Marked by a variety of characteristics, innovation can be found in multiple disciplines. But all innovators set out in front of the pack, bushwhacking a trail where none exists. Innovative organizations and projects bring outside-the-box thinking to problems or present a refreshing take on the status quo.
Xpress sought to find those clearing the path for our community’s future and put out a call for the public to nominate innovators. We received a total of 41 nominations and, through a process of several in-house jury deliberations, arrived at the eight we profile in this special issue. It wasn’t easy. And the runners-up made us deliberate if we should even feature more.
Xpress is proud to present Asheville’s Innovators. We hope their actions inspire you to innovate in your corner of Western North Carolina.
— Xpress Asheville Innovator jury: Edwin Arnaudin, Jeff Fobes, Dan Hesse, Max Hunt, Carolyn Morrisroe, Tracy Rose and Gina Smith
Brightfield Transportation Solutions Inc.
Matthew Johnson and Stan Cross, co-founders
Describe your organization/project.
Brightfield’s vision is to leapfrog fossil fuel and Drive on Sunshine.
Since 2010, Brightfield Transportation Solutions delivers solar-driven charging solutions for the rapidly expanding electric vehicle marketplace.
As a technology integration company, we design, manufacture and operate our patented Brightfield Charging Stations. On this highly scalable platform, we integrate best-in-class EV chargers, solar production, energy storage and management capabilities.
Brightfield is a team of technology, sustainability and marketing entrepreneurs with a deep understanding and passion for the electrification of transportation and its broad impacts. We provide customized EV infrastructure solutions to our forward-acting clients in the retail, destination, municipality, university, workplace and utility markets.
Brightfield Charging Stations are designed to enhance clients’ brands, increase customer and employee loyalty, manage energy resources and promote future-oriented sustainability solutions — all while keeping our clients’ business goals and realities at the forefront.
Why is this needed in the Asheville area, and how does it make a difference?
In addition to selling charging stations, Brightfield has deployed stations that we own and operate along the Interstate 40 and 85 corridors. These chargers link Knoxville, Asheville, Greensboro, the Triangle area and Charlotte, allowing Asheville EV drivers to connect outward to regional destinations and the region to connect to Asheville.
The Asheville region leads the state in per capita EV sales. Public and workplace charging stations support the growing market and provide reliable mobility for EV owners. Asheville also attracts visitors from the hot Atlanta, Raleigh and Charlotte EV markets who, because of the public chargers deployed in our region, drive their EVs here on vacation.
EV owners save approximately $1,300 annually in gas and maintenance. When you buy gas here in Asheville, approximately 97 cents of every dollar leaves the region to oil company or foreign-nation bank accounts. Looking at gas savings alone, the 1,000 EVs currently on WNC’s roads are saving drivers approximately $750,000 annually, money now retained in our communities to feed our local economy. Think about how impactful this will be to Asheville when there are 10,000 EVs on local roads … or 100,000.
EVs also help keep our mountain air clean, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase our energy security by reducing our dependency on oil. Those same 1,000 EVs are avoiding 22,000 barrels of oil annually and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 4.4 million pounds. If those EVs were solar-driven — meaning enough solar was installed to offset EV electricity demand from coal and natural gas power plants — regional greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced another 48 percent to 8.3 million pounds avoided per year.
What was your epiphany/eureka moment for this organization/project?
In 2009, Matthew and Stan were on a hike in the Smokies. They shared their mutual desires to create a more sustainable world and the work they were doing to that end. Matthew was working on designs for solar-integrated EV charging stations that would become the basis for the Brightfield product line, and Stan was developing climate and sustainability solutions at Warren Wilson College and in partnership with visionaries across the country. On that hike, the two friends realized the potential of what Matthew was designing, and the vision to leapfrog fossil fuel and drive on sunshine took off.
What was the inspiration that made you take the leap from cool, cutting-edge idea to implementing it?
To bring an innovative idea to market, you need capital. In 2010, Brightfield applied for and secured a grant from the N.C. Green Business Fund, a program of the N.C. Department of Commerce, that enabled us to bring our prototype product to market and install the first three Brightfield Charging Stations in partnership with the city of Asheville, Buncombe County, UNC Asheville and the Land-of-Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition.
What do you think makes it innovative?
Brightfield Charging Stations integrate the existing technologies of electric vehicles, EV charging stations, solar production and energy storage to create an attractive, viable and scalable solution that meets the demand for public and workplace charging while reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and enhancing energy security and utility grid functionality.
How is it working now?
The EV market has grown to over 700,000 EVs sold nationally. Automakers are investing over $80 billion to bring longer-range and more affordable EVs to market while the ten Zero Emission Vehicle states — which include the large Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and California markets — commit to getting 3.3 million EVs on the road by 2025 and entire countries, including the U.K., France and Germany, pledge to ban gas and diesel cars by 2040. With the transition to electric transportation well underway, Brightfield is gaining traction as we break into new markets and experience an ever-increasing number of clients wanting Brightfield Charging Stations in their parking lots.
What are your goals for the project in the future?
Brightfield is currently raising capital to expand our sales and marketing reach nationally. Our goal is to take our solar-driven vision from Asheville to America and build a highly profitable business that will support the transition to electric transportation, create desirable jobs, improve energy security and help solve the climate crisis.
How is what you’re doing different from what others (people, organizations) are doing to solve this problem?
Most EV charging companies are focused only on installing chargers and delivering power to EVs. Brightfield’s comprehensive approach achieves that objective and creates a zero-emission solution, increases charging station visibility and durability, enhances utility grid functionality and inspires consumers desiring a new era of clean transportation.
What advice do you have for people trying to use innovation to foster change in the community?
From a for-profit business perspective, bringing disruptive products and services to market requires patience, persistence and an unwavering commitment to your vision. Build a high-caliber team and then surround yourself with people who believe in the vision and your team’s potential and who have experiences and expertise you lack. Then — and this is where many founders flounder — be humble and empower your team and listen to your advisers because launching a vision is a challenge, but growing innovation into a thriving business requires much more than the founders possess.