Bikes Of Reckless Optimism Has An Innovative Approach To Bring Mobility And Opportunity To The Developing World
Bikes Of Reckless Optimism (ORO for short) is an innovative social enterprise looking at mobility in a new way. They’ve spent the last year prototyping and designing simple & clean commuter bikes. BikesORO builds bikes that are intended to inspire simplicity and beautiful mobility. For every bike purchased, BikesORO provides wheels onto a bike going to someone in need in the developing world. They do this with the great help from World Bicycle Relief. They have an amazing program that focuses on study-to-earn and work-to-earn bike programs. They employ people in country to assemble the bikes, train mechanics, and work with partners on the ground to do it right.
Bikes are the engines of social and economic change for people globally living in impoverished conditions. Currently, there is no way to sustainably fund bike distribution for people in need. Chelsea Koglmeier, founder of BikesORO, was living in a Ugandan refugee community in Kampala when she first noticed the power of bicycles, only to have it re-enforce and amplified by time spent living in the stark poverty of Potosi, Bolivia. She was startled by how powerful access to transport could be — to enable children to get to school, men & women to access professional opportunities, and anyone reach quality health clinics.
Below is an interview with Chelsea Koglmeier, founder of Bikes Of Reckless Optimism
The foundation for Bikes of Reckless Optimism seemed to start while volunteering in Uganda. Tell us what you saw that that triggered the inspiration to one day start this company?
The time I spent living in Uganda was absolutely where this idea first starting to percolate. I was actually working in microfinance at the time with a refugee population on the outskirts of Kampala. Somewhat unrelated to the bikes, but also super closely linked. I started to see how powerful a bike could be to give people access to opportunity. To explain that a bit, because of the way the country and infrastructure is laid out, some kids have to walk km’s to get to school. That walk can be unsafe and takes a while, no matter how you swing it. It’s proven that access to a bike can improve school outcomes 59% — which is partially related to attendance, which is incredibly important!
That’s just kids. It is also very impactful to an entrepreneur who’s taking their product to a market. You have more choices of market, because you can travel farther, and you can carry up to 5x more product on a bike than you can on foot. It’s huge!
I had the specific idea for a “toms for bikes”. It hasn’t turned out to be totally the same model, but we’re definitely linking the sale of a bike with the support of getting a bike to someone. It’s exciting to be part of the movement to start companies with double bottom lines.
Inspiration sometimes takes a while to become a realistic inspiration that can be produced. Tell us about the struggle and the process to create a beautiful and sustainable bike that people will want to buy.
The idea is about 7 years in the making. The time in Uganda was the start of the idea, but tabled it to finish up college. I then worked in tech for a bit, which is where I got experience with starting/growing companies. After having that, I decided to take the leap and begin to build ORO. Since I came into it with no industrial design, manufacturing, logistics, or industry experience, it has been a lot of learning. The amazing part of this though is that people have gotten on board and allowed it to happen — we designed the bikes in partnership with a boutique bike builder from Perth, Flying Machine; our Ambassadors are running launch parties, going for thousand mile bike rides, yoga marathons, design support, and more to help raise awareness; and, for the most part, people within the industry have been open to speaking and helping me to navigate the unique ropes of the bike world.
It’s a beautiful thing to start a company with little experience and have the community step in to help make it happen. The efforts of others to see ORO as a reality make me more invested every day (and I’m pretty invested already!).
Your NPO partner is World Bicycle Relief. Talk about how that partnership was developed. Have they been a great resource for inspiration and guidance on how to really accomplish your mission in the most effective way?
World Bicycle Relief is an amazing organization. They’re incredibly well run, with amazing leadership from FK Day, Katie Bolling, and their leadership team. I choose to work with them because they are established; have a proven track record; have people on the ground to continue to track effectiveness and optimize; and I can trust they will use the funds we provide well. What we’re doing together is linking the for profit (ORO) side of bikes with the nonprofit (WBR). It’s exciting for both parties to see it coming together so nicely.
WBR is our first partner, but we are looking into additional partnerships for different products. We intend to keep our focus around “mobility”.
Transportation breeds opportunity. From your experiences, what can bicycles bring to citizens in the developing world? What have been your greatest discoveries about bicycles in the developing world?
You said it — access to mobility is opportunity. That’s educational, health, and business opportunities. To me, those are basic rights which we all deserve. There are people in the world who cannot access adequate healthcare or elementary school or get to a job — that’s ridiculous, especially given that there is a solution. ORO is a way to sustainably fund that access and that’s what I set out to build.
How long did it take to build a quality bike that you were proud of? Was it difficult to find a product engineer and team with your same vision?
It took us 7 months from starting designs through final round of prototypes. I have a feeling it’s a continuous work in progress though, as we figure out bits and pieces that customers are looking for. I am VERY happy with how the bikes turned out.
I mentioned this above, but Matthew Andrew, an Australian builder who owns a company called Flying Machine, designed the bikes. Our relationship started because I woke up one day thinking that there should be 3D manufactured “something” on the bikes — I couldn’t sleep after that idea and ended up sending out a 4am email to see what he thought about the idea. He was in! (side note: the bikes are not 3D manufactured. that was just one of those fun ideas)
Its been such a long journey to get to this point of finally launching this great venture and mission. What are you feelings going into this next year and what are you focusing on to help BikesORO grow?
For now, our focus is on launching a successful Indiegogo campaign. My belief is that if we get in front of the right people, we can tip our goal and make this company a reality. We’re using it as both a “proof of concept” (will people buy bikes who aren’t my friends and family?) AND to fund our first batch of manufacturing (it costs a lot of manufacture bikes!). From there, we’re launching a limited run of bikes for 2016, selling direct-to-consumer online and in retail.
We’re working with a few amazing bikes shops in cities across the country. I think it’s important for people to be able to test out the bikes, if they’d like to, so that’s a great way to do it. It also allows us to partner up with some unique bike shops who are interested in looking at new ways to sell. It’s a win for everyone.
My “feelings” are a daily roller coaster, but the fuel is optimism. It has to be. For everything, from taking a huge risk with Indiegogo TO a cold email to a bike shop TO a belief that people will want to support mobility for others. When it gets a bit scary, I think about acting with reckless optimism. Cheesy, but the thought helps me accomplish crazy, wonderful, and productive things.
Originally published at causeartist.com on February 24, 2016.