It is usually around Christmas time when overburdened delivery companies make headlines leaving customers worried about if their Christmas presents will make it in time. This is so to speak only the culmination of an urban traffic problem that cities are facing worldwide.
If traffic congestion and pollution are on the increase, so are consumer expectations. We have become used to having just about anything delivered to our doorsteps within hours. Sustainable traffic models are challenged to do justice to trends like increasing e-commerce and home delivery while at the same time integrating eco-friendly modes of transport. In this attempt to make cities greener we have seen politicians resorting to van curfews and diesel bans or investments in cycle route nets.
Starke Cycles is a start-up from Skåne that is working on increasing the flexibility and speed within the delivery branch in an environment-friendly way. Their electronic king size container bikes are battery driven, light-weight and equipped with a cloud- based IoT system, that enables the driver to track deliveries and choose the quickest route. What the founders fondly call their workhorse is not only a solution to last-mile delivery, it can also be your local food truck, coffee stand or taxi.
I meet the team on a sunny Friday afternoon in their workshop, located in central Malmö. Staffan, the co-founder gives me a tour through their quarters and patiently explains the newest changes in their prototype. I am also introduced to Johan, inventor and chief designer of Starke Cycles and his son Nils, the designer of the team. The founders have previously built up MOVEBYBiKE, an e-bike solution that is successfully running in many swedish cities, among others Malmö and Stockholm.
How did the decision to found Starke come about?
Johan: We already knew four years ago that we have to have a better E-bike. And we knew that it would have to be big. And we knew that this kind of bike was not on the market yet. Small bikes did exist, there were not many maybe but definitely a few. We might not have known 4 years ago that we would actually do this, but we definitely knew someone would need to do it.
Staffan: And already 4 years ago people were calling us at MOVEBYBiKE, asking: “Can I buy this? Exactly like the green bikes that you are using?” There are only five of them today I think less than ten were build. And they cannot be build any more. We realized people want to buy them because they like what they see. They like the applications, the children’s bus for example. And that was an important factor that made us decide to found Starke.
How would you say you distinguish yourself from other delivery bikes on the market?
Johan: Oh, come on its Friday afternoon… (laughter).
Staffan: Well, we are the biggest electric bike, we have the strongest motor of electric cargo bikes and we have a unique loading – unloading solution, which makes the unloading and loading very quick. The others, some of them use small containers but they cannot unload them without any extra equipment. They need special rails or special installations on the truck bringing loaded containers. In contrast to vans and cars, our bikes can use bike lanes and pathways, which also speeds up the delivery process. Also, the energy consumption of our e-bikes makes up less than 10% of an electric van.
Johan: But we also have – I can’t say we have the most because that is a strange word- but we have a lot of experience. We started early with MOVEBYBiKE and we became big in many perspectives. And everything we have been talking about stands upon the experience of MOVEBYBiKE. We have been among the first to use big bikes for transports.
Staffan: Most of the competitors, they are strictly factories, producing vehicles and they have to ask their customers was this good, was this bad? But we can ask our sister company [MOVEBYBiKE], we base it on our own experience.
Johan: Vi är bäst, alltså.
Staffan: Ja vi är bäst...(laughter).
What are your main challenges right now? What are you working on?
Staffan: I would say the type approval. We need to have a production ready prototype, that we can then send to Germany for testing and we need to have all the documentation correct that proves that this vehicle is according to the EU standards. And that is a big challenge because right now we are on the first, second, maybe the third or fourth prototypes which are coming in a few weeks. But they are still prototypes, we need to move one more step ahead of that to get the production ready vehicle, because there are still things in the design that we haven’t solved. That’s what I would say.
How does it feel to be founders?
Johan: Right now, its ok. Depends on when you are asking (smiles).
Staffan: Challenging. But both Johan and I have been in different businesses before; self- employed and taking risks in various way, so we feel quite confident.
You say that the king size container bike is a solution for e-commerce. Will the bike only transport things that are bought online?
Staffan: No. its already today so that a lot of things are bought differently. It’s not only e-commerce. But e –commerce is a growing problem.
Johan: MOVEBYBiKE for example also transports waste and garbage.
Staffan: Or hot food to school kids.
Johan: Yeah that’s close to garbage...(laughter).
What do you value about the FTMO accelerator?
Staffan: I think it’s nice to meet investors on a regular basis regardless if they invest or not. It’s good to hear what they tell, what they think about us and what questions they ask us.
Heidi and Joel give us a great deal of education and a structured programme. And then it’s also very valuable to hear other founder’s stories, both those who have succeeded and/ or have been there were most of us in the program are. And then there is the investment we get of course and the chance to pitch at Demo Day.
I would also say that the contact with the other start-ups in the team is very important. Because one sees how they go about things and what they are doing. And even though we are in different branches, some things can be compared because we are in a similar situation.