Not just spinning their wheels: Electric bike entrepreneurs wanting to link to Singing River Trail win competition
ATHENS — A bicycle ride through Colorado with his parents inspired Nathan Tucker to develop an electric bike rental business in north Alabama with Ash Moorer, and their startup idea along with plans to tie it into the Singing River Trail won a regional entrepreneurial competition Monday at Athens State University.
Tucker said he has always loved the outdoors and is a mountain biking enthusiast. His parents came to visit him when he was living in Colorado, and they decided to go biking in Aspen.
“We went to a rental place for them to get a bike and they had electric bikes. I was like, ‘Oh, this will be great. We can go so far today,’” he said. “They got those electric bikes and I watched them zip up and down hills, all around Aspen, Colorado, while I pedaled my butt off all day.
“I was exhausted, and they still had energy; they’re in their 60s,” Tucker said.
When Tucker moved back to Huntsville, he said he looked for an electric bike rental store.
“I was like, man, there’s probably someone doing this around here because my parents do it wherever they go,” he said. “I looked and no one was doing it. This is a need and an opportunity.”
Tucker and Moorer, both 40 and from Huntsville, have been working on developing their business for about nine months and launched March 4. Tucker said they wanted to create a business for more people to enjoy so they started Rocket City Electric Bike Rentals.
“The basis is just providing an outdoor recreation activity that more people can utilize outside of your typical, what you think of when you think of outdoor enthusiasts,” he said. “You can rent from us hourly, half-day, full-day and you can travel up to 45 miles on our battery; you can make a day of it.”
Tucker and Moorer finished in first place out of eight finalists in the second Singing River Trail Launch Tank competition modeled after television’s “Shark Tank.” Seven judges heard pitches from the entrepreneurial finalists in the event attended by at least 220 people at Athens State’s Carter Gymnasium. The finalists were chosen from 45 applicants from eight counties.
Tucker said they plan for their business to complement the Singing River Trail, a 200-mile walking/biking trail that when complete will run east-west across north Alabama. It will have trailheads in Decatur on either side of the Tennessee River and a spur proposed to run to Athens.
“Looking to the future with the Singing River Trail, (our goal) is to create a seamless map with hubs along the way so you can travel from one destination to the next,” he said. “Charge your bike up overnight, get up the next morning and do it again.”
One of the judges, Jim Odom, said he had several reasons for choosing Tucker and Moorer as the top entrants.
“They had worked so hard getting into it, they had a good plan, and it was a good fit with Singing River (Trail),” Odom said. “I thought they had a better chance of success, and they could be more helpful to the Singing River.”
The event’s $20,000 in prize money was split between the eight finalists. For taking first place, Moorer and Tucker received $5,000, which they plan to use for marketing their business.
“With the money, we’re really working on improving our marketing, getting the word out to people,” Tucker said. “We’re so new, so many people have never heard of us. (Supplying) hotels and the visitor’s center with brochures and literature … and posting some local advertisements would be a big part of that as well.”
Tucker said winning Launch Tank makes him feel excited, honored and validated.
“We took a leap of faith with something that no one’s doing in our area with the goal of getting to the Singing River Trail,” he said. “By coming here today and winning and realizing that, hey, other people believe in us, too, is validating.”
Winning second place and $4,000 was Jonathan Fowler, 41, from Huntsville, for his company Fow Wow Designs which has been operational for 10 years. He makes shirts, stickers, mugs, hats and other merchandise with interesting designs on them.
“I make punny, funky designs for the people, places and things of Alabama; try to spread local love,” Fowler said.
Fowler said with his winnings he plans to make Singing River Trail passports that people can fill with stickers representing the cities they have been to on the trail and that would be sold at local shops.
“I created a journal passport, so it has all the towns along the Singing River Trail so far,” he said. “People can journal out their trip either before or while they’re taking it in. Trying to connect the people that are on the trail with the local businesses.”
Mike and Meeka Fellows won last year’s competition with their business, Selah’s Acres RV Park and Resort Development. They were awarded $5,000. Meeka said they have opened their RV park and campground in Hazel Green since last year’s event, which was in Decatur.
“We have four glamping (glamorous camping) spots that we rent out daily,” Meeka said. “We’re in the last steps of finalizing our tiny home … and we have built an organic garden. We are building a bathhouse for our campers. We have rustic camping, and we have glamorous camping and we’re still building out our RV lots.”
John Kvach, Singing River Trail executive director, said the trail is currently in eight counties and will soon be in nine or 10, including Marion County in Tennessee. He said right now they are working on the master plan for the western part of the trail from Decatur to the Shoals.