Climate Stories: Episode #1: Kameale C. Terry

In this first post of “Climate Stories,” Jacqueline Adams engages with Kameale C. Terry, CEO and co-founder of ChargerHelp! Terry is a veritable unicorn, an entrepreneur in the sustainability sector, who saw an unmet need in the race to build electric vehicle charging stations: repairing and maintaining those stations. She is building an army of green technicians, the majority of whom are Black and Brown.

“We are a sustainable people!” – ChargerHelp! CEO Kameale C. Terry Centers Her Green Job Revolution on Her Social Justice Ideals

Entrepreneur, philosopher, social activist, seer, loving daughter of immigrants from Belize – Kameale Terry redefines the role of a CEO or co-founder. Her success is undeniable. In May of 2021, she formally launched ChargerHelp!, a technology-enabled solutions provider for the electric vehicle charging station industry. Her seed round raised $2.75M and today, she has 35 employees, including 25 technicians in 11 states repairing the EV charging stations that are critical to the growth of the electric vehicle industry. Terry plans to add eight more states in Q2.

“We’re on a crazy roller coaster,” she admits and expects to be nationwide by the end of 2022. A pioneer in the creation of a new, community-based, green workforce, Terry’s goal is to train 1000 technicians - every quarter. ChargerHelp!’s future growth depends on two variables: the number of contracts that she and her team can finalize with localities and electric vehicle manufacturers as well as the ability to train a large enough workforce.

There is a hunger for good green jobs. For her first 20 slots, she received 1600 applications. The technicians earn a minimum of $30/hour. They are paid to go through a rigorous series of training programs: one week in Los Angeles to secure Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Fire Safety Protection Association (NFPA) safety licenses and additional certifications from EV manufacturers.

Terry is pleased that 65% of her technicians so far are Black and Brown and many, she said, have purchased electric vehicles. She believes that paying her staff a living wage is just good business. “We increase our retention rate by paying people enough to live on, enough so that they don’t require a second job.” She added, “We believe in doing well for our community and creating jobs that provide a sense of dignity for individuals.”

Terry is riding the crest of the electric vehicle wave. The White House has an aspirational target of 50% of all new cars sold in the U.S. being zero-emissions models by 2030. And President Biden has set a goal of a national network of 500,000 public charging stations in place by that date. To meet the 2030 goal, the administration is making an initial $615 million available to states for EV charging station construction in fiscal 2022.

Currently, there are some 46,000 public EV stations and 120,000 charging ports in the U.S. Yet, some 32% can be off-line at any one time. Terry says the percentage rises to 50% inoperable in Texas and D.C.; nowhere are more than 90% of the stations fully operational. By contrast, 150,000 gas stations in the U.S. provide multiple pumps, run smoothly and are serviced by owners and staff, mostly full-time.

For all the money and interest in building EV charging stations, Terry built her business around her observation that repairing or cleaning EV charging stations had been ignored. 80% of the problems, she notes, are non-electrical – typically software or communications problems or vandalism.

Said Terry, “It was clear to me that not enough emphasis or effort was being extended to how we will keep the electric vehicle charging infrastructure up and running at all times so that we can increase confidence in the future of mobility. So we created ChargerHelp!”

Terry has hired a government relations expert, and even tackled some lobbying duties herself, to ensure that operations and maintenance for EV charging stations are not overlooked. “Today, an EV charging station can be deployed without a plan to repair it,” she said. “On principle, it’s not okay to spend billions of our taxpayer dollars if the stations don’t work!”

Terry’s activism has paid off. By mid-February, the Transportation Department included language – that Terry pushed for – in its initial standards for federally funded charging stations. Specifically, the standards require that chargers “must achieve a high level of reliability,” which is measured by achieving greater than 97 percent uptime “at the individual station level.” Said Terry: “We applaud the efforts of the Biden Administration and Secretary Buttigieg to put consumers first. Drivers want to know that they can rely on public electric vehicle charging stations. I hope the uptime metric means that more people will give thought to the funding needed and will signal to companies that the time is now to invest in the means necessary to meet the 97% standard, if they haven’t already done so."

Green entrepreneurs like Terry are working together to build their new industry along with the federal standards and workforce they’ll need. Last fall, she began brainstorming with green entrepreneur Donnel Baird, CEO of BlocPower, when both attended events promoting the Biden infrastructure bill, which contains $555 billion in spending to combat climate change.

By January 2022, ChargerHelp! formally launched a partnership with BlocPower to train an additional 200 technicians in New York City. Six weeks later, the two companies had already held two classes, impacting 50 workers. Based in Brooklyn, BlocPower secured a $37 million city contract to train a Civilian Climate Corps, dedicated to building the climate tech workforce needed to power the clean energy and building modernization revolution.

“This is exactly the kind of partnership that we are looking for, working with companies that are focused on energy efficiency, green jobs, and educating our communities on the benefits of electrification,” said BlocPower Co-Founder and General Manager Keith Kinch.

In mid-February, Transportation Secretary Buttigieg added: “The President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help us win the EV race by working with states, labor, and the private sector to deploy a historic nationwide charging network that will make EV charging accessible for more Americans."

But ChargerHelp!’s leaders have a longer time horizon in mind.

“It’s one thing to have a workforce to install chargers - giving people a job for a short time - but the workforce that maintains and repairs the electric vehicle charging infrastructure will have a career,” said Chief Workforce Officer Evette Ellis, who is Terry’s co-founder and is in charge of building out the ChargerHelp! team.

Terry has called the last year a roller coaster. And she is leaning in to every twist and even creating a few new turns. In the midst of launching a new company, in a new industry, as well as educating lawmakers, venture capitalists, consumers and the communities of underserved Americans whom she is attracting as employees, Terry has also found time to evangelize a new way of thinking about what sustainability can actually mean.

“Green industries can learn a lot from Black and Brown citizens. We are a sustainable people,” Terry said of the friends and family with whom she grew up in South Central Los Angeles. She believes there needs to be a greater democratization of the notion of innovation.

As an example, she cited California’s 2014 legislation banning single-use plastic bags. “Growing up, we never used a plastic bag once! We used them as trash bags and even shower caps. Our communities have always been careful about turning off electric lights. We always have re-used the containers that butter and margarine come in. For us, that was Tupperware, as well as conservation.”

The conventional wisdom is that racial and class divides are givens, that inner city residents have to focus on their basic needs, that clean tech, electric vehicles and energy retrofitting are frills. Terry understands but rejects the time-worn theory of a “sustainability divide” in favor of an abundance mindset, of greater equity in the technology field.

In fact, social scientists have quantified the optimism and resilience in Black and Hispanic communities. As New York Times Columnist Thomas Edsall has reported, 2019 research by Carol Graham, a Brookings senior fellow, and Sergio Pinto, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, found that poor Blacks are by far the most optimistic group compared to poor whites….Graham and Pinto measured poll respondents’ sense of purpose, sense of community and their financial and social well-being and found that “blacks and Hispanics typically score higher than whites,” noting that “these findings highlight the remarkable levels of resilience among blacks living in precarious circumstances compared to their white counterparts.”

The findings confirm Terry’s experience and she envisions bringing “design thinking workshops” into inner city neighborhoods. “That’s how I came up with the idea of ChargerHelp!” She adds, “We need to spend more time in untapped communities. Our folks have new perspectives that could generate additional sustainability solutions.”

Looking ahead, Terry sees her company as a “technology-enabled service provider for smart IOT (internet of things) assets that are publicly deployed. EV charging stations are just the first such assets that are software enabled.” With interconnected, complex devices just over the horizon, Terry believes that smart cities will require service providers like ChargerHelp!

But Terry is also a realist. Saving the planet won’t be easy. As she told Emily Kirsch, host of the podcast Watt It Takes, “Electric vehicles will solve just one problem. We need to be better stewards of the Earth. Whether we succeed or not, the Earth will always be here. The real question is whether we humans will exist on this Earth.”

Just the Facts:

  • Transportation is the largest source of overall US greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 29% as of 2019, according to the EPA.
  • Electric vehicle sales doubled from 2020 to 2021 and predicted to double again in 2022
    • Electric vehicles accounted for 2.2% of U.S. sales in the first half of 2021, up from 1.4% in the first half of last year, per Edmunds data.
  • The White House has an aspirational target of 50% of all new cars sold in the U.S. being zero-emissions models by 2030.
  • President Biden has set a goal of a national network of 500,000 public charging stations in place by 2030.
  • ChargerHelp! Is currently operating in 11 states (Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Florida, NY, Delaware, PA, and NJ and 8 more planned for Q2 of this year: Mich, N. Carolina, S. Carolina, Ala, Ga, Nevada, Ohio, Ill.)
  • To learn more about the partnership between BlocPower and ChargerHelp!, watch this video:
  • To hear more from Kameale Terry, listen to our BEI interview from November, 2021 –

About Climate Stories

Climate Stories is a series researched and written by Jacqueline Adams (MBA 1978) and Produced by Lynn Schenk, Director, Business and Environment Initiative

The HBS Business and Environment Initiative is excited to launch Climate Stories, a series of researched blog posts that tell the unique stories of the business leaders–CEOs, founders, advisors, and more–who are enabling climate solutions to thrive by seeing new business opportunities and focusing on the people who make those solutions both necessary and possible.

To accomplish the mission of Climate Stories, BEI is grateful to be working with Jacqueline Adams (MBA 1978). Adams has spent her career as a journalist, author, and convener. Over the next few months, she will share a variety of stories that we hope will teach, inspire, and motivate our readers to create their own positive stories - ones which prioritize the human side of climate change.

About the Author

Jacqueline Adams (MBA 1978) has spent her career as a journalist, author, and convener. She and Bonita C. Stewart (MBA 1983) are co-authors of “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive” as well as a series of groundbreaking proprietary surveys, Women of Color in Business: Cross-Generational Survey©.