I started sailing when I was 18 to earn some money for studying. I hadn't touched a sailboat before. I saw an ad at TU Graz where I was taking electrical engineering – a company was searching for people that they could educate to run its large charter fleet, so I applied. I sailed mostly in Croatia, but also in Italy, Slovenia, France and the UK.
While at university I also worked with electric race cars on the Formula Student class, which had around 200 teams. Formula Student Electric had just commenced, so we were building electric race cars from scratch. We collaborated with a lot of industry partners, creating every component including carbon fibre monocoques, electric motors and battery packs. The result was a race car that we competed in international races although I did not drive. I'm almost two-metres tall and wouldn't have fitted in the car. The really fast entry did 0-100kmh in 1.5 seconds.
With that background it seemed natural to take on the complete electrical design of a Class 40 racing yacht, still in parallel to studying. This is where I could use knowledge gained from sailing alongside motor sports projects, where we had been working with military suppliers. There's no real standardisation in the marine industry for boats below 24m. I succeeded by applying motor racing and military standards to the Class 40 to achieve a really high-quality installation. After that, I got lots of requests to take on marine electronics projects. This is why I founded Sailectron. The beginning involved installations where we acted as as a dealer and installer of systems. In more recent times our work has evolved to manufacturing and distributing customised products, like integrated solar panels for yachts, aeroplanes and caravans. We also moved into creating custom switch panels for yachts and founded a separate company for technical consulting of new-build sailing vessels with budgets of $1m-$10m. I started studying in 2010 and Sailectron was founded in 2014, so things have happened very quickly. We've more than doubled every year since then, there's not been much time for studying!
We recently got the National Energy Globe Award for a yacht build in Thailand for which we designed the system. It has retractable propulsion that can also be used for generating electricity when you are sailing. Solbian, our solar partner, is doing a lot of research and development. Last year we presented pigmented solar panels that look like a teak deck. We like to completely integrate solar panels into the yacht's design with no visible wiring. We use the highest efficient solar cells you can get on the market at the moment, but at the fraction of the weight of the standard system, which is interesting for sailing boats. We're also working on very interesting projects using hydrogen-powered electric propulsion. The nice thing with this industry is that there are some owners that are interested in having these high technology systems on their boats and are willing to invest quite a lot of money to be the first. It's a hobby for them – they love to do it and we are allowed a certain amount of time for trial and error. You could never do this with a road car because of regulations, but on the water it is possible.
It's hard to tell how fast some of these emerging technologies will take off. I think it's mainly a matter of the service network and how quickly it evolves. A complex hybrid system from a small company could prove hard to support globally. On the other hand, regenerative energy on boats, like solar systems, is growing every year. This is something we will soon see on a lot more production boat option lists.
I visit METSTRADE each year and connected with the Young Professionals Club back in 2013. I've met a lot of people there that I actually still do business with.
We are searching for new employees, but it's not easy to find the right people, because the industry is full of dreamers. You must find people that not only love sailing, but also are interested in really working. The downside, since I founded Sailectron, is that is you don't get to sail anymore if you create something successful in the industry. Before I'd be on the water for three or four months a year. In the last years I have been on it for three or four days, I guess!
Michael Körner is the managing director of the business he founded in 2014, Sailectron GmbH and a partner in the consulting firm, ANTS Yacht-Consult. Sailectron is based in Austria and works globally, often with German-speaking clientele.
Michael's company was awarded an Honourable Mention in this year's Boat Builder Awards for Business Achievement alongside Solaris Yachts, for the fully integrated solar system fitted to the Solaris 55.