Last week marked the seventh year of the Up-Start! Competition, an annual business-pitch competition where attendees of the Entrepreneurship 101 lecture series are invited to present their business cases for a chance to win a $10,000 prize.
We asked this year’s winner, Henry Chong, the CEO of Revelo Bikes Inc., to share his entrepreneurial journey with us.
Hello, my name is Henry Chong and I am the CEO and founder of Revelo Bikes Inc. and the creator of the LIFEbike. The mission of Revelo Bikes is to revolutionize how people use bicycles. The “LIFE” in LIFEbike stands for “Lightweight, Intelligent, Flexible, Electric.” The Revelo LIFEbike is an ultra-lightweight and compact electric bicycle that is designed to provide urban commuters with the most fun, convenient and easy-to-ride way to get from A to B without breaking a sweat.
It is a real honour for me to have won the 2012 Up-Start! Competition and to have been part of the entire Entrepreneurship 101 program. I would like to share some insights on how I got to this point. The journey really began when I made a mid-life decision to leave behind a 20-year information technology career and to return to university to study industrial design. I have been fascinated by the design of manufactured stuff since I was a young boy. I have a healthy interest in transportation design and I have been an avid cyclist for over 30 years. It was only natural that the LIFEbike would be the result of my Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) graduation thesis project. The LIFEbike went on to win four design awards and a university-wide business pitch competition.
So now I had a good idea, and OCAD U gave me a studio space to turn my idea into a business venture. The only problem was that I had virtually no idea what to do next. By the fall of 2011 I had one prototype LIFEbike and an office space, but no road map and no funding. Luckily, a friend told me about MaRS and that they had an educational and networking program that they offered for free.
“Free,” I thought, was impossible. But then I saw a friendly newspaper ad inviting new entrepreneurs to come to Entrepreneurship 101. I went on the MaRS website to register and asked to meet with a cleantech advisor. Those two actions were pivotal.
MaRS is an incredible place. It is a beautiful building that is home to a culture of capability and excellence. Tony Redpath, Keri Damen, Marielle Voksepp and the MaRS education team have created a seamless turnkey program with Entrepreneurship 101. The program gives new entrepreneurs a detailed road map, starting with what an entrepreneur is and ending with how to pitch your business. I found the lectures on understanding your customers’ needs and your initial target market the most valuable, but really I think all of the lectures were packed with knowledge nuggets.
Shortly after the start of the course, I was given a meeting with MaRS’ cleantech business advisor Murray McCaig, who believed in the mission of Revelo and the value of the LIFEbike. So I went from a guy with a neat idea to a guy with an office, an educational road map and my first business advisor, too! It was a real change of fortune, indeed.
The LIFEbike addresses the need to have something disruptive in the transport landscape. Electric bikes are a quickly emerging field, but there is still much room for innovation. After spending over a year researching the needs of customers and understanding the landscape, I learned that people really wanted a vehicle that fit seamlessly into their lifestyles and their environment. The design of the LIFEbike addresses those needs. It is compact, portable and inherently easy to ride. It weighs only 15 kilograms and is just 120 centimetres long. For only five cents of electricity you can travel 30 kilometres on a single charge of the lithium battery. The ride is like that of a scooter, but with the option to pedal like a bike. The idea behind the LIFEbike is to give commuters a new flexible alternative and to let them find new uses for it.
I ride the LIFEbike regularly in downtown Toronto and am really encouraged by people’s interest in the bike. It is unfortunate that I can’t tell people where they can buy one… yet. Getting LIFEbikes out to stores is the first order of business. The LIFEbike is in its production and marketing stage. Initial funding has been secured to make this happen and the $10,000 from the Up-Start! Competition will go into the overall business development costs. Things are getting very busy for sure. The education I have received from all of the supportive people at MaRS has definitely been the catalyst for making Revelo Bikes a successful new business. There is a lot more I can share, but things are getting busy and I have places to go with my LIFE… er… LIFEbike.