ASU entrepreneurs light up bicycling world
Bike lights are getting a fresh new look with a little help from two ASU entrepreneurs and their start-up company, Cycle Lights.
Biomedical engineering junior Charles John and mechanical engineering senior LaVell Dishmon started their own company that sells a unique type of bike lights.
"It's like a vision come true, because when (the two of us) first started this, we said to ourselves, 'We are going to see people riding bikes around. We aren't going to know who they are, but we will know that's our product on their bike,'" Dishmon said.
John said Cycle Lights are colored light-emitting diodes that attach to the edge of bicycle tires, creating "a halo effect" when ridden.
He first had the idea several years ago, and he started working on a prototype in his garage.
"The first time I made it, I was in my garage, and I probably finished it at 4 in the morning," John said. "It turned on, and I was like, 'That's pretty cool.'"
With friends, and friends of friends, wanting the new bike upgrades, John decided to enter his prototype into the spring 2012 Maker Pitch competition — part of a week-long event hosted by the College of Innovation and Technology at the Polytechnic campus.
There, John met Dishmon, another interested customer.
"I wondered why more people didn't have (the bike lights), and I wondered how I could do it with him," Dishmon said.
After a successful competition, Dishmon contacted John trying to get the lights on his own bike, and the two soon began collaborating, John said.
"The next time he saw me, he brought a bunch of diagrams," John said. "Right then, I knew he was creative and excited. He was the person for it."
John had received plenty of business advice, but he said Dishmon brought new ideas that cemented the partnership.
"He totally changed the way I thought about Cycle Lights," John said.
The students began weighing the possibilities with Garret Westlake, their mentor and business adviser, before turning Cycle Lights into a business.
"(Westlake) is a bike guy," Dishmon said, "He hopped on board, and then he loved our idea actually more than we did."
Westlake said Cycle Lights creates a new bike riding atmosphere.
"Cycle Lights has tapped into that sense of childhood wonderment that only comes from the freedom of riding a bike," Westlake said.
Westlake said he worked with Dishmon and John to provide help and guidance in formalizing their business, because he saw the company's potential.
"There is no limit on what Cycle Lights can do in the future, because (John) and (Dishmon) combine strong design aesthetics with function and fun," Westlake said.
The next step was getting funding, which proved challenging.
After failing to win funding for their start-up at a business competition, John and Dishmon said they were forced to rethink their business plan.
"At that point, my idea was still to sell bike tires that have LED's embedded in them," John said. "The idea now is a retrofit, so anybody can put (the products) on their bikes."
With a new, more feasible idea, the team decided to actually start their business by funding it themselves. Together, they invested the necessary $5,000.
The duo began selling their products online and in bike shops last summer.
Since the summer, they have shipped their lights to Malaysia, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, the U.K., Belgium, Canada, Spain and many other countries, John said.
"A lot of those countries love bikes, and in Southeast Asia and South America, that is just the common method of transportation," John said. "Your bike is your car."
Because of the business's growth and expansion, Dishmon and John started developing more prototypes and plans, Dishmon said.
"The big plan is to turn this into a brand," Dishmon said, "Cycle Lights will actually be under a larger brand that does different modes of transportation."
As part of this big plan for Cycle Lights, John and Dishmon are collecting bikes to send to South Africa in conjunction with the owner of Bad Mother Cluckers, a local restaurant, Dishmon said.
"One of the owners of the restaurant is actually from South Africa, and he approached us with the idea," Dishmon said. "He explained how impactful a bicycle can be to a family in the community."
The students will collect new bikes, repair used ones and then personally distribute them to families in South Africa.
While Dishmon and John have been navigating the business world, they have kept up with work and school by relying on each other, Dishmon said.
Dishmon works as a sports official for intramural sports at the Polytechnic campus.
John tutors at Gateway Community College while keeping up with his biomedical engineering course load.
"It's about balance," Dishmon said. "Whenever he can't do something, I find time to do it. When I can't do something, I let him know, and he will find time to do it."
While Cycle Lights is a relatively new idea, both Dishmon and John have always enjoyed creating and selling, they said.
"We were closet entrepreneurs until now," John said.
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