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P | P | P – our chat with Cyclopic Ltd

Here, our interview with Alan Rallings, Director of Cyclopic Ltd, as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Cyclopic Ltd have created a centreless wheel drive system, revolutionising the wheel.

The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success this far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Thomas @ ADLIB: Can you please introduce yourself, what your business does and what stage you are at currently?

Alan: I am Alan Rallings, Director of Cyclopic Ltd, we have created a centreless wheel drive system. Our first product was the E-Cyclopic folding bike and then we developed our technology into centreless wheel drive systems, for the EV market. We have also developed a UAV, that can move across land, sea and air!

We have recently put more of a focus on the wheel drive system, because we’ve got funding from Innovate UK for that. This is detracting a little bit from where we want to go with the bike, but that’s very much still on the cards. We have had that all assessed, so we can move forwards and we’ve got a business plan put together, again with Productiv Ltd (Manufacturing Partner) and they will develop the bike into a testable, rideable and licensed prototype. So, the bike is going into a prototype pre-launch phase, that’s where we’re at…at the moment so all the technology is now ready to get these products to market!

Thomas @ ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of your business and service/product?

Alan: After some time working on contracts, I got bored and wondered if I could get back to University and get back on board with the CAD design/software to bring myself back up to speed. That’s where I met my business partner Rishi Haraniya (Co-Director of Cyclopic), who is working with me here today. We worked together on a few projects there and started talking about ideas and he liked some of mine and it started from there really. We have worked very hard and managed to secure Government Innovate UK funding, which is helping us with our drive system. The initial study/idea was on the bearing design. We use large bearings for the hollow wheel concept, that is the basis for all of our products. Once you have the hollow wheel drive system sorted out, which is where we have managed to get funding, it creates a whole load of applications! Going through the funding phases and getting our ideas out there has put us in contact with some amazing people, that has allowed us to develop things on the AI side and develop our ideas even further.

Thomas @ ADLIB: Speaking of people, can you share some challenges you have faced, are facing or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team? Do you have any top tips you could share with those facing the same issues?

Alan: Yeah, I mean, there’s lots to look at. Keep your eye on the ball, because there are a lot of connections you can make, who can help put you in contact with the right people, if it’s for funding or finding people to expand the team. We have some connections with Silverstone and they’re helping us enrol on the kick start scheme. That’s taking longer than we thought, but that will hopefully help in sourcing some sort of funding plan for next year.

On the other side of things of course, is the technical staff, which would be great to have more of. As you know better than I do, they’re quite expensive and difficult to find. It would help us greatly in moving our development forwards if we did have more technical heads working on things. That said, it is always a tight balance between funding the wages for people on that level and having funds elsewhere in the business to develop the company profile and resources. It can be a sort of chicken and egg situation; do you get expensive people in to develop the product first or do you secure funding and then get the technical people in?

I think in terms of advice, it’s just about making sure you have a plan, as well as a product. You need to know, as best you can, how you are going to try and secure funding, staff etc. before you go out there.

Thomas @ ADLIB: Moving to product, what has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit or sales cycle?

Alan: I think you really have to look at the market you’re going into. “Who’s doing the best in it?” We have a very good example in this country, Brompton. They made a great success of having a loyal customer base, which is good, because the quality of the product they produce is excellent. So that is what you have to head towards, we don’t want to be Brompton of course, but to understand where we fit. It is important to know what the market leader is doing.

The most commercial product we’ve got is the bike, which we think is going to be our beta, because of the ability of it to fold one wheel inside the other and therefore end up with a very compact unit. With the right materials, it is going to be very light, but I can’t say that it will be the cheapest machine on the high street. To counter that cost, we are hoping to follow the model of Brompton of British built and have a reliable/efficient product. Hopefully, with time and more experience and new personnel, we can cut that cost down as much as we can. Brompton has been around a long time now and we feel we have a far more updated product and that our concept fits in with all the electrification of travel that is continuing to grow.

The difficult things initially were getting the hollow wheel concept to work. Once we realise we can do that, for example working on a bicycle, we believe there’s a good opportunity for us to use this on other applications. So first of all we had to know what applications could benefit from our idea/concept. Then we have to find the most commercial application to use that idea in and from there we can truly understand how the initial idea fits in with the market and multiple applications.

Thomas @ ADLIB: Then to potential, can you share some challenges or barriers you had to overcome to create a product/service offerings with potential?

Alan: We are supposed to be travelling backwards and forwards to Coventry, because that’s where the factory is based and where we are really doing the prototyping. So much of the recent work has been on screen as it were, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That has been a challenge to manage, as it has been for everyone. The main thing for us is getting over this wheel technology, the first comment is always ‘will this be strong enough?’’. Overcoming this has been made possible with advances in material science, which has moved on a long way in recent years and has really allowed us to overcome the problems and critics.

As I mentioned earlier, it is so helpful to get yourself out there… as much as you can! Because you meet people who can really help if not at the time, maybe in the future. Going to exhibitions has really helped us and I think helped overcome a potential issue in securing a manufacturing site for us. We were at the Birmingham Advanced Engineering Show, where we met a lot of contacts including a manufacturing site, which was hugely helpful!

Thomas @ ADLIB: Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups and scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around the best approach?

Alan: I think it is about being very concise with the applications, it pays to take it very seriously, if you are going to bother with it. You really have to go the whole hog as it were. The grant writing is an art in itself, the terminology you need to use to sort of grab somebody’s attention is very specific and can take a lot of time to get right. If you know somebody that can do this sort of thing, you are ahead of the game straight away, if not, you can get grant writers. However, they are not cheap!

EEN and Business West arranged some funded grant writing hours which helped us get the Innovate UK SMART Grant.

You have to put in that extra effort. We have all got this great idea, but you need to be really focussed and precise in how you go about getting your idea in front of the right people and then in to manufacture.

We got some initial funding for feasibility studies, et cetera. Some of those bits of funding are easier to get. The other thing is, once you get into the Innovate UK system, then some of the funding only comes if you have already been a customer, as it were. Some is only open to people that have managed to get Innovate funding before. This is so they know the money they are giving out is going to good use and the people receiving it are very committed. So, you really have to make sure your initial feasibility pitches are very concise and polished. Once you’re in the system, it is easier to get more support.

And to add to all that we have just heard that DIT (Department of International Trade) has awarded Cyclopic the Tech4Good Trade Mission for the US and India…it looks like 2021 is going to be busy.