Despite the lockdown, the Startup in Residence participants are still very busy working on their prototypes and solutions. But what have they been up to exactly and how have they been dealing with the COVID-19 crisis? Time for an update! This time: Bluedrives, formerly known as Biketogo.
Bluedrives was developed by Kevin Qualm and Erwin Kenter and solves incidental problems of sharing concepts, like inefficiency, safety and littering. The platform will allow the City’s employees to grab and return bikes at any of the office locations, using an app and QR code. Or at least, that was the original idea, before COVID-19 and both the Chinese and European lockdows got in the way. Co-founder Erwin Kenter talks about the process, the obstacles and a complete pivot.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you and your progress?
“Almost in every possible, unfortunately. We started in January and ran into problems right from the start. Some of the parts and supplies we ordered for our smart locks were produced in China. So when China went into lockdown, our parts were delayed. But after a lot of hassle, we finally managed to get them in March.”
That would be right around the time when Europe went into lockdown?
“Yup! When we finally got the parts, through trial and error, we were able to install the smart locks on the first batch of shared bicycles. So we were ready to start testing them, but the pilot fell through completely, because everyone was working from home. So we used the time to develop the sharing software, but also to really look at the way we did things.”
“We came to the conclusion that we needed to change our business model. Marco de Jong, our Startup in Residence mentor, really helped us a lot in coming up with ways to improve our model.”
So what changed?
“A lot really. The market is already pretty saturated with sharing concepts. GO Sharing recently came to Groningen with their electric scooters for example. We decided to focus on just the smart locks and create the platform around it. Rather than trying to do everything ourselves, we decided to connect different organizations, so they can exchange bikes themselves, for employees, their families, even tourists. We also changed our name from Biketogo to Bluedrives.”
How does it work?
“We’re a shared mobility platform in every sense of the word. Different companies and organizations can join our network and supply their own bikes or kick scooters (e-steps). There’s a user app that allows you to lock and unlock the bike with a QR code and with GPS tracking, it’s easy to find the nearest bike. It’s going to be a subscription based model, with free use for employees. But for example tourists can also use the bikes and pay per use and time, with the first 15 minutes free of charge. Later on, we also want to make it possible for consumers to share their bikes or scooters and it would be something like Airbnb for mobility.”
Despite the pandemic, what were your experiences joining the Startup in Residence program?
“We were victims of circumstance unfortunately. This just isn’t something you could ever plan for and it’s just bad luck. The group was really nice and the workshops were educational, but it just feels different doing everything digitally and not seeing each other in person. It was also more challenging to work with the City than we initially expected. It’s a large organization of course and you’re dealing with multiple departments and all of them have different priorities.”
“But it wasn’t all bad at all though. We got a lot of help from our mentor and the rest of the team, learned a lot and we’re pretty proud of where we are now. We signed up for Mobility Lab and won the Audience Choice award, so we get to roll things out in other cities like Rotterdam and Leeuwarden too.”
What will the coming months look like?
“We want to be the most circular and sustainable platform we can be, so we’re also working on solar powered docking stations for our e-bikes and scooters. These docking stations will also be surrounded by plants, flowers and trees, to contribute to more city greens. One docking station can hold ten bikes and is about the size of a regular parking spot for a car.”