Entrepreneur Charges Ahead with Atlanta-Based Electric Car Company

It started with a movie.

While watching Chris Paine’s award-winning documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car,” Mike McQuary, CEO of Wheego Electric Cars, recognized a familiar voice. It was a voice of passion.

“What surprised me was the passion of the people who had been driving electric cars,” says McQuery. “They said things like, ‘I loved that car’ and ‘I’d buy another one tomorrow.’”

It wasn’t the first time he’d heard the outcry of such a passionate consumer base. The former president and COO of Atlanta-based MindSpring remembered those voices from the early days of providing Internet service.

“In the early days (of MindSpring), people would say things like ‘I got two of my coworkers to sign up’ and ‘I’m sending an extra $10 because I don’t want you to go out of business,’” he says. “I recognized that voice and said it looks like they need an electric car—I wonder if I can make one.”

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More than five years later, McQuary and his Atlanta-based company, Wheego Electric Cars, did exactly that. The business has sold 400 of its two-seat, North American-assembled, all-electric Wheego LiFe vehicles.

He credits the success of Wheego to the people he has surrounded himself with in Atlanta.

“One of the most attractive things about Atlanta is the universities like Georgia Tech and Emory — top academic institutions — that are cranking out smart, really qualified college grads,” he says. “I’ve always tried to tap into that sort of intellectual capital, both in terms of interns and hiring young, smart people. I was comfortable that I wouldn’t have to leave Atlanta to get this venture up and running.”

The road to 400 vehicles was not reached without sweat. High profile failures like Coda Automotive and Fisker Automotive along with the shuttering of a series of smaller startups highlight the challenges of creating a new product for a new market.

Initially, the cars were built as low-speed vehicles and had to meet very few requirements to be roadworthy. When Wheego decided to build a highway-ready version, it faced major regulatory hurdles.

“My biggest surprise was how difficult it is to get a car through crash testing. The NHTSA requirements… it is spectacularly detailed,” he says. “Getting through all of those regulations is a very difficult process. It’s a gauntlet, definitely.”

McQuary was also surprised by the challenge of raising capital — a common concern among startups — particularly after the success of MindSpring. Wheego was created in the depths of the recession and has had slower growth than he envisioned.

“I thought it would be a lot easier… it’s surprising to me that you can have a lot of success and still have trouble convincing people that you’re on the right track,” he says.

Still, the company continues to grow and is looking to expand into new markets. Plans for a larger, five-seat SUV are currently in the works, as well as a goal of expanding in the Asian and European markets.

His advice to potential entrepreneurs: be resilient.

“Sometimes the plan isn’t going to go the way you envision it,” he says. “You have to realize that it’s going to be a tough road. If you have a failure in one venture you look upon that as a learning experience. People who have even the greatest successes can point to things that didn’t go their way.”

 

 

Startup Roundup 10.29.13

We know you’re busy running your startup. You don’t have time to search for all of the relevant content out there for entrepreneurs and small businesses. But we do. Each Tuesday, in Startup Roundup, we compile smart stuff we’ve seen. If we leave out something good, post a link at the bottom for others. This is a community, and Atlanta will keep thriving if we keep sharing. 

Atlanta NEXT scheduled for next month. The NEXT program helps startup founders build successful startups. The NEXT program consists of three-hour weekly working sessions with other attendees and mentors, and is being brought to Atlanta by Google. For more info check here.

Prominent Tech Investor Says Atlanta a Top 5 Market For Startups. AJC Tech Biz writer, Rick Hancock reviews his first visit to Venture Atlanta. The rest of the story here.

2013 set to be best year for VC since recession. This should be the strongest year for venture investments in Georgia since the end of the Great Recession. About $374 million has been invested in Georgia companies in the first nine months of 2013, versus $262 million for all of 2012, according to the MoneyTree report, published by Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters. Get the rest of story in the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Raising start-up cash in the 21st century. A report on new potential uses of ‘crowdfunding’ – raising a large pool of money from many small contributions online. Thanks to the bipartisan JOBS Act entrepreneurs will soon be able to use this method. Supporters think the it could be a key to spurring economic growth and job creation. But is it a good idea for investors? PBS story here.

The Ingredients of a Great Entrepreneur: Inside the Mind of Fran Tarkenton
Fran Tarkenton knows better than most what it takes to succeed in a competitive arena. As one of the NFL’s all-time great competitors, he was inducted into the National Football League and Collegiate Football Halls of Fame and was an All- American athlete at the University of Georgia. Since 1996, Fran has been a trusted advocate for small business as the founder and CEO of Tarkenton Companies, whose offerings include small business consulting, coaching and software, telecommunications services and insurance-based retirement planning. Read the full Q&A on Huffington Post.

Entrepreneur receives first Atlanta Catalyst Fund loan

Like many restaurant owners, entrepreneur Myrna Perez-Cifuentes faced hurdles when seeking a business loan so she could upgrade the wiring, invest in equipment and grow her Latin-inspired, Old Fourth Ward restaurant, LottaFrutta.

In March, she was the first recipient of a loan from the Atlanta Catalyst Fund, a product of Atlanta Emerging Markets, Inc., a subsidiary of Invest Atlanta, the City of Atlanta’s economic development arm. AEMI utilizes the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program to attract private sector investment to underserved communities. The goal is to spur job creation, economic development and neighborhood revitalization.

Because of the complexities of the transactions associated with AEMI, fees are generated. Some of the fees collected by AEMI are placed in the Atlanta Catalyst Fund, which has a mission of bringing fresh, healthy food options to food deserts. This fund was formed in late 2012 and offers revolving loans of $50,000 to $100,000 for businesses like LottaFrutta.

When Myrna opened in 2006, the restaurant scene in the Old Fourth Ward was more about wings and hot dogs than fresh fruit. Myrna wanted to offer the large servings of cut fruit she grew up on as a child in Texas.

LottaFrutta proved a perfect fit for the neighborhood, which has undergone a gentrification in recent years but is still considered a food desert, meaning residents have to travel farther for healthy food than residents in more affluent communities.

Do you think most entrepreneurs understand how to take advantage of the specialized loans, incentives and tax credits that are available?