North Van entrepreneur rides into the Dragons’ Den
Growing up, Michael DeVisser lived at the top of a steep hill in North Vancouver.
That made him always dread his bike ride home from school.
Years later, while working in Beijing, he discovered a solution to conquering the hilly topography of his hometown that didn’t require bionic legs: a pedal-assisted electric bike.
Electric bikes were ubiquitous on the busy streets of China’s capital city and DeVisser, who studied business, saw an untapped market in North America for enviro-friendly electric bikes.
But he figured simply importing Chinese-designed electric bikes wouldn’t work. The frames weren’t the right size and the motors wouldn’t be strong enough for the steep slopes here.
“Vancouver and Seattle have steeper hills than most areas,” explains DeVisser, 38.
He needed to custom design a bike with high-performance components for the North American market.
So he started OHM Cycles in 2005. Since then, he’s come up with a specialized bike design and the family-run company has been steadily gaining traction, even winning an award in 2009 for the bike’s custom battery enclosure.
And now, DeVisser hopes to grow his bike biz by increasing inventory and opening more retail locations in Canada and the United States.
To do that, he’s hoping for some help from the deep-pocketed business moguls on the hit CBC show Dragons’ Den.
For the uninitiated, here’s the premise of the show: entrepreneurs make a pitch to a panel of five multimillionaire tycoons with the hope of making strategic business partnerships. There’s no shortage of drama.
Many aspiring entrepreneurs have their ideas skewered on national TV by the often blunt-speaking Dragons, while others walk off the stage with new investors and renewed vigour.
DeVisser’s pitch to the Dragons was made last May.
It was a little nerve-racking waiting to enter the den, but once it was his turn to make a pitch he felt confident.
“I felt pretty prepared. Our business was already established so that was an advantage,” he says.
Plus, the company was coming off a strong year in which they sold out of inventory, selling 200 units at the average price of $3,500 per bike.
Goal for year five of the company is to double the units sold and expand their retail outlets, he says. OHM Cycles already has 17 dealers in Canada and the U.S., including Vancouver, Ottawa Montreal, Seattle, San Francisco, New England and New York.
And there are no shortage of selling features for the bikes — from assisting riders in tackling steep hills to reducing commuter travel time to helping slower cyclists keep pace with stronger riders to allowing seniors to continue with their bike-riding passion.
Also, he notes, because the bikes are pedal-assisted — not fully motorized — you can still get as much exercise as you want by choosing from the four levels of pedal assistance. Most of all, they’re really fun to ride, he says. It’s kind of in between riding a bike and motorbike.
“[It’s] a pretty unique feeling,” he says.
Of course, an appearance on the Dragons’ Den is never without surprises, like when the show’s resident curmudgeon, Kevin O’Leary, hopped on a bike for a test ride and began circling around, peppering him with questions about his business.
His appearance lasted around 40 minutes.
“Once I got out there I calmed down a bit and I was really happy with my performance.”
But then he had to wait until December to learn that his episode was going to air.
“I’d pretty much given up.”
Since then he’s had to remain tight-lipped about the outcome of his appearance. “Eight months not being able to tell anyone,” he says.
He will finally be able to break his silence this Sunday (Jan. 20) after his episode airs at 8 p.m. on CBC.
For more: ohmcycles.com