Alumna seizes opportunity at energy startup
Western Engineering News | February 4, 2019
There is no question that Western Engineering alumna Shivani Chotalia understands the meaning of the term ‘carpe diem.’
As an undergrad working on a concurrent degree that combined green process engineering with an HBA from the Ivey Business School, Chotalia took full advantage of the opportunities that Western had to offer. She served as an Orientation Week Leader/Soph three years in a row, became president of Western’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, and spent a summer working in a lab at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.
“My student experience at Western was incredible, largely due to the many opportunities the university enabled me to get involved with,” said Chotalia. “From arriving in residence and making lifelong friends – I still live across the street from some of my best friends I made on my first-year floor – to the summer after I graduated when I travelled to Ghana to teach a business program with Ivey, there was never a dull moment.”
In particular, Chotalia noted she could have never anticipated the impact that Engineers Without Borders would have on her. One of her highlights was leading the chapter’s goal of qualifying Western as a Fair Trade Campus. This was accomplished in 2015, with the school making a campus-wide commitment to supporting fair-trade practices and educating others about them.
“I stayed involved [with Engineers Without Borders] for a few years after I graduated and am still connected to the many friends I made across the country and around the world.”
Through Ivey, Chotalia met other dedicated students who, like herself, were passionate about social enterprise, and she was able to work with several multi-disciplinary teams on projects. In her final year of undergrad studies, Chotalia’s team, which included students from the faculties of business, environmental science, and law, was invited to pitch a social enterprise they developed at the HULT Prize competition in Dubai.
“I believe that you get out of something what you put into it,” said Chotalia. “Western provided me with many opportunities to get involved in the community, and as a result of diving into these opportunities, I learned and grew a lot.”
Upon graduating in 2015, Chotalia sought out opportunities in the clean energy industry, where she could apply her combined engineering and business background. Her search exposed her to the startup industry through Venture for Canada, a community of young, entrepreneurial-minded people.
“I found NRStor and was immediately excited about the company,” said Chotalia. “It has great leadership and is a leader in the Canadian energy storage industry, with some of the first commercial energy storage projects in the country.”
NRStor was not hiring at the time of Chotalia’s job hunt, but that factor did not deter her from showing them how she could add value to the company. Chotalia conducted research and prepared strategies for sharing her ideas on ways NRStor could go to market with the Tesla Powerwall home battery – a partnership she knew they were already working on – and she met with NRStor CEO Annette Verschuren at an industry conference. In response to that meeting, Chotalia sent her research directly to Verschuren. Chotalia’s perseverance became the catalyst that lead to the decision to bring her onto the NRStor team, where she currently holds the title of Senior Analyst, Engineering & Projects.
Chotalia works primarily with NRStor’s Remote Communities and Mines business unit, which partners with remote indigenous communities across Canada to build clean energy microgrids and reduce dependence on diesel fuel.
“Across the country, Canada still has almost 200,000 people who are not connected to our energy system,” says Chotalia. “Diesel is very expensive to transport to remote locations and is harmful for communities’ environment and health. We have built a business model for developing clean energy microgrids in a way that enables community ownership and long-term revenues to deliver economic and environmental benefits locally.”
Chotalia’s role at NRStor is to aid in the design, development, and construct of these projects, which keeps her involved in every aspect of their completion, from technical design, to procurement, financing, and operations management.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of the whole process of taking a project from an idea to an operating facility.”
Chotalia supports the operations of NRStor’s flywheel energy storage facility, which was the first in Canada, and she is currently involved in a project to build what will be the world’s first commercial fuel-free compressed air energy storage facility.
“Having a concurrent degree in green process engineering and business laid the foundation for my career,” said Chotalia. “It enables me to understand both the technical as well as the broader business aspects of projects.”
With a strong educational foundation that will support her career growth and with a personal commitment to seize any opportunity that comes her way, Chotalia has positioned herself as an up-and-coming leader in the engineering field and an alumna to watch.