By Andrew Seale
There’s a strange mix brewing in a two-storey Leaside commercial centre. Landscapers share parking spots and sit kiddie corner to fitness evaluators while a prop rental company hawking King Tut busts and Academy Award replicas. And in the the centre of it all is Revelo, a Toronto startup creating folding electric bikes.
“This is about as raw as you're going to get in Toronto… it’s very industrial and really eclectic,” says Henry Chong, founder and CEO of Revelo. “How it works and why it comes together like this is hard to say – it’s not something you could go out and try to cultivate.”
But it exists, and more importantly, it’s existence – a space with low overheads, beyond the tireless grind of downtown – gives Revelo space to grow. Not that the e-cycle startup, which launched in 2012, has lost touch with the adrenaline rush that is downtown Toronto.
Both its pedal-powered Lift and Flex e-bike, are inspired by the small spaces many urban Torontonians call home. They can fold in half to be stashed easily for condo living, says Chong, who’s been cycling around Toronto for nearly 40 years.
Revelo came out of a meditation on clean electric transportation and interpreting that in a different light.
“There are the natural extrapolations: things like putting motors on bikes,” he says. But Chong decided to re-imagine that approach altogether, creating an entirely new type of bike; a smaller, hybrid machine that allows for all sorts of new opportunities.
“As much as it progresses, the bike industry is very conservative, it takes a lot of of leadership and courage to disrupt,” says Chong. “We're here to create a market position for something not even in the same stream.”
Research and development is localized and while the first few runs were manufactured in Toronto, producing the bikes in China has proven 400 per cent faster at a fraction of the price. But, in addition to being the proving ground for Revelo’s new take on green transportation, Toronto is by far the biggest market for the company.
The bikes are designed for the kinds of cities Toronto represents, says Chong.
“Toronto is a great city for any business that wants to have pseudo-international reach all within the same radius,” he says. “That's probably something we underestimate a bit because we just see Toronto as a group of people but there's all these different perspectives.”
And it’s those perspectives within Toronto the have helped the MaRS Cleantech Venture client figure out how to export the concept to cities all around the world.
“We’re trying to build a Canadian company,” says Chong adding that sometimes clients are dumbfounded when they find out they’re based in Toronto. “They expect it in China or the U.S. maybe but they don't expect someone is actually making something in a little corner of Toronto – they love it and they're very supportive.”