Nick Wong and Daniel Wendleck, members of the second cohort at URBAN-X, develop transportation equipment for on-demand and neighborhood-scale deliveries in cities. Its human-electric cargo tricycles move like a bicycle with the cargo capacity of a car, and have the ability to deliver a quarter ton of goods 20 miles on a single charge. Nick, who co-founded the company in 2017, talks about the origins and ambitions of Upcycles.
What inspired you to start Upcycles?
Moving bulky things throughout NYC, like water and soil and wanting to use bikes to do it pushed us to come up with an innovative solution. We were also driven by our interest in hacking technology and infrastructure to improve cities.
As products offered to the market have not fundamentally changed since the 1960s, we believed there was an opportunity to leverage the emerging properties of nanofibers, recent advancements in battery technologies and advanced computer modeling to create a new solution for those at risk of air pollution
What is your main mission?
Upcycle’s mission is to boost human labor to create healthier life and work in cities. We want to establish the trike as a platform for urban life and work and we’ve started by developing tools for nex tgeneration urban-logistics.
How did being part of the URBAN-X ecosystem help you to grow and develop your initial idea/product and deal with the roadblocks you have faced so far?
URBAN-X brought us potential partnerships that went beyond developing personal relationships. The accelerator’s team of experts in residence also helped us foster mentorship relationships that will extend beyond the program, support and guidance, especially well-needed functions of communications, marketing and business methods. Finally, the program built community support that extends into the Greenpoint neighborhood through URBAN-X and A/D/O outreach.
What’s next for Upcycles?
We are currently using our two trikes to build a local delivery service operated by an independent bike messenger who we’re partnered with. The question is: can a single operator create a meaningful business using one of our trikes. We are using this for product-market validation, while doing basic development and refinement to trikes, servicing, and sales. The next major steps will then be to work with bike messenger fleets, and then delivery platforms to reach a larger market and geographical area.
OUR HUMANISTIC STANCE STRONGLY RESONATES WITH OUR AUDIENCE AND WE WILL FOREVER HOLD IT AT THE CORE OF OUR BRAND.
—Nick Wong, Co-Founder of Upcycles
What are the main risks you are facing in the future and how can they be mitigated?
Some of the question we are asking ourselves right now are the following: in a hot and shifting market, are we building the right product at the right time? Can we sell consistently? How can we scale up effectively? How can we deal with regulatory risks? How can we fend off copycats and competition (from e-bikes to AVs)? In-depth market research, proximity and strong collaboration with end users, validated learning methodology, credibility and the development of marketing systems/assets are permitting us to mitigate market risks. Awesome servicing, internal testing, careful selection and training of early users fend off product risks. Aware, active and connected to city transportation policy as well as strong brand positioning and leadership in the next-gen professional urban deliveries segment will significantly help us deal with regulatory and competitive risks.
While a lot of innovators in the deliveries market seem to be focusing on drones and autonomous vehicles, you are clearly putting humanity back into technology – why did you decide to do so and what is Upcycle’s advantage over its more tech focused competitors?
Good question. This was an existential question for us and we spent a lot of time researching, debating, and planning for this during the URBAN-X program.
We started developing our trikes before self-driving cars dominated popular attention and it’s just one of the many trends that we see ourselves playing into (growth in bike infrastructure, electrification, etc). We’ve always taken a more critical view of how cities, people, and technology inter-operate. And many of the real problems in cities can’t be solved just through tech. In the context of autonomous ground vehicles (“AGVs”), we are decidedly human-centered because we believe it leads to a more pragmatic, incremental approach to deployment of self-driving technology on city streets. Our trikes can be a “bridge-technology.”
As self-driving tech becomes more accessible and commoditized, we can be in a unique position to adapt it into our system. We are certainly interested and curious about the possibilities for novel human-machine interaction design that combine automation tech with a deep understanding of human-centered design.