Bike sharing is an old concept, yet one that is currently enjoying quite the surge in popularity; more active and eco-friendly modes of transport are enjoying something of a renaissance. Unicorn Electrics, a young company comprised of students and recent graduates from City, University of London, have seen an opportunity for development and innovation in this market and in doing so have won the judges over with their vision and invention in the University’s annual City Spark awards.
Engineers in Business
CitySpark is a competition that celebrates and supports student’s business ideas and ventures. Entrants are rewarded for their problem-solving abilities, identification of genuine gaps in the market or consumer need, and the successful conception and building of new start-ups. CitySpark offers an invaluable springboard into the world of business and entrepreneurship. The ‘Engineers in Business Competition Fund’ contributed £3,000 to the University in the hope that engineering talent is encouraged to participate. As a response, CitySpark now has an engineer-specific prize fund, awarded to the group with both the best engineering innovation and a great business plan to boot. This prize is known as the MakerSpark prize, which runs under the CitySpark banner.
As well as the generous monetary award from Engineers in Business (EIB), the winning team is also offered an experienced Sainsbury Management Fellow mentor for guidance and support. On top of this, the team winners are also invited to networking events at institutions such as the Royal Academy of Engineering. A combination of engineering and business skills are still widely underestimated and under-recognised in the workplace, meaning that much talent still goes unseen and unfulfilled. This is why the EIB puts a lot of energy into promoting competitions such as these, and their winners, in order to showcase the brilliance available and highlight the value of engineering innovation and entrepreneurship.
And so to this year’s MakerSpark Engineers in Business winner – Unicorn Electrics. This start-up comprises of four founding members, Ludovico Tessari (BSc Management), Omer Tariq (BSc Management), Anxhelo Zylyftari (MEng Aeronautical Engineering) and Lorenzo Batignani (Meng Mechanical Engineering). Their idea was forged upon two sets of statistics. One shows an exponential increase in cities with bicycle sharing systems between the year 2001 and 2014; from 4 to nearly 900 cities in 13 years. The other piece of data shows the current size of the global electric bicycle market is nearly $16 billion. This size is set to expand to around $25 billion by 2025.
The Unicorn Electric team has used this information to create a hybrid to fill the market gap. They have designed and built a lightweight, durable and long-lasting electric bicycle, with a charging station and full-service package included as part of the sellable service. Called E-Mobility, the bike system has wide applications and will be targeted at the private and B2C (hotels, resorts, residential developments) sectors as well as university campuses and the corporate sector.
Unicorn Electric aims to increase excitement about, and use of, low emission transportation, remove the hassle of actually owning a bicycle and to make cycling both easier and more accessible as a leisure activity. Not only is their product exceptional, their business plan solid, and their projections impressive, but their endeavour encapsulates everything that the MakerSpark Engineers in Business award aims to promote. It is recognisable yet innovative, simple yet complex, obvious yet unique. E-Mobility Bike is both forward-thinking and still manages to be at the crest of the wave of what is currently popular and on trend; just ahead of the curve.
How Unicorn Electric Got There?
So, how did this team get together? How did the University and this competition support them to bring this concept to fruition? Well, Ludovico and Omer met on their course and immediately found common ground through their shared entrepreneurial mindset. They workshopped many business ideas and marketable products before landing on the electrical bicycle idea. Ludovico met Anxhelo and Lorenzo at a networking event put on by the University. They got talking about the concept and were immediately enthused; offering ideas, improvements and features not yet considered. Inspired by this, and struck by the idea that they could have their very own engineers on board; Ludovico formed the team of four.
Business had always been a passion for Ludovico. Like many young entrepreneurs, he began selling his wares at school, in his case selling branded hoodies. Because of this thirst for business, Unicorn Electrics already had an element of experience and a little funding behind it. Ludovico managed to give the business the kick-start it needed through funds from previous e-commerce ventures. Anxelo and Lorenzo also had business backgrounds, having been involved in various app-launches. Already a strong and knowledgeable team which built on these foundations
As a result of winning the MakerSpark Engineers in Business prize and the various experiences and mentorships they have had, the E-Mobility Bike venture has gone from strength to strength. Despite their obvious flare and significant experience for their age, the team state that they have taken away a lot from the process of the competition and learnt some big lessons that they will never forget. Here are their most significant takeaways, as stated by Ludovico for the team:
- Always have a can-do attitude. When developing something new, it’s easy to stop doing something with the fear that it has never been done before. We learned to stop having invisible walls when creating something and developed innovative ideas to solve problems.
- Execution matters. Always having new ideas is great, but if not properly executed, they’re useless.
- Never stop learning. Being lazy is not an option when working in an innovative company.
What Is Next for Unicorn Electrics?
The company has just completed the prototype E-Mobility Bike. At this point, they are making minor adjustments to the product. They are in talks with a residential development company in East London which is extremely interested in serving as a pilot client. Unicorn Electric also aims to develop other bikes and upgrade the system in years’ to come. The company is on its way to some real commercial success, and its founders have no intention of stopping any time soon.
Without the University’s MakerSpark competition it is unlikely, even with the team’s passion, that this venture would be taking off with nearly as much velocity as it is! Ludovico said, “The support and mentoring offered is priceless, and the visibility and validation that comes as part of the competition’s visibility is aiding the successful acquisition of clients and fast company growth considerably. Awards and programmes such as this are an essential platform for young engineering and entrepreneurial talent.”
Alex Elkins, Head of Entrepreneurship at City, is really excited to see where Unicorn Electrics goes from here. The company is just one of the many extraordinary ideas that were competing for the award. ‘The launch of the MakerSpark Award has galvanised an impressive jump in both the quality and number of business ideas entered by our engineering students’ Alex says. “The EIB support has been instrumental in launching this award, we are very happy to have had the opportunity to establish this partnership and we are eager to see who will be the winners this year!”
Find out more about Engineers in Business competition funding for universities and FE colleges.