Henry Chong rode into start his pitch on the electric bike of his design and left the competition with a $10,000 cheque in his back pocket.
The founder and president of Revelo LIFEbike was the winner of the 2012 Up-Start! Competition hosted by MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. He walked away with the grand prize after convincing a panel of four judges his ultra-portable electric bike design was the most viable business model in a 10 minute presentation. Chong was competing against nine other technology or social innovation startups that had completed MaRS’ Entrepreneurship 101 program.
“I knew from competitions I’d done before that it was important to make a splash,” Chong says about his stunt. “It was the right type of product to do something like that with.”
The LIFE in LIFEbike is for lightweight, intelligent, flexible, and electric. Its design features a low centre of gravity that provides safety and agility. At just 15 kg, its easy for most people to pick up and carry around. The design of a larger front wheel and a smaller back wheel makes it portable enough to store in a car, or bring inside the office.
A full charge of electricity will transport the rider 30 KM, at a top speed of just over 30 km/h. The rider can pedal, or ride the bike like a scooter and let the electric motor do the work. One competition judge said he’d want to buy one.
“What attracted me was its portability,” says William Brown, an advisor with MaRS. “It’s a compelling product in a city that is pretty focused on transportation right now.”
The pitches were evaluated based on their demonstration of competitive differentiation and intellectual capital. The startups had to demonstrate a sustainable business model and market awareness. In the end, it was tough to pick a winner, Brown says. But Chong came out on top because of his awareness of his intended market. The competition shows how important it is for entrepreneurs to hone their pitch to investors and customers.
“As soon as an investor decides its not for them, they’ll shut it down,” Brown says. “You need to have it extremely tight to hold their attention and deal with their concerns.”
The 10 finalists were whittled down from a field of 30 startups taking Entrepreneurship 101’s free 30 week program. The businesses had to submit an executive summary and do an hour-long interview with judges to make the cut.
The Upstart competition serves as the capstone to the program, says Keri Damen, director of entrepreneurship education at MaRS.
“What’s really great about this competition is to see the growth of the companies, over the whole year, but especially after three months of working with advisors,” she says. “What we want is to take really smart technology entrepreneurs… and get them to communicate that technology in a clear and simple way that matters to the investor or the customer.”
Chong discovered the MaRS program through a newspaper advertisement. The program helped him take his idea and understand what to do with it in the business eco-system, he says. With the $10,000 prize, LIFEbike will put it towards its overall fund to get through the first phase of their business plan – finding distribution partners and meeting with bike manufacturers.
“It’s the whole idea of sticking with things and getting people to help,” Chong says. “Just ride that steam and get people to push you along.”
Other businesses that made pitches at the competition include:
- Chematria, a software firm that aims to help pharmaceutical companies determine what molecules could potentially lead to better drugs.
- Epiloger, a Web-based events software that groups together social media content releated to an event and creates one online home for it.
- Lumasonix, which is developing a non-invasive method to detect breast cancer using BiBi, a camera that uses regular light to capture diagnostic information.
- FlyerFlo, an app for the iPad that will let consumers browse through flyers from their favourite stores and deliver metrics to the retailers.