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Bill Moore, the proud father of the K15 electric-assist bicycle
Bill Moore, the proud father of the K15 electric-assist bicycle

The SBA and My K15 'Conversation Starter'

It was a crazy idea, but I figured what did I have to loose. I'd roll the K15 bamboo electric-assist bicycle into the SBIR Road Tour conference in Lincoln as a 'conversation starter,' and boy, did it work.

When Philip Bakken, with the University of Nebraska Lincoln, emailed me to remind about the upcoming U.S. Small Business Administration's SBIR Road Tour stop on the Nebraska Innovation Campus, I relied that I thought I would bring my K15 e-bke along as a "conversation starter." I was only half serious.

Still, as I drove down to Lincoln from Omaha early in the morning for a 7:30 AM sign-in, I mulled over whether or not to actually do what I said I would do, wondering if I'd look the fool for showing up with a bright green bicycle in tow. As I parked on campus, I made my decision. I opened the back door of the minivan and unloaded the 31.6 lbs. bamboo and recycled aluminum e-bike. Throwing my messenger bag with my iPad in it over my shoulder, I lifted the K15 up the stairs, mounted it, and rode it to the East entrance we'd been instructed to use.

At the very same time, the members of the SBIR Road Tour team were also filing in. They had just arrived in a big black bus, the kind rock bands and tour groups use. Representing the various U.S. government agencies and departments engaged in small business research grant programs, they'd been visiting various upper midwestern states, explaining the opportunities and challenges of qualifying for Small Business Innovation Research grants. I followed them down the hall, the K15 in tow. A sign at the bottom of a flight of stairs indicated the conference was on the second floor. No problem. The K15 is a breeze to carry up the steps, even for me.

Philip Bakken was waiting at the top of the stairs where attendees checked in and got their sticky name badges.

"I thought you were kidding when you said you'd bring your bike."

"Not in the least. Figured it would make a great conversation starter," I replied with a smile and an uncharacteristic bit of bravado. I couldn't know then how it would do exactly that and with whom I'd start that conversation.

I walked into the conference hall and parked the bike in the corner and it immediately attracted the attention of several early attendees, including John Pucci, the operations manager for the U.S. Army's SBIR program. I invited him to pick up the bike, which is always interesting, especially if you've ever lifted a regular electric-assist bicycle, most of which weigh 20 pounds (9 kg) more than the K15. We quickly got into a discussion about his personal commute from northern Virginia to his office between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore: a daily two-hour drive one way. He had considered taking the train, but the schedule just didn't work. If it had, he said, he'd definitely consider riding the 3 miles from the station to his workplace on something like the K15.

One of the perks of attending the event was the opportunity to meet, one-on-one for 15 minutes with a program manager of your choice. I picked the Energy Department and National Science Foundation. At 8:30 AM I carried the bike down stairs and rolled it into one of the conference rooms to meet with Manny Oliver, the DoE's SBIR/STTR program director. This was new for me, so I simply explained that I had a patent pending on an "intelligent electric bicycle battery" that I wanted to develop that integrated a number of safety and security features to make riding a bike safer. While intrigued, he explained that my project sounded more like a integration effort, than risky, breakthrough battery research, which is what the agency is interested in funding. I thanked him and carried the K15 back up the stairs, this time not quite as gracefully, stumbling at the top. I quickly recovered and carried on.

My meeting with Ben Schrag with the National Science Foundation at 10:45 AM was a bit more productive, at least he encouraged me to contact him in September when NSF issues its next solicitation. He'd work with me to see if my project might fit with its funding goals for the next round. He too was impressed by the K15.

Outside in the hall sat Nagesh Rao, who had acted as the MC for the opening of the conference. I had no idea who he was, but from his comments, I thought it worth introducing myself. He was chatting with another attendee and talking about patent application costs. This was my in. I had filled my battery application under the new micro-entity classification and my patent cost had been just $65. I added, however, it had taken me four hours to wade through all the online forms and warning messages. Rao counseled the man that maybe it made more sense to use a lawyer in his case.

Turning to me, Rao was clearly intrigued by the K15. I explained its origin and asked him if he'd like to try it.

"Absolutely," he replied enthusiastically. I asked if he wanted to take it outside. "Why not ride it in here?" he responded.

"Sure, why not," I said with a hint of uncertainty.

Clearly a practiced cyclist, he lithely mounted the bike and set off down the hall and disappeared around the corner. Around and around he went. I grabbed my iPhone and video recorded a couple of his passes. That's the video below.

Rao was obviously impressed by the bike and even talked about buying one either for himself or his girlfriend. He took a photo of me with it and immediately posted it to his LinkedIn page, making a nice comment about me as an innovator. Reporting on the SBIR Road Tour today, he concluded his comments by linking to my video.

Now, I have no idea if anything will become of our brief meeting; whether he'll buy a bike or even if I'll be able to raise enough money from our Kickstarter campaign to build the 150 needed to fund our first Quikbyke Q•pod, but it proved one thing: doing something out of the ordinary can sometimes payoff in unexpected ways. G. Nagesh Rao is the U.S. Small Business Administration's Chief Technologist and "Nerdpreneur-in-Residence" in the Office of Investment and Innovation. It's hard to imagine getting a face-to-face with him in D.C., much less having him ride your bike with such obvious joy, but here on a warm July morning in Nebraska, it happened and all because I decided to ignore my fears and unload that bike.

Interestingly, as he LinkedIn with me, we discovered we have a mutual acquaintance in Jigar Shah, a long-time friend of mine and Quikbyke advisor.

Small world, isn't it?

Posted By: Bill Moore [19-Jul-2015]

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