Schenectady

Outlook 2021: Livingston Energy Group in Schenectady helping pave the way for electric vehicles, charging stations

Schuyler Philip Poukish, left, Steven Coons, and Jason Zarillo of the Livingston Energy Group in Schenectady
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Schuyler Philip Poukish, left, Steven Coons, and Jason Zarillo of the Livingston Energy Group in Schenectady

Published Feb. 25, 2021 in Outlook

Little did Jason Zarillo and Schuyler Poukish know when they met as undergrads that one day they would be traveling to Dubai to meet with high-level government officials about the latest in Smart Cities and sustainability. But that’s exactly what the pair did in 2019.

Rewind a few years, and the two were working at a startup in the lighting industry, helping clients operate their businesses with increased energy efficiency in affordable ways. They had a great deal of success, but the pair knew the next big thing on the sustainable energy market was going to be electric vehicles. So in 2016, they founded another startup, Livingston Energy Group in Schenectady, to focus on the installation and management of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

“We took a look at what was available in the market station-wise and service-wise, and we weren’t entirely satisfied ourselves with what we found,” Poukish said. “For a growing industry there’s a lot to be desired by what we were finding out there,” he said. That, paired with their desire to find opportunities for technological innovation, fueled the new business.

Zarillo and Poukish began to work on their own equipment and partnering with other firms in the industry for manufacturing. They also investigated building their own software platform and exploring the infrastructure that would be necessary to support EV industry growth. It was these forays into the EV marketplace that caught the attention of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

When the pair received an email invitation to travel to the Middle East just after joining the Center for Economic Growth, their first thought was that it would be an expensive trip. Soon after, they learned they had been invited to join a trade mission to the UAE to explore potential partnerships and other opportunities at little cost to Livingston.

“It was an exciting prospect because we had just started to explore the charging-station world, and it was interesting to see how they were applying technology in Dubai,” Poukish said.

‘Spectacular experience’

In October 2019, Zarillo and Poukish made their way to JFK and boarded an Etihad Airways jet for a 14-hour flight to Abu Dhabi International Airport. Their itinerary unfolded rapidly, as their first meeting was the next morning with the UAE’s minister of state for advanced sciences.

“It was a woman!” said Zarillo of Sarah Al Amiri, who also serves as chairperson of the country’s space agency, Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. “That’s something you would expect here or Europe or somewhere more liberal, but come to find out over 50 percent of their high-level government positions are filled by women,” he said. “They’re very progressive. Here we were, jetlagged, just waking up and drinking coffee, and she speaks perfect English, speaks eloquently and knows all the answers. It was really impressive to us.”

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

While they were on the trade mission, just across the Persian Gulf in Iran the government had granted women permission to attend soccer games for the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1981, and in neighboring Saudi Arabia, women had just celebrated the one-year anniversary of being granted the right to drive a car. The contrast between these countries and the UAE made a big impression on Zarillo and Poukish.

Poukish said he was thrilled to meet Al Amiri. “I was able to ask her what they were doing [with Smart Cities and technology], and she had an answer that was very relevant to us,” he said. “Just being able to go there and actually fulfill the mission and what we were trying to do there was a spectacular experience.”

Not only was the trip impressive and eye-opening, it was also fruitful for their company Livingston. The partners made connections with high-level government officials and great business contacts, one of which led to a private partnership with the Dubai company Volt.ae, with plans to develop software for monitoring and using EV charging stations.

The car guy

It became apparent to Zarillo and Poukish that to take their fledgling company where they wanted it to be and at the pace they wanted to get there, they needed the expertise of someone in the automobile industry. In late 2019, they approached Steve Coons, with whom they had worked on an energy-efficiency upgrade at Lia Infiniti, where Coons worked as general/executive manager.

Coons’ two decades of experience in the automobile industry was appealing. After he learned about their business plan and their vision of deploying charging stations not only throughout New York and neighboring states, but also across the United States, he came on board as a third partner.

“It didn’t take long to understand that these guys are on the right track,” Coons said, emphasizing that increasing numbers of people will be driving electric vehicles. “The writing has been on the wall for five or 10 years now. Manufacturers are moving toward electric vehicles and providing cleaner transportation for the world.”

Being in an industry characterized by new technology comes with its own host of challenges for the young Livingston Energy Group. Educating the public about electric vehicles and chargers is one challenge and a large part of what they do.

“We’re letting them know what to expect in the future for EVs — cost-wise, automobile-wise — what the projections are,” Coons said.

Maintaining their own standards for customer service as they grow is another issue. “One of the big things for Steven, Schuyler and myself is making sure that the customer-service experience is top-shelf,” Zarillo said, noting that most of their projects have come from referrals. As they expand across the country and are farther away from where their equipment is operating, they want to hire staff who understand what good customer service is, allowing the company to maintain its current high standards.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Livingston currently employs roughly 15 people, and finding the right employees presents an additional obstacle. “A lot of challenge to the fast growth in the new industry is finding great team members and being able to staff up in the way we need,” Poukish said. “You always hope to find people who not only bring something to the table, but they elevate you and they inspire you in a certain way,” he said.

COVID-19 has been difficult for Livingston, but Zarillo likes to keep it in perspective. “It has been tough, but a lot of people have had it harder than us,” he said. It has been difficult to get materials in and products installed, as well as to get a potential employee to leave his or her job to work for Livingston, but he still feels lucky in the way his company has weathered the pandemic.

Livinston Energy Group at a glance

Where: 2345 Maxon Road Extension, Suite 1, Schenectady; 844-623-1001; www.solution.energy

WHY: Coons — “It’s just the opportunity that’s there to make the world greener and provide an alternative transportation for people.”

Zarillo — When he was a kid, he thought he wanted to work on Wall Street, until he grew up and saw what they do there. Of the EV industry, he said, “It’s so early and such a big change for society, and it’s something where we can actually make a big difference on both a large scale and a small scale. It can make a huge difference in the long run, and something when we’re old and dying, we can say, ‘I did something I thought was important for a good cause.’ ”

Poukish — “For me, it’s being part of this macroeconomic change, this evolution that’s happening with energy and sustainability and also with transportation, with automation, connectivity and electrification happening, among other things. It’s the idea that we can add something to that and help bring it to market and help accelerate adoption — it’s pretty thrilling.”

What they’re driving: Poukish and Zarillo are finishing up leases they took out from Coons when he was at Inifinti, but their plan is to transition to a Hyundai Ioniq and Tesla, respectively. “Personally, I’m on the list for the Cybertruck,” Zarillo said. “It looks like it’s from Mars or something.” Coons drives an Ioniq.

What’s in store: “We feel 2021 is going to be our year, educating the public and helping municipalities and universities to accomplish their goals in supplying EV chargers for the public,” Coons said.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Categories: Business, News, Outlook 2021, Schenectady County

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