Picture this. Your friends have invited you to their cottage for a long weekend. You’re sitting on the dock, enjoying a cup of coffee. You can hear a loon in the distance. But the peaceful call of the loon is vigorously muffled by a loud rumble and then the roar of a boat speeding along the lake!
Your perfect cottage morning has been disrupted by the sounds and smells of a gas-powered boat.
This is one of the scenarios that is driving the team at AC:Studio client, enVgo. The Waterloo-based startup is designing an electrified watercraft to bring the same advantages of electric vehicles to the boating world.
With $10 million in Government of Canada funding through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), AC:Studio partners with innovation leaders from across southern Ontario to bring high-impact startups and founders the critical capital they need to launch their businesses.
Jerry Mailloux, co-founder and CTO at enVgo, said there is a lot of interest in the electrification of boats. He added the industry has similar challenges to automotive electrification—specifically, the range of an EV boat. enVgo is tackling this challenge by using hydrofoil technology to reduce power consumption.
“Electric motors exist, and they’ve got the power and the torque—that’s not the issue. The biggest challenge of electrification for boats is making sure that you get enough range out of the battery. That's why we decided to go with hydrofoiling since it uses much less power to propel a boat forward,” Mailloux said.
Hydrofoils are underwater fins that use a winglike surface to lift a boat out of the water as it moves. The hydrofoils have less surface area than the boat’s hull, which reduces friction and the power needed to propel the boat.
“It requires three times more power to propel a boat when it's planing versus when it's hydrofoiling. That's why we decided to look at hydrofoiling as part of how we’re bringing electrification to boats. It adds more complexity, but the added range that you get with hydrofoiling makes it worth it,” he added.
Another challenge in bringing electrification to boating is the variety of boating use cases compared to land vehicles. While there are hundreds of options for automotive electric vehicles (EVs), they share a core use case of moving people and cargo along purpose-built roads and highways.
Like their gas-powered cousins, the size and features of electrified boats will vary from case to case. A boat designed and built for water skiing will have a different layout than one for fishing or casual cruising. It’s that latter case — casual cruising — that enVgo is focusing on for its first electrified boat. Mailloux says enVgo’s market research has honed in on the “conscious cottage country owner” as the demographic for its first boat.
“They would have a cottage on a small lake as we do in Ontario and throughout North America. They're interested in doing what's right for the environment, but they also want to have fun,” Mailloux says.
As a hydrofoil, enVgo’s electrified boat generates minimal wake. It’s an excellent feature for waterskiing but not for a sport like wakeboarding. But it’s this minimal wake and noise output that Mailloux says will make the boat a better choice for pristine and environmentally sensitive waterways.
“There are a number of lakes in North America that don’t allow gas-powered boats for noise and wake reasons. Those have the potential to be a great market for us too,” he said.
Last summer, the enVgo team tested its prototype to validate the hydrofoil design. This year, Mailloux said they plan to continue testing and finalizing the first boat design to be available for purchase in 2025.
Mailloux is one of six co-founders leading enVgo’s mission to bring electrification to boating. The group met while working at Aeryon Labs, an uncrewed aerial vehicle startup based in Waterloo. Before Aeryon Labs, Mailloux spent 14 years at smartphone maker BlackBerry, leading software development teams.
While his focus is on the technical aspects of the business, Mailloux said joining the AC:Studio program has given him the opportunity to bring the positive experiences from his previous roles to the culture the founding team is building at enVgo. AC mentor Jackie Lauer helped Mailloux and the team build the enVgo mission, vision statements, and company values.
“I've done similar things like that before, but I was always on the side learning the values — not the team creating the values and mission statements. It's nice not being the middleman where you just tell your team the values. It’s been great being able to define them,” he said.
The enVgo team continues to grow as they refine the design for their first electrified boat. Mailloux said it’s critical to have these values defined as they hire full-time staff and bring on their first co-op students.
“We aim to create a positive work environment. If you're learning something new every day, and you're working with a lot of smart people, then it should be fun. It’s also cutting-edge technology, so we want to ensure everyone feels they can voice their opinion without being judged,” Mailloux said. “We’re all marching towards a single goal. I want to make sure that whatever we bring to market is high quality. We're not trying to put a bunch of features in a boat, we’re building an experience.”
AC:Studio is funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and is delivered in partnership with WEtech Alliance, Innovate Niagara, Conestoga College, SnapPea, Uvaro, Bereskin & Parr, RSM Canada, and Gowling WLG.