The fun part is over and now Michael Uhlarik is finally immersed in unknown territory: thebusiness of selling his electric bike invention.
Although the Suru is a hybrid, part motorcycle, part bicycle, he’s well aware that those riders won’t be lining up for his product.
“Both of them will hate it,” he said with a laugh during a phone conversation from his Hubbards home/workshop on Monday. “Bicyclists are a purist sort, generally speaking. They won’t give their bike up for anything. Motorcyclists will say, ‘What, it’s top speed is only 33 kilometres an hour? No way.
“But that’s not who we’re zeroing in on. Someone who drives a Suru is a person who lives in a city that drives a car everywhere and sometimes pointlessly.
“In a Halifax context, if you live in the north end, there’s nowhere your Suru can’t take you. You want to see a movie in Bayers Lake, hop on your Suru and go and you’ll get there quicker than in your car.”
It’s been three years in the making for the father of two to get here. The man who invented the Amarok, the first electric racing motorcycle, is a month in to what he calls the hardest part of the venture.
“The innovation comes easy, that’s what I do. Making it wasn’t a huge issue. It took less than 10 days to raise the initial money we needed.
“I have to sell it now and I have to find peoplewho want it. For people like me who have spent
their lives devoted to research and design, this is not what we were meant to do. Business development and sales, these are strange parallel universes. How do I introduce it to as many people as possible?”
Winning the $50,000 Spark Innovation Challenge by coming out on top of a field of 136 Nova Scotia startups earlier this month, has helped. The Innovacorp and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency partnership has essentially replenished his company’s dwindling bank account and opened up new potential markets.
“It’s basically pushed us ahead a year. But we’re gradually getting more media, building a head of steam.”
His team of four partners will be relocating to a new production location in Dartmouth. Though people can order a bike that retails at $3,900 from their webpage, Suru will manufacture in bulk with an immediate capacity to build five to 10 bikes a week. That means their focus for now is marketing to municipalities and bike-tour operations.
“E-bikes are the fastest growing transportation in the world. It’s a tough, stylish bike, no welding went into it at all. It’s a perfect answer to city congestion. It’s also an environmentally friendly vehicle that gives city people the ease and affordability to make local trips at a reasonable cost.”
His goals are realistic. He’ll be hitting the road soon to attend various trade shows across the country.
“Call me in a month. Ask me then what my sales targets are.
“But ultimately I want to build something I canpass on to my kids. Build
a manufacturing business in Nova Scotia. The world needs reliable, smart transportation.”