Need to fix EV charger? Get help from women startup founders


An electric vehicle charging station is out-of-order in a North Hollywood parking garage. The need for efficient repair solutions is expected to grow as more drivers go electric. Photo by Megan Jamerson/KCRW.

Evette Ellis was on the phone when she saw the email from “White House Security.” “Is it spam?” she wondered, before deciding it was real. She waited to hang up before clicking so she could “enjoy the moment.”

President Joe Biden invited Ellis to a White House celebration of the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in September. She’s the co-founder of the startup ChargerHelp! which offers on-demand repair for electric vehicle chargers. 

“It is very exciting to be counted among the changemakers that are really, really making strides in this industry,” says Ellis.

ChargerHelp! is bringing big changes to big tech, and the White House invitation is just one example of how fast things are progressing. Ellis and her partner Kameale Terry started the company in downtown Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) in January 2020.

Their timing was ahead of recent major changes in the electric vehicle industry. The Biden administration now has plans to invest billions in charging infrastructure and subsidies for EVs, and the state of California will ban the sale of new gas combustion vehicles by 2035. Ellis and her business partner are poised to be significant players in the growing green economy.

Terry, the CEO of ChargerHelp!, used to work at a company that made software for charging stations, where she says she saw up to 40% of stations broken at any given time. When those stations malfunctioned, the company hired electricians who were unable to fix software glitches, which she says are the most common issue. “Stations are huge computers that are complex,” says Terry.

As of this spring, California has more than 35,000 public chargers, and the state says it will need more than 1 million by the end of the decade. 

Evette Ellis (left) and Kameale Terry (right) launched their startup ChargerHelp! in January 2020 with $400,000 in grants and $2.75 million in funding. Photo courtesy of ChargerHelp!.

Terry developed a business idea to address the problem. She would start a company that sells software that monitors charger status and diagnoses problems. And they would provide technicians to repair chargers. Common issues range from software to vandalism. They would offer their services directly to charging station operators like Tesla and Tritium. 

She approached Evette Ellis, who was then a volunteer she met at LACI, with the business idea. Ellis had a background in workforce training and says she was excited for Terry. “I was super hyped for her because she's a Black woman in tech doing it,” says Ellis.

Amid competition from other EV repair providers, they had an ambitious plan for an inclusive and supportive company culture. The company would offer on-the-job training for their repair techs. This was important because they were already seeing unnecessary barriers to the industry. For example, Ellis says it was common to see job descriptions requiring 10 years of experience when the technology had only been around for maybe four. 

Ellis says this meant that “who you know” determined whether you’d get hired.  Instead, the burgeoning EV field could offer workers from other related backgrounds an opportunity to prosper. She says she doesn’t want to see the EV sector make the same exclusionary mistakes as the big business opportunities of the past. 

“And now we see with the infrastructure bill, this is the biggest change in transportation since the horse and buggy,” says Ellis. 

Their staff of around 30 get stock options, a wage of at least $30 an hour, a guaranteed 40 hour week, and benefits. 

Stephan Hargett (left) and Mike Mejia (right), employees of ChargerHelp!, use a cell phone to start a diagnosis of an out-of-order electric vehicle charging station in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Megan Jamerson/KCRW.

Mike Mejia, a technician, is happy with this package. He says the support he receives is in stark contrast to the pressures he was under as an automotive technician. “It feels like I'm part of a big family because we're all just focused on different areas of the company where we all want to improve ourselves,” says Mejia.

His co-worker Stephan Hargett is the head of operations. He says he left a job as a building manager to work with ChargerHelp! to make an impact on climate change. Doing it on a team with economic, racial and gender diversity really excites him. “I could keep managing a building or I can do something that my kid will forever go to Career Day [and] will be proud of me.” 

The company is trying to bring more women into the industry through training. Jacquelyn Badejo was selected for an all-women class, and says the course will help her jumpstart a career with ChargerHelp! while  advancing her work in Watts as an environmental justice advocate. “Being an environmentalist, and always talking about the burgeoning green industry, I wanted to make sure that I also had the technical skills,” says Bandejo.

Bringing these opportunities to underserved communities is important to Kameale Terry, who grew up in South Central, and Evette Ellis, who grew up in Compton. Seeing family members feel unsafe at work, not having room to grow, or taking jobs without retirement benefits also meant she had to “build a business differently,” says Terry. “It's so needed today because we've done such a horrible job of building quality companies that properly support individuals.”

And now their hard work and growth around the country — as they near deployment in all 50 states — is being recognized. Terry is calling it their harvest season. 

They just raised $4.5 million in bridge funding, which means investors saw things were going well and provided more money for the company to continue its expansion.

Terry says this is a big deal because there was a lot of capital for Black entrepreneurs after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Two years later, she says the momentum from the social movement is long gone and in general “Black female founders typically don't get that second round of funding.”

As the women of ChargerHelp! cement themselves as leaders in the industry, they say they think of their parents. Ellis’ both struggled with respiratory illnesses and have died. Terry’s mother died of breast cancer, a disease associated with, among other factors, exposure to high levels of air pollution.

“Mass EV adoption and greenhouse gas emissions, all of these things are so, so real to us,” says Terry. “It's so real, that we have to figure this stuff out.”