Imagine this: you are on a beautiful bike ride, miles away from any sign of civilization – you may be a casual biker, or you belong to the bikepacking community (people who go on remote bike trips for days or weeks at a time). The essential devices that keep you safe and connected are in a dire state: a cell phone is on the verge of dying, lights are dead, your external battery pack is running low on juice. What do you do?
Staying charged is a common problem among cyclists, especially bikepackers. When Co-Founders Adam Hokin and Vishaal Mali launched PedalCell in 2015, a major part of their mission was to encourage sustainability by “getting more butts on bikes and less in cars.”
However, they observed the largest barrier for bicycle adoption was power. Unlike your office, home, or car, access to a continuous and stable power source is limited for cyclists. Cycling tech has boomed with connected and safety devices, such as Garmin navigators, dashcams that record near accidents, and advanced lights that can rival a car's high beams. Yet, these devices can run to 0% in a matter of hours. Battery packs are a limited solution for the problem due to their reliance on wall outlets, bulky dimensions, and limited outdoor lifespan. Furthermore, old-fashioned generators, known as "bicycle dynamos," had price tags over $600, required professional install, and had low power output, with a full-charge time of over 9 hours for an iPhone.
As with all cutting-edge ideas, challenges exist. For PedalCell, the main challenge was developing a brand-new product with no reference designs. They assembled a team of expert product developers and lawyers to take PedalCell from concept to reality. This allowed them to reach the point where the technology was in place for them to seek - and implement- feedback from product testers, industry experts, and successfully file one patent.
The larger part of the bikepacking market is located in Europe, Canada, and Australia. And, with COVID-19 in the mix, bike sales in this segment grew by 144% due to more people seeking safe and fun ways to exercise. With such an excellent market opportunity, the team needed to go through steps to optimize their processes for mass production and ensure their intellectual property was protected. This meant optimizing cost of goods sold, sourcing suppliers, tasking new components to make sure they are scalable, and filing more patents.
PedalCell learned about the IMEC Illinois Manufacturing Innovation Voucher program and applied in January 2020 for a multifaceted project centered around intellectual property and product development.
The IMEC program was perfectly timed for Hokin and his team. PedalCell qualified and was matched with $25,000 to help move the needle on their product launch. Much to the team’s satisfaction, they were able to secure the capital needed for three additional patents, personnel to test equipment and fixtures, and ultimately manufacture and launch the product. “The Innovation Voucher allowed us to move forward in our decision and made our company more appealing to investors. We have raised capital before and had 1 patent pending. Since working with IMEC, we now have 4 patents with one granted and 3 others pending. The program catalyzed our success.” Said Hokin.
How exactly does this innovative product work? PedalCell consists of a custom generator that harnesses energy from the bicycle wheel as it rotates, converting it into an electrical charge. Riders plug their devices into the 2X USB ports on the accompanying Smart Power Hub. The Smart Power Hub contains patented CadenceX technology, which stabilizes power output at varying ride speeds. PedalCell’s outdoor lifespan is over 10X of any portable battery pack and has up to 4X the charging performance of any bicycle dynamo generator. The device is easily transferable between bikes and is optimized with over 10 weather-resistant seals. PedalCell ensures that bikers stay safe and connected by powering their essential devices.
The entire project was a positive experience for all involved. Despite COVID-19 throwing a wrench in the original timeline to launch, the company still accomplished its goals and gained efficiencies in their project management along the way. Square One Product Development and K&L Gates LLP were the key service providers used by PedalCell. In addition, the IMEC team of experts provided guidance on maximizing value from funding and the PedalCell team appreciated this approach. “There’s something to be said about a program that commits you to plan how the funds will be dispersed over a set timeline with a clear end-goal. This program made sense as we are hyper-focused on one product line. I would recommend any hardware-related company in Illinois to take a look at the programs and services that IMEC offers and to innovation. This program was a huge success for us and I look forward to working with them in the future.”
- Launched new product in domestic and international markets
- Significant reduction in cost of goods sold
- Product compatibility improved by 50% in terms of bike designs
- Filed 4 aggregate patents
- Doubled market potential by having patent filed for international protection
Not only is PedalCell focused on continuing to get their groundbreaking product on the market, but they are doing their part in contributing to our State’s economic well-being. PedalCell sources their components from around the world, but they manufacture and assemble the product in Illinois. Hokin believes, “It’s important to find more ways to manufacture products with a local value chain in-mind. We utilize nearly half a dozen providers in the state to deliver our product to our global customer base. Illinois manufacturing provides a ton of control and logistic advantages compared to overseas production. Of course, this is in addition to our goals to give back to our local community.”
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