The 2009 Creativity 50: Shai Agassi

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Shai Agassi
Shai Agassi
As Detroit founders, a completely unprecedented, borderline radical car concept sounds just about right these days. A perfect foil to the Big Three's recent innovation drought and blindness to climate change, Better Place is an electric car grid company that looks nothing like automotive business as usual. Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi has not only built an acute awareness of the carbon problem right into Better Place's DNA, he's supporting a business model that looks more like that of cell service providers than carmakers.

With the cooperation of local government and energy companies, Better Place plans on building the recharge plugs and battery swap infrastructure that will make driving electric cars practical for consumers. Where possible, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company will also supply the charging grid with clean energy, like solar and wind, so Better Place plugs will provide electricity from renewable sources. What's more, instead of a revenue stream dependent on hardware sales, Agassi plans to make money by selling access to the grid. Under the Better Place model, consumers can either buy or lease an electric car and then buy miles, so Better Place ultimately makes money providing the service, much like cell phone companies. And so far, Agassi's plan looks viable. Although the company has not a single car on the road nor a real world case study, Denmark, Israel, Australia, the San Francisco Bay area and Ontario, Canada have all inked partnerships to deploy Better Place infrastructure. Agassi has also partnered with Renault Nissan to get Better Place compatible cars on Israeli and Danish roads by 2011, when the infrastructure is intended to be ready. Right now, pilot charging spots are in place in Israel.

Agassi didn't have any automotive experience when he started Better Place. In 2005, he was the products and technology group president and an executive board member of the world's largest business software company, SAP. Because of his leadership there, he was selected for the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders, an under 40 group tasked to use its power and demonstrated drive to make the world a better place. The forum asked him to focus on climate change and, through research and a commitment to the forum's vision, Agassi found global oil consumption to be the root of the carbon problem. By October 2007, Agassi left SAP to launch Better Place.

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