Category Archives: Product Development

Mass Innovation Nights

The Freedom Cycle was one of eleven featured products at Mass Innovation Nights (MIN) this past Tuesday, November 12. MIN is a monthly event designed to help local innovators increase the buzz around new products and companies. This month’s event was at GameOn in Boston, MA (right next to Fenway) and it featured companies that are all about fun and games. It was the 56th event for MIN but was our first time attending. The turn out was great and we were thrilled with the experience.

We showed up to the event early to get a prime location to setup the Freedom Cycle. Never having attended one of these events, we were unsure what to expect. The results were fantastic with a great turnout and lots of folks interested in the Freedom Cycle and what we are doing. We had all different types of people with varying interests; some were entrepreneurs, some were angel investors, designers, and potential customers. Overall, we walked away with new contacts that want to provide more exposure for FREE, a couple interested investors (which was not at all expected), great input from younger bike riders intrigued by our new design,  and a potential sale. Needless to say, this was one of the most successful events we’ve attended thus far.

We’d like to extend a personal thank you to Bobbie Carlton and her team for making this event possible and inviting us to participate!

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The Value of Free Labor

When building a business on a very limited budget, free labor is absolutely invaluable. Why pay for something when you can get it for free, right? While most people think that a free version can’t possibly be as good as the $100 version which can’t be as good as the $1,000 version, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the free version is every bit as good, if not better.

A great example of this is unpaid interns. While there are plenty of students who intern solely to have a job to put on their résumés, there are also some really great ones that are eager to help and learn whatever they can. We recently had a great experience working with business students at Westfield State University.

For the past 18 months, we had been trying to come up with a really great name for our new adult tricycle. We held numerous brainstorming sessions in-house and didn’t come with up with anything we really liked. We came up with a few good options, but none that really “wowed” us. After several attempts involving different people connected to the company, we decided maybe it was time to bring in a professional. We looked into a variety of naming companies and the cheapest one we found was going to cost a minimum of $10,000; and they wouldn’t even guarantee our satisfaction. This was simply not an option with our limited budget. So we tried a few more brainstorming sessions and still came up short. After contemplating it for a while, we decided that we needed to bring in a fresh perspective; people who had no knowledge of the company or product and therefore had a completely unbiased opinion. We reached out to the marketing and business clubs at Westfield State University and they were eager to help. The professors thought it would be a great opportunity for the students to get some real world experience and the free labor fell perfectly within our budget.

Going to the school for the focus group, we were skeptical as to what the session might bring; we weren’t sure if we would get anything valuable out of it or if it was going to be a waste of time. The meeting started out slow and quiet but once they got going, several of the students got really into it. Not only were they throwing out tons of names, but they were eager to suggest add-ons, accessories, and future models too. Some of the ideas they were producing were inline with ours but they also came up with several new names that hadn’t occurred to us. While we didn’t find that one name that really stands out as THE name for our trike, we have a much more solid list of names we like and also a list of commercial ideas, slogans, and future products. Overall, it was a great experience that was well worth our time and the students were very grateful to be given an opportunity to work with a real company. We may have also found a couple future employees.

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Patent Accepted!

After more than year of waiting, we finally received the notice that our design patent for our new adult tricycle was accepted!

The process of getting a patent is long and tedious but definitely worth it because it protects your product and business. We went through three rounds of submissions, changing minor details each time, to get it to the point where it was “acceptable.” When we submitted the application in July of 2010 we never expected that we would have to make changes to the drawings. We had a professional patent drafting company create the eight figures for the original application and even with their help, the patent office still found discrepancies in them.

When we received the first notification that revisions needed to be made, we were overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. We had 90 days to make revisions and we spent the first 60 contemplating how we were going to tackle the problem. After a lot of thought, we finally decided that we would do the revisions in house instead of going back to the patent drafting company.  The drawings for a design patent are simple line drawings and we decided that we had the capability to make the adjustments. We spent many hours editing the smallest details to the point where we felt that all of the images matched one another (so you can imagine the disappointment when we received the next rejection notification).

The second notification came and stated that we had corrected one problem, but in our attempt to correct the second problem we introduced “new matter” (which you cannot do in the middle of an application). During the second set of revisions we were much smarter and had a better understanding of how to adjust the images to make them acceptable. We also got a little bit wiser and faxed our revised drawings to our patent examiner to have her “informally” review them and let us know if our changes were appropriate. Once we got a verbal okay from her, we formally submitted the drawings for the third time. Alas, our drawings were accepted (third time’s a charm)!

My advice to anyone applying for (or revising) a patent is to use the help available to you. Perhaps if we had contacted our patent examiner (who was extremely helpful, thanks Linda!) the first time we were rejected we could have avoided the the subsequent round of revisions.

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Interbike 2011

Last week we attended Interbike, the leading bicycle industry business-to-business event. After a less than satisfying experience at a bike show in NY earlier this year, we were very hesitant to spend the money to travel all the way from western MA to Las Vegas for an event that we knew very little about.  After talking to people that had attended in the past, we decided we should at least go once and see what it was all about. And to our surprise, the event ended up being very beneficial.

The exhibit hall was huge. Almost overwhelming the first day we walked in. There were hundreds of companies to see and people to talk to. We met with people from NuVinci, Shimano, SRAM, SBS, Gates, and many more. Some were people we had been talking to over the phone for months; others were new people that we hope to build a relationship with. All of these people had something to bring to the table. They provided insight into the industry that you can only gain through experience and offered advice to guide us as we launch our company. After attending the exhibition, we have better sources for components and a better understanding of the industry as a whole.

In addition to the enormous exhibit hall full of bicycle-related companies, there were several seminars to attend and new products to test out. Most of the seminars we attended were very informative. The two most beneficial ones were Online Marketing and the Bicycle Industry Overview. The industry overview gave us a clear idea of where the market is going (which fits directly in line with our product) and how a company needs to position itself to be successful.

Overall, the show was definitely a success. We met some great people and got a lot of encouraging feedback on our new tricycle.

While research is important, firsthand experience is ten times more valuable than what you can learn online or from a book. We look forward to having our trike on display at one of our vendors next year!

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2011 Final Trike Design

After more than 6 months worth of engineering and aesthetic changes, the design of our adult tricycle is finally complete. We are excited to release the new images and are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our demonstration prototype. We have been anticipating this moment since mid-March but as mentioned in an early post, Rome was NOT Built in Day, everything takes longer than expected.  Now that the design work is completed, we are about 8 weeks away from getting the real thing. Once we have the completed trike, we will be holding an open house in our Westfield, MA facility to introduce the vehicle to the public and let people ride it. Stay tuned!

To see the evolution of the tricycle over that last 8 years, check out the post Our Story.

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Our Story

Whenever we meet new acquaintances here at AEC, one question that everyone asks us is how and why we came up with the idea to design and build a new adult trike. So here’s the story:

Gary Webster owns an engineering company in Westfield, MA called Berkshire Group, Ltd. He started the company in 1987 and has been providing robots and automation systems to Fortune 500 companies ever since. Each project that the company builds provides a unique solution for a specific problem. Over the years, Gary has watched as several of his customers moved their manufacturing operations offshore; gradually decreasing the available work for Berkshire Group. In 2003, he decided that in order for the company to continue its success, he needed to come up with a product that the company could build over and over again using its engineering expertise.

In order to come up with a product to design, Gary and his staff held brainstorming sessions where ideas from converting cars to electric to home energy surveys arose. Altogether there were about 26 ideas that reflected the energy crisis, rising gas prices, the aging of America and the decreasing number of manufacturing companies. After establishing a variety of  possible products and services, four criteria helped to narrow the list down: 1) there must be a clearly defined target market (like the baby boomers), 2) the product needs to be unique and premium quality, 3) the product needs to benefit from Berkshire Group’s engineering experience and 4) the product must be “cool” and beneficial to use. This narrowed the list down from 26 to 2.

After weighing these two options, Gary moved forward with the AEC trike because it met both his business and personal goals. Starting AEC meant establishing a new American manufacturing company and creating a product for active older adults. Gary and his wife (who are baby boomers) were avid bike riders for many years but after a while, it became obvious that the bikes were uncomfortable, unstable and difficult to get on and off. Designing the AEC trike became personal and not just business. This also gave him a head start on the design, already knowing many of the issues baby boomers experience when riding a traditional bike. Although there are many adult tricycles already on the market, the majority of them are either giant versions of a toddler tricycles or electric scooters for the elderly.Evolution of AEC Tricycle

After settling on the trike, Gary began working on the product’s development in his spare time. He wanted the trike to be robust, comfortable, easy to get on and off, stable and most important, stylish. After working out the details of the mechanics, he hired a graphic artist to design the image of the trike that existed only in his head. The style of the trike was inspired by the Bugattis and other high-end cars from the 1930s and 40s. Thus the first AEC trike was born.

Once the product was designed, Gary hired me in January 2010 to join the AEC team and conduct research to determine market potential. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw how vast the bicycle market is in the US alone. Everything I found indicated that this was a solid product to move forward with. In July of 2010 we filed a design patent for the trike and have since been working to get the business started. The design of the trike has evolved over the last 18 months and is almost ready for production. We are currently building the final prototype and working out the mechanical issues.  We expect the trike to be finalized in the next few months, so stay tuned for the release of the final design and pictures of the first actual trike.

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