By Kelsey Wagner
Eller Marketing ’12
Last fall, students John-Mark Bantock, Sam Ellis, Taylor Hedberg, and Lindsey Erlick traveled to Las Vegas to attend America’s largest bike trade show, Interbike, where they talked to hundreds of retailers and manufacturers to understand the electric bicycle industry. It was there that they zeroed in on a major problem: electric bike manufacturers were missing the mark on what customers wanted.
The team came up with the idea of letting people custom design their own “e-bikes” using the best components on the market. This idea soon became the basis of Velocis’s business plan, and what led them to victory at the annual McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship venture team showcase and competition.
Over the course of the year, the students completed secondary research, developed a business plan, and created pro-forma financials. They conducted over 100 interviews with retailers across the nation, established a fully operational supply chain with various suppliers, manufacturers, assemblers, painters, and retail partners, and tested it all out on a fully functioning prototype. They created a marketing plan and implemented a full social media campaign that positioned electric bikes as a cool, trendy way to commute, and ultimately pitched their venture to potential investors.
The process was no easy feat for the Velocis team. They faced obstacles such as the language and culture barriers surrounding their prototype, which was modeled after a Chinese product, and personal limitations — the need to sleep — that kept them from working around the clock.
The team attended its first public event, Cyclovia Tucson, in March. Cyclovia, general manager Bantock said, “reinforced the importance of customization to our business. By allowing customers to design and order their own bikes online through a ‘Build My Bike’ option, we help them create a product that perfectly fits their needs.”
This kind of research positioned them well to field questions from the judging panel at the year-end competition. “I think that what separated us was our attention to the real operations of the company,” said financial manager Ellis. “We could pitch ourselves as a fully-operational business instead of just a venture concept and I think that sat well with the judges.”
The group attributes their success to the McGuire experience. “Through the McGuire Center, you have access to funding for prototypes and market research, experienced proven entrepreneurs, an amazing website development team, a law team, and access to angel investors who will tell you exactly what your weak points are,” said Ellis. “If you put in the time and effort, McGuire can help you turn an idea into an actual fully operational company.”
And that is exactly what the Velocis team did: the company has already launched. Hedberg and Bantock plan to operate the company in Tucson. “We hope to grow the business to an exit in the next few years so we can start over again and become serial entrepreneurs!” Bantock said.