Creating the next generation helmet
It was a typically busy day in London and our co-founder Josh was darting in and out of meetings. Normally, he’d get a train or an Uber but instead decided to make the environmental choice and rent a hire bike from Paddington to his next meeting in Waterloo. He punched in his card details and for £2, he had his bike - but there was no option of a helmet. He used the cycle lanes but still found himself riding over Waterloo Bridge squeezing between buses, cars and motorbikes without a helmet – he felt pretty scared. He thought ‘How can this be OK?’
The facts are that helmets keep people safe while riding, but they’re a hassle to carry around, can be expensive and aren’t always available. People want to use them but often can’t. This means many who might choose to cycle, aren’t doing so.
Josh talked to Dom – an experienced cyclist – and asked if there was a problem to be fixed and he agreed there was. Together we set out to find a solution and the concept of the Newlane helmet was born.
Bringing the concept to life
We brought on board award-winning designer Will Wood, who’s worked with Boeing and Aston Martin, as well as devising numerous bike-related innovations with his agency BDI Design.
Next, we applied for and won a start-up grant from Innovate UK, the Government agency that helps ideas become a reality. This enabled us to do interviews with bike industry experts, carry out a UK-wide survey to 1000 potential customers and run user-groups to test concepts and write a product design brief.
This research confirmed that, as well as surpassing safety standards, the kind of product we hope to create must deliver in three key ways to have a fighting chance of filling a clear gap in the market.
First it must be genuinely ‘packable’ unlike the current foldable options available. Volume reduction isn’t enough, if the folded shape of the helmet doesn't easily fit into a regular work or travel bag. Also, since we’re aiming to make a product for lapsed, casual and new riders, as well as keen ones, it must come at a price to suit everyone. From our research this is under £45 - reasonable, but not so cheap as to undermine perceptions around safety. Finally, for our product to ‘land', especially among younger consumers, it has to be produced with our environment in mind. This insight led us to connect with ocean plastics campaigners and suppliers who have since agreed to work with us and ensure our helmet contains recycled ocean waste.
With this knowledge in mind, we set about designing and 3-D printing our prototype. The challenge was to create a helmet that packs down but avoids mechanisms which complicate the user-experience and increase production costs. The Newlane, a three-part product manufactured using single-shot injection moulding, is our solution.
What would 'real' people say?
The prototype was widely endorsed by the people we showed it to first - family, friends and others within our professional networks. While this was good to hear, it wasn't the validation that we needed. So, when we were offered a late chance to exhibit among the hundreds of market-leading products at the London Bike Show with its audience of discerning cyclists, we knew we had to take it. Even so, the months of graft and a growing belief in the product, couldn't subdue our apprehension.
With blend of hope and trepidation, we headed to the Excel Centre to find out what 'real' people would say. The long and short of it is this - either cyclists are all very nice people who’d do anything to avoid offending us, or our efforts have paid off and we have come up with something that really can meet a clear consumer need.
Over the course of three days we had hundreds of conversations with all kinds of people - keen and casual riders, retailers (of bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters), product manufacturers and even a few potential investors. New market opportunities also emerged after discussions with people who travel a lot and others who participate in sports like para-gliding. By taking our prototype, with a patent application submitted, to people who had no reason to like what we'd created, we now feel we've well and truly ‘de-risked' the initial concept.
Since then we’ve produced prototype #2, which has already generated interest from potential retail partners and investors. We’re now getting into further detailed R&D to ensure we’re ready to go to market in early 2020. As well as submitting an application for a second Innovate UK grant, we’re about to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. This will be our sternest test yet – actually asking people to part with their money (albeit for an affordable product at a discounted price).
Our business Newlane is a new venture, producing innovations that support sustainable and active travel. We hope that our ground-breaking launch product can add value to the lives of people in the UK and beyond, enabling them all to feel safe as they get around.