Smart City Development: Connected Bike Racks

Using connectivity to keep your bike safe

When youth and ambition get together great things can happen.  The five young entrepreneurs behind One4Tech are a prime example of this: when Sweden’s Örebrobostäder offered them the chance to make their dream a reality they jumped at it. The result? Smart bike racks that not only prevent theft but also help public officials and private companies better plan for the future.

As cycling becomes increasingly popular, both as a form of exercise and a form of transport, bicycle thefts are also increasing. In Sweden, an average of 65 thousand bikes are stolen each year, in London that number is more than 400 thousand, and in the US it’s more than 2 million. And those are only the thefts that are reported – only one in five thefts are reported, many police departments consider bike theft a low priority crime, and less than 3% of stolen bicycles are ever recovered. Despite this, cycling is rapidly increasing in popularity, particularly in towns and cities, where the global pandemic has people thinking twice about hopping on a crowded bus or train.

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For startup One4Tech, the frustration of dealing with stolen bikes was personal – and it’s what triggered a whole new business opportunity.

“Everything started when my bike was stolen and our CEO Ade Farah’s brother’s bike was stolen the same week,” explains Ali Taleb, Sales & Marketing Manager, One4Tech. “Örebro is a university town, with a university hospital and a number of big shopping mall areas, so a lot of people use bikes to get around. When our bikes got stolen, we saw that this was a problem for a lot of people, not just in Örebro, but all over Sweden, so we came up with the idea to build a bike rack with a locking bar and an alarm system that people could access via an app or a card. Basically, it would be a really secure way to park your bike without having to worry about it getting stolen.”

Ali and Ade knew they were onto something good. They drew up their idea on a scrap of paper and had all the passion and motivation needed to get a great idea off the ground – but then they hit a stumbling block: when they started trying to find suppliers in Sweden the costs were prohibitively high. Ali was only 17 at the time and still in high school, while his childhood friend Ade was just 20.

“We’re young, so we weren’t as plugged in to the business world that more experienced entrepreneurs might have beenand we were both still in school, so when we hit a wall we put the idea on ice for the time being while looking at other entrepreneurial opportunities,” says Ali. “Then, in the autumn of 2019, Örebrobostäder, a local municipality-owned housing company, held a competition where teams could to submit an idea or concept that would change an area in Örebro.

“I was working with two other guys at the time and they wanted to pitch a big mall. I thought it was a good idea but also suggested including the bike rack concept. My partners thought it was innovative but didn’t really have the same passion for it as I did, so we pitched our ideas separately. The business development person liked the mall concept but then when I pitched the bike rack concept, she saw a big market for it – and wanted to help us make it happen!”

The challenges

The business development committee at Örebrobostäder faced the same challenges Ali and Ade had faced: difficulty in sourcing a cost-effective supplier in Sweden. They turned to their mentor, who told them, “Remember when you had that idea for napkins with inspirational quotes? You looked internationally for suppliers and you should do the same with the bike racks”.

Looking internationally eventually led them to Bikeep, the Estonian startup that has been empowering secure biking stations through the use of mobile connectivity, allowing people to lock their bikes using their phone, ID, or library or transport card. With Bikeep cyclists don’t need to carry a lock and they have not had a single bike stolen since being implemented. Ali and Ade contacted Bikeep, thinking they would be able to build the bike rack but Bikeep had another idea: instead of being competitors, why not team up and act as the local partner in Sweden.

“So, that’s where we started. Ade was tasked with finding the right people to build our organization, so now we haveMohamed Ali our financial guy, Ali Hussein our project leader, and Sharmarke, who is Ade’s cousin from England who is our product chief. So, it’s five guys aged 18 to 23. We kept the name Bikeep for the product, but our company is called One4Tech, which reflects the Vivalla area in Örebro that we’re all from. The bus line that goes from Vivalla to the University was called 14 or one-four, so it’s like a code that everyone recognizes as going on to big things.”

In less than a year One4Tech has signed Örebrobostäder, another housing company Västerporten Fastigheter, and the major shopping area Ica Maxi Stormarknad University. They are also in talks with a number of other large concerns in the area, includig Örebro University and Akademiska Hus, which develops many of the areas around the university and hospitals.

IoT & Connectivity

One4Tech was contacted by a Tele2 IoT salesperson, who told them he loved the bike rack concept and that he had the right solution for them. The One4Tech team had an unusual reaction.

We didn’t know a lot about IoT at that time, so when Anders Nilsson got in touch we were like ‘Tele2? Isn’t that a phone company?’,” laughs Ali Taleb. “We decided to listen to him because we realized that this isn’t just a bike rack – it’s a lot more than that and IoT is what we needed to get real value from it.

Ali Taleb Sales & Marketing Manager One4Tech

What makes the Bikeep more than just a bike rack is connectivity. There is a device with a SIM card in the bike rack that is connected to a phone app that you can use to lock and unlock your bike. The first month Bikeep was installed by Örebrobostäder 80 thousand minutes were clocked. When the bike racks were installed in Vivalla, it was 90 thousand minutes in a month. This proved One4Tech’s concept: people were using the bike racks a lot and a lot of insights were gained from the real time data, which in turn have great value for their customers.

“Our data can help companies like grocery chain Ica Maxi understand things like new users, repeat customers, how long people are in the shop, what time they shop, the flow of traffic, and so much more, all of which helps them understand their customers and their habits better. This kind of data can also be an important contributor to the ecosystem of a smart city, where it can be used for city planning, such as where to place bike paths, where to adjust roads, etc.”

The future

When you have a company headed by young, ambitious, and entrepreneurial people it comes as no surprise that they have big plans going forward. One4Tech is well-positioned to establish Bikeep in Sweden. In fact, they have now installed a number of stations with Swedish grocery chain Ica Maxi, a real estate company that manages apartment buildings, and some municipality companies – and they’re in talks to install more, particularly with municipalities.

“We want to make Bikeep a normal product that is integrated so well that it becomes a regular part of people’s lives,” says Ali. “More and more people are cycling both for fun and to get from point A to B, and no one wants their bike stolen. Bikeep has never had a theft since it launched a few years ago, so we know this is not just a viable product but necessary one as people’s habits evolve. And now that we are up and running, the concept is easy to understand: secure bike parking that works.”

One4Tech has also innovated in installation, creating Bike Flex, which is a connected bike rack that removes a lot of the costly digging and ground work. Instead, with Bike Flex, as soon as the rack is ordered it can be shipped and easily installed at a cost savings. They are also speaking with bike rental companies and bike sharing schemes, where instead of putting the connected lock on the bike rack, it’s put on the bike itself.

“We are promoting the role of the bicycle in the community and making it the preferred mode of transport. A lot of money is going into biking schemes, but they’re not asking how to lower the risk of bike theft. This is a crucial question – you need a secure and safe way to park your bike, especially with e-bikes becoming so popular. They’re a lot more expensive than your average traditional bike, so making sure it’s safe when you park it is important.”

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