Commuters using Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) like e-scooters, e-bicycles, and e-unicycles are common sights in our daily lives.
According to a Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) report in 2016, it noted that PMDs are “becoming a popular choice for first and last mile travel”, transporting us from home to MRT stations, and from MRT stations to work.
The report added that battery-powered PMDs engage different mechanics to manoeuvre, citing that “some use ‘intuitive’ technology or a gyroscope” to change direction.
One example they raised was how electric “skateboards are steered by shifting weight and accelerated or stopped using a hand held device”.
But the Thevenin electric skateboard however, lets riders do more than just move from one point to another.
Its modular design allows the rider to customise it however they want; riders can turn it into an everyday tool for commute, or a lifestyle and recreational gear.
Thevenin is dubbed as the “World’s First Modular Electric Skateboard”, created by five students from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Engineering A New Way To Commute
Thevenin Boards is led by Dylan Tan (24), who is CEO, together with Martin Hoang (26) as CTO, Sin Shiu Heng (25) as Marketing Strategist, Long Nguyen (23) as Chief Software Engineer, and Tan Yong Rui (26) as Chief Hardware Engineer.
All of them are undergrads at NTU School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, except Martin, who is doing his Ph.D. at the faculty.
The e-skateboard that they have created has two types of modules, the Deck Module and the Motor Module.
The deck modules can be made for portability or for stability (full-sized deck that can fit both feet comfortably), and the rider can choose to install a Cruise Motor for daily cruising or Turbo Motor for more power and torque.
So you can make the board as easy and light for short commute or as sturdy and fast for longer travels.
They also created an app so riders can have full control of the board, making the interface and experience as easy to use as possible, and introducing two interesting features in the app.
The Overdrive™ feature lets the Thevenin rider control acceleration and braking responsiveness, which has never been done before by other e-skateboard companies, according to Dylan.
Another feature is, Mapping. The rider can map out their journey in the app and it will tell them whether the board has enough battery for the journey.
Dylan decided upon the name, Thevenin, for two reasons.
“Named after the Thevenin Theorem derived by Leon Charles Thevenin. We wanted to pay tribute to him as he contributed to the field of electrical engineering.”
“Thevenin Theorem basically simplifies complex circuit analysis. This aligns with what we are trying to do. To solve complex problems with simple solutions,” he explained.
On how their product reshapes urban mobility and the e-board community, Dylan said the modular system “allows the user to have full control over their mobility devices” anytime they want to, not just software but also hardware.
Rolling With The Punches
Dylan majors in Power Engineering and decided to take up a a minor in Entrepreneurship because it was something he was passionate about in his early university days.
He had “dabbled in a few startups” but thinks what really sets Thevenin apart from competitors and sets it up for success is his love for skateboarding and the ability to “make use of [his] engineering know-how”.
That’s how the rest of the team got together, because they share either one or both of the two motivations.
“We are confident that we have to expertise to make this happen compared to other products,” Dylan quipped.
While he noted that the concept of adding a motor drive to a skateboard was simple, making it modular was challenging, he told me.
It took them close to a year to design and make a prototype of the system, and took four to five months to design the app which they “built the protocols and code from scratch”.
Dylan shared, “The app will also act as a portal to register your board for warranty and a way to provide instant feedback.”
“We have yet to launch our app officially but most of the features are ready. You can expect the app to be launched when the boards are shipped out.”
They invested about S$20,000 so far.
“We managed the low amount by engaging help from our friends. So I would say $20K plus a whole lot of personal favours,” he laughed.
They faced two key challenges as student-preneurs: designing from the ground up, and juggling school and their startup.
“Because this has not been done before, we needed to design and build custom/proprietary joints and connectors to allow for the modular system. We also had to think ahead for future development. Our goal is to create an ecosystem of mobility devices,” he said.
The discerning young entrepreneur added, “Having a team with diverse expertise was crucial in making this happen. We needed people with knowledge in different areas.”
“However, this made it difficult for us as our schedules do not align. We each had to make various sacrifices to find a common time to work on the project together. It was tough but this is our dream.”
Dylan shared that they received help from Garage@EEE, a maker space in NTU’s EEE faculty. It is a maker space in NTU EEE and it gave them a place and some equipment to use to work on their early prototypes.
On finding a mentor, he said they had two objectives, “We really wanted to find a mentor who appreciates and understand our product. In some sense, we did not just want ‘money’ but more specifically ‘smart money’.”
“Garage@EEE provided the synergy we needed. Our mentor (strategic partner), Roderick Chia, understands and appreciates our product, and at the same time helped fund for our very early prototypes.”
Cruising With Crowdfunding
Preliminary feedbacks they’ve gathered further reinforced their belief in the feasibility and potential of their product.
They are looking at working with notable YouTubers who appeal to people aged 18 to 35 interested in skateboarding or mobility tech, to market Thevenin but Dylan emphasised the care they take before they execute and work with external parties for outreach.
Thevenin Boards’ Indiegogo campaign pre-launch is currently underway and their main campaign will be starting in the month of July. They also set up a page on crowdspeaking platform, Daycause.
Dylan said that they are aiming to reach their goal of S$100,000 which will comfortably execute their initial production of the boards and for acquiring key assets necessary for the business.
The purpose of the crowdfunding campaign is “purely for funding”, he explained, and to get market validation and exposure.
Backers on Indiegogo can get a Thevenin board at the exclusive early bird price of S$499 for the smaller model and S$599 for the larger model. After the campaign, the e-skateboard will be worth more than S$1,000 at retail price.
Their goals are to use funding to bring their product to market and to introduce it to the world.
“Response has been positive. We have crossed 100 supporters on our Daycause campaign. This translates to more than 66,000 social reach. We hope to continue to grow this momentum,” Dylan shared.
He said that there were “no specific crowdfunding stories that inspired [them]” but “collectively, all successful campaigns” are because they are proof that we can use “technology and crowdfunding to turn dreams into reality”.
Once they have successfully achieved their crowdfunding goal and wrapped up the campaign, Dylan promised that they will prioritise fulfilling backers’ orders and continue to collect feedback.
Dylan thinks it is “extremely important” for companies like them to find a mentor or a guide.
“We could be designing something really beautiful but it may turn out to be not feasible due to certain physical limitations of materials, etc.,” he said.
“Therefore, leveraging on the knowledge of experts (our professors) was essential to understand the bounds we can work within to birth a product that is not only beautiful but also robust.”
“In my opinion, quality of a product is key to success for a business like ours (in PMDs). A single product failure could impact the brand severely,” he added.
He encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to consult experts and ensure “redundancies are in place” and recommends students interested in starting up to ask for advice since they can easily reach out to their professors on the campus.
Dylan revealed that they will eventually move away from the crowdfunding model and focus on selling their boards on their own e-commerce site and enter the retail space.
“We will be adding more modules in the future: different decks, motors and platforms. All modules will be backward compatible.”
At the moment, their current lineup of products only lets riders cruise and commute but they have plans to design decks and parts that will cater to riders who also want to do tricks with their e-skateboard.
“This is where the modular design really stands out above the rest. The ability to transform your E-board to your specific needs.”
Featured Image Credit: Thevenin Boards