Electric vehicles are more popular than ever before, but for more traditional industries like the boating industry, electric-powered watercrafts are more of a rarity. Those who love water skiing, tubing, and wakeboarding may have additional concerns about the towing capacity of an electric motor on the water. Dayton startup WakeDrive is targeting those concerns and revolutionizing the watersports industry by combining existing boat manufacturing and the power of a traditional engine in an electric drive train.
“Traditionally, boats are extremely expensive, not just to buy, but also to maintain,” CEO and Co-founder Caleb Dunn said. “The goal of our company is to create an electric drive train that’s a drop-in replacement. So you can keep whatever boat you like and maintain brand loyalty, but have our technology as an engine option to choose for an electric drive that’s zero maintenance.”
Not only does the startup’s technology mirror the zero-maintenance engine of electric cars, it also developed a patented closed-loop cooling system. Typically, the motors in gas-powered boats produce so much heat that water must be pumped from the lake, through the engine, and released back into the body of water to cool it down. WakeDrive’s technology circumvents that process, with a serendipitous environmental twist.
“Our closed-loop cooling system, in combination with the increased efficiency of electric motors, works the way a car works in that you don’t have any transfer of fluids,” Dunn said. “We have an antifreeze-based loop that cools everything without contaminating the water. One of the largest environmental impacts of boats is the cross-contamination and transfer of invasive species that occurs when moving lake-to-lake.”
Currently, the startup is connecting with original equipment manufacturers to have its technology introduced as an option for the consumer upon buying a boat. By paying slightly more upfront for an electric option, customers can save more money over the life of their craft by avoiding costly gas and maintenance prices.
“Boat manufacturers don’t make their own engines, they buy them from an engine manufacturer,” he said. “We’re adding an extra option for the consumer, so they can choose what they want, like a WakeDrive powertrain. In the future, we’re also working on offering it as an aftermarket add-on, and we could do the installation process.”
Dunn said the entrepreneurial community in Dayton has been instrumental in helping WakeDrive get started. The startup recently won the ESP/Tech Track Community Choice Award in the University of Dayton Flyer Pitch Competition, an event Dunn was inspired to enter after watching fellow entrepreneur and family friend Luis Estevez win the 2022 contest.
“I watched and listened through all of the pitches right when we were at the beginning stages of this startup,” he said. “He really encouraged me and pushed me to do this outside of a hobby project. Luis and other mentors have helped me along the way, and the Dayton community has really supported me through it all.”
The startup has found even more of that support through The Entrepreneurs’ Center, a Dayton community partner of the Ohio Third Frontier. In addition to mentorship, the Center has helped WakeDrive navigate patent filings, legal paperwork, and other initial business challenges so it can focus on its next phase, further developing its technology and branching out to manufacturers.
“The Entrepreneurs’ Center is amazing,” Dunn said. “It’s been great to talk with other people who are doing the same things and learning from their successes and mistakes. I’ve been so appreciative of our mentors. The tech is where I thrive, but it’s been so much fun to learn more of the business side. It’s been a process, but there are a ton of resources here in Dayton.”