Road transport makes up ¼ of Europe’s emissions and continues to rise. Cycling is a low-carbon and cost effective solution to emission and congestion problems in cities. TfL’s cycling analysis has predicted that 63% of car journeys can switch to bikes…so why is it that only about 3% of the UK cycle.
It’s actually not that cycling is unsafe, statistics have shown that cycling in cities such as London is nearly as safe as walking. The problem is that cycling doesn’t look or feel safe. Whilst collisions are rare, jam-packed traffic grids have never been the friendliest place for cyclists. A Near Miss Study conducted in 2015 by Rachel Aldred indicates that on average, a UK cycle commuter experiences 450 near misses per year.
The hostile road environment in cities and a combination of near miss encounters prevent people from getting on bikes or choosing cycling as their first choice of transport. A mature cycle infrastructure (such as the Dutch cycle infrastructure) is an obvious way to increase uptake, but these plans are often slow with targets misaligned. The use of current existing cycling road data on the market gives an overview of the problem areas but require leap-of-faith inference and assumption on specific incidents.
Focused on the elimination of dangerous near misses and close passes, Onsee’s REBO uses IoT sensors, self-learning technology, and video analysis on bikes to improve the quality, robustness, and usability of spatial road incident data captured.
REBO is a cyclist near miss prevention dashcam that not only actively prevents near misses on road journeys through behavioural change but also allows cyclists to capture dangerous incident details (video footage, plate numbers, time, date, location, and more) with just a click of the handlebar button.
REBO makes it easier for cyclists to record dangerous cycling incidents and problems on the road before they’re forgotten, increasing the availability of incident data, thus generating more and quality early warning (pre-collision) information and robust video data of specific incidents to allow authorities and stakeholders to prioritise challenge areas.
Where did the idea originate?
It wasn’t so much that we originated from one idea, but we had a singular problem to act as the north star to our idea search. We really felt the problem when we both got back to cycling when we started our MBA at Imperial. It wasn’t a pleasant experience in London – scary close passes, near hooks kept accumulating. We found a lot of companies on the market solved the problem in the wrong way: making cyclists brighter, having better safety equipment, which didn’t fix the root problem of unsafe driver cyclist behaviours.In our customer discovery process we spoke to over 200 cyclists: we went undercover at cycling lessons, rode at cycle protests, interviewed cycle camera “vigilantes”. A solution that stood out was people using cameras to submit near miss videos to authorities.
However, what came up over and over again was complaints about how time consuming, difficult, and not user friendly the whole process was. By talking to the authorities, who also struggled with lacking intelligence on cyclist safety, we designed REBO to optimise the rapid feedback loop of cyclists having near misses to authorities solving those issues, whether it be by infrastructure or behavioural fixes.
Was your business inspired by a major global challenge/industry need that you were exposed to because of your education/research at Imperial?
Climate change was the most pressing issue we came across on our MBA at Imperial. What really astonished us was the glacial pace at which existing market and political forces were mitigating or adapting to climate change. In the context of cities, we analysed case studies in electric vehicles, hyperloops, hydrogen refuelling, and while on the surface those solutions sound great, in the details they are terrible – capital intensive, slow, complex. On our Sustainability elective we were inspired by a London company called Mercato Metropolitano – the key learning was using resources right in front of you; in Mercato’s case, using regeneration sites, local farmers, rooftop space for growing produce. If you apply this to city transportation, the solution is clear: travel by bikes is already clean, efficient and fast. All it needs is for us to give the travel-by-bike solution a boost, and this is exactly what we’re doing with REBO.
How did your team meet?
Crispian and Liz met during their MBA year at Imperial College Business School.Having worked on various projects together for a year on the same syndicate team, we found a common passion in sustainable transport. Together we echoed the same sentiment: there really is nothing quite like cycling across London – you get to see how every part of the city connects to each other and move around quickly and efficiently. Not to mention, an increase in cycling can decrease traffic congestion and vehicle emissions and create healthier and cleaner cities. From our first hand experience and speaking to the people around us, we realised that our vision of cycle cities across the world will not come to life until we have tackled the safety barrier stopping people from getting on bikes.
Do you have any advisers?
We have wonderful advisors we met through the Imperial Venture Mentoring Service. Each with specialised backgrounds and experiences to assist us when we required different expertise. It was especially useful to speak to our advisor when we were closing our pre-seed round and during different phases of our product development. We also have other brilliant advisors we have met through EIT’s Climate-KIC accelerator as well as individuals from government organisations who are interested in our innovation who have been extremely helpful in guiding us during our development.
What stage is the business at and what are your plans moving forward?
We’ve successfully developed our flagship product REBO to an operationally viable level and collected a substantial data set from our prototype trials. We have just launched another pilot with the Government of Jersey and will be launching one in London. We are now on a Geospatial Commission and Innovate UK funded grant to further develop capabilities to automatically identify and analyse cycling near misses using our device’s video footage and data. This will produce near miss insights and actionable feedback for local authorities and will allow them to easily understand, prioritise, and implement Active Travel action plans faster and more efficiently. We plan to launch the data platform later this year as well as a consumer version of our bike light/dashcam soon.
Are you raising funding, what is your fundraising target and what will you use the funds for?
We are pleased to have been awarded several government grants and raised a smaller pre-seed round with a transport organisation up until now. However, as demand for our product from cycle couriers and regular cyclists and an interest in our data from several government organisations start rising, we are looking to raise our next fundraising round with the target of £1M in the next year. Funds will be used to scale up our manufacturing, production, operation, and building a team of superstars who are as passionate about sustainable transport as we are.
What’s been your biggest success so far?
We’ve recently been selected as one of 28 winners of the Geospatial Commission and InnovateUK funded Transport Location Data Competition. We were awarded funding of up to £75K to develop feasibility studies which create geospatial solutions to create safer ways to enable active travel. This project was conducted with our government partners Oxfordshire County Council and Government of Jersey and has led to conversations with Transport for London on how our near miss analysis platform will help the shift towards preventative planning and zero road deaths.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
As a start-up, there is a timing balance between building your product and growing commercial traction. You want to make sure you have interest before you start building a product, but people tend to want to see and use the product before they commit their interest. We have always had a very problem-driven approach, so we are constantly reviewing our product market fit and analysing our stakeholders and users’ needs as we continue to develop the product. This means sometimes deploying rough and ready prototypes that we are not necessarily ready to show but will gain a lot of insight by doing so. The hardware element of our product is an additional challenge as we cannot prototype as rapidly as a pure software product.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Get out of the building – the answer is not at your desk (unless you’re on Zoom). When we first started we poured over hundreds of internet articles, research papers, forums to understand the problem, but it wasn’t until we got out there, called people up, spoke to them that we actually started to learn about the problems they were having. It takes a lot of mental energy to get started, but once you start talking to one potential customer, talking to the next one gets easier and easier. There are unexpected benefits to talking to customers as well – in our case it led us to collaborations with sympathetic strategic partners and investors whom we would have never talked to had we stuck to building our product in isolation until the “big launch”.
Support from Imperial
Experts-in-residence has always been and continues to be extremely useful for us in our journey. Anytime we need some assistance in a particular field we are not familiar with, we are usually able to immediately book in a session and have a chat with an expert who can provide some insights to guide us towards the right direction. These conversations usually provide information that we would not be able to find or would take a long time just by researching online. Most recently, we spoke with an IP attorney about the ins and outs of trademarking a new brand name and another lawyer about the admin involves with setting up a Enterprise Management Incentive Scheme. To be able to access this kind of trusted resource free of charge has been a huge help in challenges we have come across.
VCC was not only great fun but participating in VCC was extremely useful for early stage startups like us because it puts us through a rigorous schedule of workshops ranging from IP help, financial modelling, pitch deck design, presentation skills prep and more importantly, a network of other entrepreneurs we can relate/chat/share to/with (not to mention the workspace available at the Enterprise Lab).
Our mentors with IVMS provided invaluable guidance in the last few months of our journey. They challenged us in thinking about our business strategically, such as preparing our forecast and considering our funding source and thinking about the kind of preparation and marketing we realistically need to put us on track for our product launch. An example of where IVMS was extremely useful for us was when we were working on securing a strategic funding stream and have had to go through some negotiation – it was our first time doing this so it was extremely helpful to have our mentors there for advice, to provide a second view, and to give us heads up about some common mistakes they’ve seen. They were extremely accommodating to our short-notice calls to help provide us with more perspective in a time we really needed it.