Despite starting a physics degree at Oxford University, Emily Brooke quickly realised her real passion was in the creative space – specifically product design.
Having swapped the Oxbridge lifestyle for a place at the University of Brighton studying product design, it was her final year piece which has ultimately turned into an innovative cycling product and platform to build a quality brand from.
For someone who is now never found very far from a bicycle, Brooke only decided to get on one in 2010 when she cycled the length of the country. With the cycle bug cursing through her veins she gave herself a final year university theme of urban cycling and quickly identified the biggest problem facing riders in cities – safety.
ast-forward two years and Brooke has already become one of the most successful UK Kickstarter campaigns (the rewards-based crowdfunding platform which provides incentives to backers), and is now rolling out her product from its manufacturing base in China
The product in question was developed in partnership with a psychologist and aims to change a statistic which shocked Brooke: 79 per cent of cyclists hit were going straight ahead.
Her Blaze Laserlight combines a traditional light with a laser, which projects the image of a bicycle onto the road about five metres ahead of the cyclist. With riders possibly in blind spots for cars, buses and heavy goods vehicles, the laser provides a way to be seen before it is too late.
The light and laser combination is designed to make cyclists visable
Getting the bike light from the state it was in, as a rough prototype submitted to tutors, so that it could be sold on mass has been a roller-coaster ride for Brooke.
‘At first I didn’t actual think I’d build the business myself,’ she explains. ‘I presumed I’d licence it to a manufacturer who would do it but, because of the project, I got accepted onto Entrepreneurship First [a start-up incubator for new and recent graduates].’
It was through being sent out to America on a scholarship that Brooke began to see a future in her and a business. That, crystallised by the death of Moo.com community manager Dan Harris in a cycling accident during the London Olympics, spurred her to take it on personally.
Having set herself a funding goal of £25,000, Brooke and Blaze more than doubled that amount – with commitments coming in from 782 backers.
‘Kickstarter is a fantastic model for a hardware model, but it wasn’t just about the money,’ Brooke says.
‘It was also about validating the concept, people doing so by putting their hand in their pockets. Our 782 backers have been the community and fan base for the last year, providing feedback.’
The decision to include elements such as USB charging have been driven by the community, and it was the profile built up on the platform that led to approaches from bike chains Evans Cycles, Cycle Surgery and Halfords.
The light is made from machined aluminium
Despite her success on Kickstarter, which has more of a track record for funding projects such as films or albums, Brooke says that if she did it all again it would be alternative crowdfunding platform Indiegogo that would be picked.
Her tips on crowdfunding? Simple, leave it as late as possible. ‘The easy stuff is getting a prototype, whereas the hard part is getting a mass consumer piece of hardware.
‘Things take so much longer, and costs more money than expected, so leave it until you are really far along before fundraising.’
Making it work
Brooke’s big struggles have been in managing a supply chain in China. To help with this, she decided to partner with PCH International – a product development and supply chain management services business which counts Apple and Beats Electronics as customers.
Founded by Irish businessman Liam Casey in 1996, Brooke says that PCH and Casey have been instrumental in helping Blaze develop. PCH gives her dedicated people on the ground, sorting out the kind of problems that would be hard to do whilst in the UK.
The young female entrepreneur cites a number of other individuals as the key mentors who have helped the most. On the business side of thingsm such as fundraising and high-level strategy, she has David Easton, a former management consultant for McKinsey and Company who, in the words of Brooke, ‘is bloody bright and kicks my butt’.
Former Evans Cycles retail director, and current finance and operations director at Sweaty Betty, Matt Smith is the one she turns to for help when it comes to the retail side of things.
Even through Blaze started off as a one-product business, Brooke and her team have big plans to build out the product line and solve more of the problems associated with cycling.
Emily Brooke and her team, who are based in East London
It is this growth plan that venture capital investor Index Ventures and the Branson family are buying into by way of a $500,000 investment.
The business was not looking for any kind of fundraising, Brooke says, but having met Index Ventures partner Saul Klein over the summer she was convinced. Blaze will now start to build a presence for itself in America, where Brooke hopes she will receive the same kind of great press and awareness that she’s had in the UK.
Holly and Sam Branson, daughter and son of entrepreneur Richard Branson and new backers of Blaze, say, ‘We see a huge amount of potential in Blaze as an urban cycling brand and so we wanted to get involved.
‘Cycling is a rapidly growing activity, however the safety concerns are very real and the industry has seen very little innovation.’
With money in the bank and an investor team which knows how to scale up businesses, Blaze is set to tackle new markets and bring its version of quality products to the cycling masses.