Add another invention to Nebraska’s storied list
Inventor Robert McCormick is proving that urban movement problems can be solved with ideas from small town Nebraska, and he is using today’s newest business models to generate interest, demand and funding.
Nebraska is no stranger to innovation. Our state was formed through the ingenuity of pioneers that settled this land, and that resourcefulness has followed us throughout the years.
Andrew Higgins of Columbus created the LCVP, a versatile amphibious landing craft that was so crucial in the Allied victory during WWII that President Eisenhower once said, “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.” In Aurora in 1931, Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton invented the strobe light which has been applied to many scientific and industrial applications, not to mention making us look good on the dance floor since 1960. And in 2007, Clarks native Evan Williams was one of the co-creators of Twitter and the way we communicate forever changed
As a result, the world continues to benefit from the creative endeavors of great Nebraskans and it is time to add another inventor to that distinguished list.
A better way to move
Holdrege resident Robert McCormick knew there had to be a better way to move around, whether improving his small town commute to his law practice or finding a more efficient way to navigate city life when traveling for work. While on one of those business trips, McCormick introduced himself to Jeff Kong, and their mutual passion for the renewable energy industry sparked an immediate friendship. They both agreed there was a need for a new consumer friendly product that offered electric alternatives to traditional transportation. With the goal always being reduced carbon emissions and improved air quality, the new design team also wanted to create a product that was both affordable and fun. They enlisted the talents of Wei Chang, an electrical engineer, to help facilitate their project and from that, Probity Cell LLC was formed.
“It was a learning experience for all of us,” McCormick said. “It’s a puzzle and there are so many pieces. It’s a matter of getting everything to fit.”
The team’s interest in lithium-ion batteries and that last-mile commute led to a rough prototype of a scooter that was light in weight and capable of folding. Over the next two years and 10,000 miles of road tests, the ion SmartScooter was born. The ion SmartScooter was created with what the design team refers to as the SAFE design principle (Smart, Affordable, Fun and Efficient) but this is not your kid’s scooter. This advanced LEV (Light Electric Vehicle) pairs a high-output 36V lithium-ion battery with a 250W brushless electric hub motor, all encased in a frame built from aircraft-grade aluminum that will transport an average adult up to 17 miles on a single charge. McCormick and his co-creators boast that the ion SmartScooter is an ideal transportation tool for students, urban residents, outlying parking lots, and for running errands, sightseeing and just getting around your neighborhood.”
Next challenge: branding and marketing
Once a prototype was ready for production, the design team soon realized that creating their ion SmartScooter was only half the process of invention. Branding and marketing proved to be the next hurdle in their journey. You can create the most useful product in the world, but if consumers don’t know it exists, the product will not be a success. With a market constantly saturated with new products and “the next big thing,” Probity Cell needed to find a way to have the ion SmartScooter stand out from the competition. They received positive feedback after attending a recent bicycle industry trade show in Las Vegas where they were the most affordable electric scooter on display, but they needed additional exposure and support to take their project to the next level. So the design team turned to Kickstarter, the world’s largest crowd funding platform for creative projects.
Kickstarter launched in 2009 and is simple in structure. Anyone looking to fund or bring attention to a project or product can begin a campaign on the Kickstarter website by setting a monetary goal and selecting a period of time in which to meet that goal. People then have the opportunity to pledge money to support the project. If successful, the creator is awarded the funding and backers are usually rewarded with the product they supported or recognition. Since McCormick and his team have individually supported Kickstarter campaigns in the past, this form of marketing seemed like a perfect fit for their ion SmartScooter.
Kickstarter campaign launched
With the help of a marketing and PR firm that specializes in social media and a promotional video that highlights their ion SmartScooter, McCormick and his team launched their Kickstarter campaign on September 19 with the goal of $40,000 in pledges within 30 days. As of the first of October, ion SmartScooter has surpassed its goal by receiving 176% of funding and acquiring more than $70,000 in pledges.
“I sometimes say there is nothing new in terms of the basic business model, but perhaps there is when it comes to how we invest in new ideas,” McCormick said.
The ion SmartScooter team is excited about the response and interest. Now the focus shifts to mass manufacturing and shipping logistics. If the goal was to prove to established professional companies that the ion SmartScooter has the capability of volume and demand, the Kickstarter campaign shows there is definitely a need in the marketplace for this innovative product.
“This economy is constantly teaching you to learn and adapt,” McCormick said. It is this philosophy that will sustain the ion SmartScooter at the forefront of the LEV market.
Perhaps the brick streets of a rural small town are not what you would imagine when you think of the birthplace of a concept rooted in urban movement. But just like the ideas of other Nebraska inventors, a great concept is often not the result of a local need but rather a global requirement.