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Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing

  • Left to Right: Joe Rooney, John Rooney, Ron Rooney

An electric, entrepreneurial journey

Business savvy brothers carve out a niche in the electric vehicle industry

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, electric car sales in the country have increased from 0.2% of total car sales to 4.6% between 2011 and 2021. The huge expansion of the industry has led to many automotive companies struggling to find qualified candidates for high-level positions.

In early 2018, brothers and University of South Carolina alumni Joe and John Rooney teamed up to start a company, aiming to find their niche in the automotive industry. Based in Denver, Elevation Proving Grounds (EPG) focuses on helping electric vehicle (EV) and autonomous vehicle (AV) clients hire the best people through their industry and product-specific staffing expertise.

The brothers have shared a love for automotive technologies from an early age, as well as an entrepreneurial spirit. Joe graduated from the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2014. John had graduated from the Darla Moore School of Business five years earlier.

Prior to EPG, Joe spent a year working as a test driver for an automotive manufacturer. “A few of these vehicles were plug-in hybrid EVs, and they had some advanced driver assistance features,” Joe says. “This helped me understand new vehicle technology and that I wanted to be a part of it.”

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 cast significant uncertainty on business owners, many of whom were forced to permanently shut down. Despite a small downturn early that year, EPG was fortunate to continue operating.

“There were delays for parts and chips which caused problems for consumers getting their vehicles. But employers were still looking to fill engineering, technician and project manager positions,” John says.

As a company that focuses on recruiting, finding the right audience is one of the biggest struggles. “We saw the ability to carve out a niche in the industry focusing just on EVs and AVs,” John says. “We're not a generalist recruiting or staffing company; all we do is electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.”

EPG has seen tremendous growth since its founding, with 2023 being their best year overall. “Seeing the growth of our company and working with family has been the most rewarding,” John says. “Joe's definitely a visionary. We can butt heads at times, but at the end of the day Joe and I know that we can trust each other.” 

“John is one of the hardest working people I know,” Joe says. “He has usually responded to all of my emails hours before I'm even out of bed in the morning.”

Aiming to grow their reach and spur discussion about EVs and AVs, the Rooney brothers launched the Mobility EVo newsletter in 2021 which is published twice a week and highlights important developments in the industry. 

EPG also offers an online self-paced EV training program designed to teach the fundamentals of EVs including terminology, performance, benefits and charging. Both the newsletter and training course aim to help consumers overcome apprehensions about EVs and AVs.

Recent technological developments have diversified the types of EVs available. “Whether you like sports cars, SUVs or trucks, there are EVs you can buy,” John says. “It's really not that different from an internal combustion engine in that sense but they don’t have any emissions, so it's certainly a more environmentally friendly option. Sustainability has always been one of our core values.” 

In addition to their company and newsletter, the brothers also recently launched Peak EV Solutions with their dad, Ron. The company offers home EV charger installation solutions, supporting brands like Tesla, Rivian, ChargePoint and JuiceBox. Peak EV Solutions currently only serves Colorado residents, but the brothers plan to expand across the country. 

“We provide a start-to-finish solution including helping people select a charger and ensuring they maximize savings,” John says. “Our network-certified installers perform the installation while we provide backend support and top-notch customer service.” 

John recommends that anyone interested in establishing their own company start while they are still in college. “You've got so many tools and resources at USC at your fingertips, including mentors and advisors. You could spend your free time in Five Points or writing a business plan.”

Joe also ties his entrepreneurial success to his experiences at USC and the CEC. “I was able to not only gain an understanding of the math that goes into designing cars but also learn about perseverance. With the right attitude and leaning on resources around you, anything is possible.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.