designing technology for public spaces is foundational to the work we’re doing today with itselectric,” she claims. “It has taught me how to design experiences and interfaces that people know how to use intuitively, and that can survive a lot of daily public touching and prodding without breaking.”
Bringing Experiences Alive
Gordon’s time with Local Projects also helped prepare her, ironically, for life in the start-up world. When she joined the agency in 2008, it was just starting early concept design for the exhibition and technology of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York.
For the next seven years, she worked on the project, from concept to prototype and installation. The job taught her, among other things, how to identify and hire diverse talent in design and technology to undertake and execute truly “never-been-done-before” public installations.
“I really cut my teeth on running a very specialized technology team and design shop," she recalls.
Changing Course, Taking on Reality
But then, six years later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Having lived through the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and now living at the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, Gordon experienced a genuine “the sky is falling” moment.
“There were ambulances going by my apartment every 30 seconds, there were lines out the door at the supermarket, schools shut down and New York City declared an emergency,” she recalls. “It was truly terrifying.”
It also led to a life-changing decision.
“Given the climate events that have dovetailed with COVID in terms of flooding, fires and the nation’s general unpreparedness for these events, I decided to take everything I’ve done and put that into cleantech to try and make a difference in the national response to the climate crisis,” Gordon recalls.
In April 2021, she and King founded itselectric.
Today, the company is in its pre-market demonstration phase. Gordon and King have deployed their prototype at the Detroit Smart Parking Lab. They’re also focused on setting up pilot programs in New York and Washington, D.C.
But they’re also thinking about how best to engage and include communities in their plans to install neighborhood EV charging infrastructure.
“We intend to employ a local workforce, in every region that we serve,” suggests Gordon. “That means not just employing local labor, but also investing in workforce development.”
itselectric is already in discussions, she adds, with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to help create structures to provide union jobs in every city where the company works. Gordon and her team are also being advised by Kameale Terry, founder of Los Angeles-based ChargerHelp! on how best to provide consistent, reliable maintenance for the planned EV charging infrastructure.
The startup got a special boost of recognition in Nov. 2022 when it was crowned the winner of the LA New Mobility Challenge 2022, an annual global startup competition focused on innovative, zero-emission solutions for the challenges of urban mobility.
Building Community Support
itselectric is not installed yet on the streets of New York, but the concept of convenient, local and affordable EV charging infrastructure is already a big hit in Gordon’s Brooklyn neighborhood.
“When we were starting to experiment, we made an EV charging post out of cardboard, then ran a cable from our building to the curb,” explains Gordon. “We had our neighbors, anyone who had an EV come up and ‘charge’ so that we could figure out how this would all work. When we explained what we were doing, they all thought the idea was pretty cool.”
Creating a New Routine
Days begin extremely early in the Brooklyn apartment that Gordon shares with King, her seven-year-old daughter, and two cats named Byrd and WolfBeef.
During the pandemic, she got in the habit of rising before dawn to get in several hours of uninterrupted writing, scheduling and planning time before her daughter woke up. Today, the habit persists.
After morning coffee and getting their daughter off to school, Gordon and King ride Citi-bikes to their “other” office in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Workdays are filled with fundraising, online meetings, and phone calls with cities and OEMs interested in potential partnerships related to EV curbside charging. The co-founders also love picking the brains of other innovators they’ve met as members of Newlab, a technology incubator also located in the Navy Yard.
For the record, bicycles are not Gordon and King’s only means of transportation. They also lease an EV, Gordon clarifies, “because we need to understand the pain points of the problem that we're trying to solve. And it is a giant pain in the butt to charge an EV in Brooklyn.”
Their goal, of course, is to get an itselectric EV charging post installed within walking distance of where they live to meet their own mandate that city drivers should be able to “charge where they already park.”
Trusting in Simple
Gordon knows that itselectric won’t be installing EV charging infrastructure as soon as she would like, but she’s cautiously optimistic about the company’s opportunity to disrupt and reframe the EV charging landscape.
“We’re building what we consider a community and design-centered approach to EV charging, one that doesn’t exist right now anywhere in the country,” she insists. “And it’s a simple idea. That’s how I know it’s going to work. Because all of the best ideas are the very simple ones that are right there in front of you.”
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If you enjoyed reading this profile, I encourage you to read my profile on Kameale Terry, who is revolutionizing the world of EV charging station repair. If you have other questions about infrastructure or would like to recommend someone to be profiled in this blog, please send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Many thanks.