It’s obvious that reliable transportation systems are important – they ensure the safe and efficient movement of goods and people. With rising fuel costs and growing awareness of the negative impact of fossil fuels, governments and fleet managers are always looking for ways to improve these systems. Throw in a pandemic, and the transportation of food and medical supplies quickly became everybody’s priority.
Now consider refrigerated goods; they make up approximately a third of all goods movement and require special fleets and additional fuel to transport. While they may appear to present a unique challenge, Westhill Innovation (Westhill). Co-founders Emil Radoslav and Gina Succi knew they had the knowledge and expertise to develop products to significantly impact this market.
A Deliberate and Human Design Process
Today, Succi leads the company with a focus on engineered-to-order solar-electromobility solutions for transportation applications, while Radoslav continues to play an integral part in materials and composites for lightweighting and fuel savings.
At the heart of Westhill is a fundamental belief that all innovation must address a business problem that people want fixed. Across the organization, employees understand that this human element is integral to the product design process, and it is at the core of all company innovation.
Working with an Accelerator
Westhill has worked with the Centre for Integrated Transportation and Mobility (CITM), and its parent accelerator, Innovation Factory throughout its journey. At the beginning, like most other startups, Westhill aspired to advance in the transportation market space quickly, and eagerly sought connections to provide industry exposure and build credibility. As Succi notes, “We knew very early on that working with an accelerator would be invaluable in numerous ways such as facilitating strategic connections, gaining access to meeting space, and offering business advisory services that smaller companies do not always have the resources to find and source on their own.”
A Resource for Every Stage of Business
As Westhill evolved, so too did their needs as a company. However, one constant was having support as needed. “Our company has evolved over time and while our requirements as a business may have changed, we continue to leverage the relationships and partnerships that Innovation Factory and CITM offer. The best part of having an accelerator within an accelerator is that we have access to transportation specific programs and resources, as well as those that can benefit any scale-up company, regardless of industry”, states Succi.
Readying to Scale
At present, Westhill has filed several patents globally with additional patents pending. During the early stages of their company, they utilized Innovation Factory research resources and acquired market intelligence reports to support this process and build their business plan. Their flagship SunShifter™ product has been piloted throughout Canada and in south western USA. Recently, the government of California included the product line as part of its Clean Off-Road Equipment (CORE) Voucher Incentive Program, a tax incentive program promoting the conversion of existing trailer fleets to clean fuel technology.
Ongoing Technology Innovation and Product Development
Although Westhill remains focused on refrigerated goods movement, they also offer solar powered micro-mobility products such as low speed people movers, utility vehicles, and recreational golf carts, and continue to invest in research and development of new products and innovation. The southwestern Ontario transportation innovation ecosystem is thriving and Westhill has partnered with several organizations who are also CITM partners, including the McMaster Automotive Resource Centre (MARC) and Linamar, with whom they are collaborating with for Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) funded project on the manufacturing process for compact zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) inverters.
Educating and Defining the Market
Westhill is not simply a technology innovator but also committed to education, whether working with students to provide synergistic opportunities for learning or educating stakeholders on the importance of reducing GHG. Selling technology is one thing but addressing a lack of awareness on why this technology is crucial within the government and commercial transportation market is also something company executives believe will be key to their overall success. As Gina notes, ‘Without this link to education, change will not happen.”
Evolving Products for the Future
What is especially exciting is that Westhill’s technology solutions could be leveraged across a range of markets. As Richard Dunda, Director of CITM notes, “The transformation occurring in transportation is well known but what is especially exciting about Westhill is the broad scale applicability of their technology solutions. Westhill has a tremendous opportunity to redefine goods movement and scale their technology to other transportation applications. Whether it’s identifying potential partnerships and project opportunities, or supporting their research and development efforts, we look forward to continuing to support them as their business continues to evolve and scale.”
Transportation at the Next Level
Expanding current product lines to new geographical markets is one company objective, but multiple others exist. Already, Westhill has:
- Designed complimentary technology add-ons to support predictive maintenance in fleets deploying their units
- Researched scaling beyond refrigerated goods movement to goods transportation as a whole; and
- Evaluated ways to optimize its manufacturing capacity and produce at scale
Whether it was the original foresight of its founders or a combination of market factors such as rising fuel costs, a growing demand for green transportation solutions, or a pandemic necessitating more robust supply chains, Westhill appears perfectly positioned to support the future of sustainable goods movement.