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Dr Alina Dini is captivated by renewable energy innovation and how it can build long term financial and climate resilience. Alina has worked alongside some of the world's leading energy innovators - including Tesla founders and Australia's first Renewable Energy Commissioner. Alina's noteworthy accomplishments include launching Tesla's $2B credit trading program, advising governing bodies on sustainability, brokering multi-million dollar national energy programs with large corporations and, through her PhD research, advising the Australian Government of the value of the purchase experience for early electric vehicle consumers.

In March 2020, Alina participated in EnergyLab's Women in Clean Energy Fellowship. Milly Young, EnergyLab Programs Manager, sits down with Alina to talk about her experience of the fellowship and her EV startup, Whirl.

Tell us about your WICEF experience. What were the highlights? What did you learn?

I came across the WICEF program unexpectedly - I wasn't looking for it. A colleague of mine flicked me an email about the program and it piqued my interest as all things about clean energy innovations do.

In the end, it was the best part of my 2020 (and the year isn't over yet!).

Before joining WICEF, I wasn't sure I was ready to start a company. (I now know that no one ever thinks they are - but go big or go home, right?).

I loved the idea of learning more about entrepreneurship and the applications seemed achievable, so I figured there was no harm in applying. What I didn't realise was what happened next...

After leaving my job in January of 2020, COVID-19 hit. A global pandemic that left it hard to get child care, harder to find work, and almost impossible to do anything productive while locked down at home.

But then WICEF began, and on Wednesday nights (at minimum) my colleagues and I were presented with tools, mentors, contacts, testimonials, excellent education content formulating all you need to know about how to start your own company - and the peership of many other women like me that I had longed for in my career, but found rare to find.

As I've said to many, WICEF for me was transformational.

The program is perfectly designed to give curious entrepreneurial minded women the building blocks required to action their own business ideas. Step-by-step, week-by-week, the EnergyLab team took us through a journey of self-discovery, addressing transparently the ups and downs that come with contemplating working for yourself, as well as providing clear and actionable tools to work through some of the common pitfalls innovators face.

The experience was comprehensive - EnergyLab's team is supportive and accessible, the introduction to current accelerator members and a team of 200 industry mentors opened the doors to a powerful support network I could not have tapped on my own as easily.

During the fellowship, you founded your startup, Whirl. Tell us more about Whirl.

Buying an electric car is complicated. Whirl ( re-invents the EV shopping experience, making it fun, easy and accessible to learn about and try out EVs.

Leveraging the incredible market knowledge of early EV users, Whirl's online marketplace matches willing EV owners with curious EV shoppers for a real-world, informative trial without any pressure to buy.

As an energy professional, social researcher, and EV owner and advocate for nearly 15 years, I am aware of the complexity that comes with learning about energy technologies like EVs, with a view to buy one. This is why I founded Whirl.

The Whirl experience builds on my own research which identified that consumers of new technologies are using an assortment of various resources (some of which do not meet their needs) to research on a product before buying.

Whirl makes this process easier for them.

You are now working on Whirl in the EnergyLab Pre-Acceleration Program. Can you tell us a little more about how the WICEF program set you up to take Whirl to the next level?

EnergyLab has designed an incredible roadmap for energy entrepreneurs to follow from "hey entrepreneurship sounds interesting" to "I'm the CEO of my own real company now".

As they say, knowledge is power and it was WICEF which helped me to build a baseline understanding of entrepreneurship that set me up to apply for the Pre-Acceleration Program.

Specifically, WICEF was that first step in the process that introduced me to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. Fundamentals such as how to identify your problem statement (or market failure/opportunity), validate your product idea, conceptualise your beachhead market, and build a pitch. The rest of the entrepreneurship pathway was also overviewed (finance, legal, marketing), so I knew what to expect in my next steps. Then, Energy Lab invited me to apply for the Pre-Acceleration program which is their three-month course which builds on the foundational material covered in the WICEF program and prepares entrepreneurs to launch their startup.

Through WICEF, EnergyLab also connected me to a strong network of entrepreneurial peers through their own membership. Graduates of their earlier programs, these entrepreneurs spoke to us week after week about their road to starting a company, including the tips that helped them succeed. Their authenticity about the struggles and humble transparency resonated with me, making me realise we had a lot more in common than I would have thought otherwise.

In that way, EnergyLab made me imagine the reality for my own entrepreneurship journey, and they made taking the next step easy by laying it out in the Pre-Acceleration program.

What's next for Whirl?

Half-way through Energy Lab's Pre-Acceleration Program, Whirl is now in development of its digital platform!

Whirl is now building its community through a soft launch, starting with a social media campaign. I am looking for stories about EV owners helping friends, family members, or neighbours buy an EV. Visit @shopwithwhirl on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn to #tellyourEVstory. I want to hear from you!

What's your advice for women who are considering applying for the program?

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from joining the EnergyLab community.

WICEF is an excellent taster of the entrepreneurship journey, which will both enable you to commercially validate your thinking around your ability to deliver an idea yourself, as well as test your emotional resilience for the journey. The best part is that the building blocks of knowledge you acquire from that process do not grow stale - they will be available to you to draw upon (as will the unmatched network of EnergyLab professionals, mentors, and peers) should you decide you're ready later.

Now is a great time to be investing in yourself and building new skills. I am personally happy to talk to anyone considering WICEF - please reach out to me anytime.

Applications to the next cohort of EnergyLab's Women in Clean Energy Fellowship close Monday 24 August. If you have any questions, email Milly at [email protected].

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