31 MAY 2022
CONTENT SUPPORTED BY NEW MOTION LABS
BY TOM PARR, CO-ORGANISER OF THE
INTERNATIONAL CARGO BIKE FESTIVAL
4 MINUTE READ
The cargo bike industry of today is a hotbed of start-ups and scale-ups. More and more of these nascent organisations are making strides forward, professionalising and transitioning into mature, fully-established industry players. One organisation sitting at the juncture between start-up and scale-up – New Motion Labs – is preparing for the future by making changes at the top.
We sat down with Founder and Chief Innovation Officer Marcel Fowler and new Chief Executive Steven Senior to find out more about these changes, what drives them and what this means for the company, their customers, and the wider industry.
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Founder Marcel Fowler has until now held the position of CEO, but is now making a sideways move to Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), allowing him to focus on his passion: R&D. Replacing him in the all-important CEO role is Steven Senior, an accomplished career engineer with a wealth of experience in marketing, sales and growing businesses. We started by asking Fowler and Senior about their backgrounds and how they came to meet.
“I’m a Chartered Engineer – I’ve worked for Rolls Royce among others – and have a lot of experience in sales and marketing” begins Senior. “And one day per week I’m a Professor of Engineering at the University of Exeter. I’m also very proud to be a Fellow of the Royal Society – the world’s oldest scientific academy which counts 1400 Fellows; including 60 Nobel Laureates. The Society influences science and education policy, funds leading researchers and publishes journals –and my work for them is on entrepreneurship. That is how I met Marcel; when New Motion Labs reached out to them for advice.”
This new role also represents something of a comeback for Senior. “I left my own entrepreneurial business three years ago, having been really unwell with cancer” he confides. “I’d made a full recovery and was really chomping at the bit to engage with a high-growth project. Having already got to know them a bit, the timing was perfect when New Motion Labs and their stakeholders approached me about the CEO role.”
Fowler’s background is also in the space where engineering, innovation and entrepreneurship intersect; albeit in a more hands-on way. He is an inventor by nature, and his brainchild New Motion Labs has developed technologies which increase the strength, durability and efficiency of chain drive systems. How? By completely redesigning components to reduce friction and, with a design that locks the chain on to the front and back of each tooth instead of just engaging the front, decreases wear whilst increasing efficiency.
It also becomes clear as we talk that Fowler is very much motivated by impact – how his ideas will change the world for the better. “I’ve been involved in different aspects of science for my whole career. Back in 2015 I started working on the technology behind New Motion Labs – what eventually became Enduo Cargo and Enduo Track – and have been working on it since.”
Changing of the guard
Fowler sees his move from CEO to CIO as a vital one for the business. “We started out as a bunch of mechanical engineers trying to solve a problem. Now we’ve got a solution to that problem, we need to commercialise it” he explains. “And Steve is a perfect fit for that because he understands the science, but he’s also got a lot of experience in sales, marketing and building businesses. He’s been doing it for decades.”
Is it difficult to let go of the controls?
“Yes, it will be, but you’ve got to remind yourself that it’s the best thing for the business and it’s the best way of getting our idea out there.” In fact, as Fowler explains, he’s been letting go since the start: “When you grow something from nothing – working on it in your spare time – you become attached to it. But as you grow a business, more and more people join it. Then it’s not just your business any more, it becomes theirs as well.”
“It’s interesting though,” adds Senior “because Marcel has proven himself as the product innovator. And the really exciting thing for me is hearing about the ideas that have been on the back-burner because he has been too busy with the CEO role. Now these ideas can come to life because he won’t be side-tracked with some of the things that I’m going to be side-tracked by!”
“Exactly” confirms Fowler “You should always push to your strengths, and double down there. I’m really looking forward to this coming period, because we’re designing some great new technologies which I think will have a significant impact.”
What has been your first priority as the new CEO?
“When I look at businesses, I think they often get the scalability bit right” asserts Senior. “They grow from point A to point B, and most of them plot that growth graph pretty well. What often falls behind is the systems and structures behind that that actually make it work. The process of looking at that has already started. I’m getting every single member of the team together to focus on how we make ourselves collaborative; to actually solve problems.
“Another thing I noticed is that businesses that got going during the pandemic just automatically function under remote working. And New Motion Labs is one of those businesses, with people in different locations in the UK, and key team members in Germany too – that really does work in our favour – gives us a head start. I find that fascinating.”
Have you learnt anything you didn’t expect to about the cargo bike industry?
“When you come into something cold – as I did,” observes Senior “you do notice things. Before I got involved, I didn’t know a huge amount about cargo bikes. And in conversation with previous colleagues and friends, you actually realise that not many people do. There’s been significant growth in the sector and cargo bikes really are a game changer. Whereas I never noticed cargo bikes before, now I notice them everywhere!”
What do you think the cargo bike industry is doing right and what could it do better?
“I see a lot of marketing that is aimed at those already in the know” states Senior. “It’s quite a common marketing problem; I think perhaps the industry is missing out on converting people who don’t know about cargo bikes. They need to engage people who haven’t even noticed the cargo bike industry and then really boil down that ‘game changer’ message and just communicate that.”
Fowler and Senior are also keen to stress that the innovations they are developing are also something that they will target other industries with. “We’re concentrating on the cargo bike market and competitive performance cycling market at this moment, but we will be broadening this to e-bikes and also solutions for the wider bike market” discloses Senior. “And then ultimately New Motion Labs will transfer this technology over to the industrial market.”
So why does cycling get to try out the new toy first?
“Cycling loves new technologies, and is willing to test them” expresses Fowler. “It is also one of those applications where you can actually see the technology. That’s not the case in many other applications – drivechains are hidden away and you forget they are there. And with cargo bikes and track cycling, they are both fast growing markets that will give us visibility across cycling as a whole. It’s also about impact though; people need to change how they travel. Transporting a big lump of metal around all day doesn’t make sense and takes a lot of energy. We want to support sustainable technologies and that’s why cargo bikes were such an attractive proposition for us. We want to enable the cargo bike to be the solution it promises to be.”
How much potential are you looking at?
“We estimate that there are about 3 billion chain drives in use globally, in around 5000 applications” explains Fowler. “So, the technology we’re developing affects multiple markets and applications. From the start, we have been all about creatively disrupting fundamental technologies. Our philosophy is to make small changes to critical components that have a massive impact.”
When you look at the technology New Motion Labs has developed, why do you think nobody has done it before?
“I think the manufacturers have concentrated on iterative improvements to manufacturing processes and new materials,” reflects Fowler “whereas what we’ve developed is actually a brand-new method for transferring power. A conscious leap forward in drivechain design.”
“It’s a question I asked myself too,” adds Senior. “and I think it also comes down to the pace of innovation; which in the drivechain sector has been slow. Functionally the existing design works. But I think the mindset has changed in the past five to ten years; now there is much more of a focus on sustainability. And with that comes a willingness to look more closely at making systems more efficient. Maybe people are now looking at those gains they can make, whereas before they wouldn’t have done.”
What developments can we look forward to from New Motion Labs? And what impact will they have?
“Our current product increases reliability by prolonging the lifetime of the drivechain” explains Fowler. “When we talk to cargo bike users and operators, they tell us that’s great, but they also want to know when things are going to fail – because when they do, they lose lots of money. And so we are doing a project with the University of Bath and Oxwash to develop a preventative maintenance sensor that can give insight into the health of a cargo bike’s drivechain – so that’s coming.”
“And we’re also working on improvements to the existing product” he adds, “specifically looking at the tooth profile and making that better; further improving the lifetime.”
“And in terms of the business itself; New Motion Labs will look vastly different in three years’ time” predicts Senior. “We’re growing our audience; we’re growing geographically; and we’re bringing in new products. It’s a very scalable business and there is going to be a very sustained period of recruitment in the next three years as we do that; we’re going to need plenty of expertise from the industry.”
What do these changes in your roles mean for your customers?
“One thing you should know about Steve is that he is very important for the company, because he is all about growth” maintains Fowler. “Without growth, we simply can’t make the positive impact we want to make. Change is good, and we’re making these changes for the right reasons, so in the end, it is about our customers, and their customers, and the effect that – with our technology – they will have on the world.”