IE University students create the first rental service for mobile batteries powered by renewable energy

@IE University

uPower will launch in Madrid with a network of over 100 stations located in bars, restaurants, and museums

We live in an era of fast and accessible information, and the internet has allowed us to connect with each other in almost real time. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops are never far from our backpacks and travel bags. The whole world is connected. Running out of battery on your smartphone and not having a charger on hand can have real consequences. We feel bereft if we can’t receive work emails, upload stories to Instagram, or chat with friends and family on Whatsapp. It’s no small problem in the new digital age. Now, three young university students have found the key to providing a great solution to the problem—and one that follows an eco-friendly philosophy.

IE University students Bosco Larrea and Pablo Ortega have joined forces with Lucas Casado to found their own startup called uPower, which meets the needs of those users whose mobile phones have run out of battery and who urgently require a portable, external battery. Later this month, they’ll be launching their first app for renting these external batteries—or power banks—whose energy is 100% renewable.

The founders of uPower like to provide solutions to problems. “We realized that charging mobile phones as a service was not conveniently available, and we decided to get to work and find an alternative that was practical and respectful to the environment,” says Bosco Larrea.

The three young entrepreneurs conducted market research and explored what was being done in other countries before creating uPower. They put their own personal stamp on the service, highlighting that its goal was to be sustainable from an environmental point of view.

Functionality: How does uPower work?

It’s extremely simple and practical. First, the user has to download the app—which will be available on the App Store and on Google Play in a few days. The app allows users to locate the nearest charging station and “unlock” the power bank using a QR code. After this, the user goes to the station, takes the battery and charges their device. The user has 24 hours to return the battery to any of the stations dotted around Madrid. “For little more than a cent a minute and up to a maximum of four euros a day, the user no longer has to worry about running out of battery. uPower is the BiciMAD of power banks,” explains Bosco Larrea. When it launches, the IE University students’ startup will have 100 energy stations scattered across bars, restaurants, museums, and other spots around the city.

What makes uPower special is that the energy that supplies its stations and batteries is sustainable. “We’re not just limiting ourselves to recycling the lithium once the batteries die. We wanted to go one step further, so all the energy that powers our batteries comes from 100% renewable sources,” says Bosco Larrea. He goes on to emphasize that, “for us, sustainability is a huge issue because we’re concerned about the environmental crisis afflicting the planet. We think that the most effective tool for combating climate change lies with each individual, and this project would not make sense if it wasn’t green.”

In addition, uPower uses the latest generation of batteries, which come from one of the most respected distributors in the world. They ensure that their batteries are the most modern out of those currently being manufactured for this sector. The startup’s co-founder—who spent six months visiting factories until he found the best distributor—points out that these batteries are fast and suitable for any kind of mobile or computer operating system: iOS, Android, or any other OS using C.

uPower will officially launch in Madrid later this month. However, its creators have already had the opportunity to test out the system at some events, like the graduation ceremonies at IE University. “We’ve had a fantastic response,” adds Bosco Larrea, who wants to express his gratitude to IE University for their support of the project and, in particular, IE Startup Lab and Professor Leticia Ponce, “who helped us and gave us great advice.” He also appreciates the help from Vice-Rectors Antonio de Castro and Isabel Sánchez, “who believed in our project and gave us access to all kinds of facilities.”

uPower has some new additions to its marketing and communications departments. A group of IE University students and alumni have joined the project, including Alexandra Winkels, Manuel Echazarra, María Ortega, and Teresa Ramos. “Without them, none of this would have been real—the project would have stayed a dream,” add the founders, who state they’d like to continue to grow the team.

Bosco Larrea, Pablo Ortega, and Lucas Casado know that uPower won’t be the only startup dedicated to rentable batteries. “We know that there are other companies doing something similar to us, and that’s why we want to encourage people to try our batteries and confirm that they’re the best on the market. What’s more, they have the added bonus that they’re sustainable and respect the environment.”