By Christina Williams
Sustainable Business Oregon
The Conscious Commuter bike is compact, electric and portable.
By this time next year, Conscious Commuter Corp. plans to be building its folding electric bikes in Portland and marketing them around the world.
The Portland-based company, which last week landed on the semifinalist list for The Cleantech Open, is the work of one experienced entrepreneur, Bob Vander Woude, and the idea that a fold-up, electric-assist bicycle could entice commuters out of their cars.
Vander Woude, who was running a small seed-stage investment fund in Portland when the economy turned sour, was toying with the idea of importing an electric bike from China when he happened upon some designs for a folding version by Gabriel Wartofsky, a graduate of the Art Center College of Design.
Vander Woude and Wartofsky joined forces and started working on a prototype, building Conscious Commuter around the idea that an American-made recycled aluminum bike would complement mass transportation systems around the country — solving the first-mile and last-mile conundrum of how to get commuters to main bus and train lines.
“It’s lightweight; it’s compact; it’s easy to fold,” Vander Woude said.
Last year Lux Research released a report pegging the market for two-wheel electric vehicles at $10.9 billion by 2015.
Despite its Cleantech Open nod, Vander Woude isn’t pinning Conscious Commuter’s hopes on venture capital. That isn’t to say he’ll continue to fund the startup from his own bank account, which he’s done to date.
When the prototype is finalized, Conscious Commuter will launch a Kickstarter campaign, raising money from individuals in exchange for special edition first-run bikes and other merchandise.
Corporate partnerships are also a possibility, Vander Woude said.
The company will work with a contractor in Portland to build the bikes, but the design work is happening in Southern California where Wartofsky is based.
The Art Center, which has a degree program in transportation design, has also signed on to help Conscious Commuter promote the bike. Geoff Wardle begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting, the school’s director of advanced mobility research, joined the company’s advisory board.
And Vander Woude wants to make sure there’s a sustainability story to tell about Conscious Commuter beyond the bike itself. He’s putting in place plans to ship bikes in no-waste containers and recycle old bikes into new ones.
“Even at trade shows we’re not printing any literature,” Vander Woude said. “When we need to, we give people thumb drives.”