YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ronnell Elkins has a vision for Youngstown – a bustling city center with bike lanes stretching from north to south and east to west for locals and tourists alike.
“How many of you have been to a large metropolitan city where people are walking around a bustling downtown with dedicated bike lanes?” Elkins asked the crowd at the Youngstown Business Incubator’s Shark Tank event Thursday evening. “You have people going into local businesses down in the city – don’t you wish that was in Youngstown?”
The crowd of 600 attendees saw his vision, and Elkins clinched the audience choice award and pocketed the $5,000 prize for his company, YoGo Bikeshare.
YoGo Bikeshare is a family owned and operated business in Youngstown. Its mission is to foster healthy community interaction while providing an environmentally friendly alternative through cost effective transportation.
Elkins, company president, and his brother and business partner, Kent Wallace II, want to establish four charging stations “docks” throughout the city. The electric bikes, which cost $1,500 apiece, can be taken from one docking station to another, providing the rider with an alternative form of transportation around the city.
Alternative transportation is particularly attractive to Youngstown residents currently as orange barrels and construction vehicles dominate downtown, Elkins said.
“We’re looking to launch this bike sharing program where everyone can be able to utilize bikes, especially with the construction going on downtown,” Elkins said, adding that public parking is sparse.
Winning the audience choice award was an honor, Elkins said, and he was “ecstatic. As we always say, YoGo Bikeshare was built from the community for the community. So to have the award from the audience was huge.”
The prize money will go toward establishing the docking stations whose overall concept was approved by the city’s design review committee in June, Elkins said.
Elkins was one of five startups to pitch their business plans to six “sharks” and was one of two companies to win $5,000. Cleveland-based Morgen Technology was selected as the shark’s winner.
Morgen Technology is a subscription based software system that employs wireless sensors to transmit data using patent-pending radio technology. The technology is used in buildings and provides owners with operational insight ideal for older, existing structures that lack infrastructure.
“We have no way to cost effectively benchmark and understand how our buildings are performing. Especially in older buildings. It’s very expensive to get reliable data,” Mike Smith, partner and co-founder of Morgen Technology, said.
The technology can monitor things like how much energy the building is using, how efficient the HVAC system is and can detect water leaks and even air quality.
Morgen Technology strives to be the future of commercial real estate technology by identifying and mitigating any issue within a building or space before it becomes a disaster. Morgen provides building owners with insight through a two-prong solution: sensor technology and an artificial intelligence software platform that aggregates all the data
Morgen is able to assess, detect, act, and eliminate the risk before expensive damages can occur.
Mike Murphy, co-founder and partner, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the win. He said the money will go toward software development.
The sharks judging the competition were: Lenny Fisher, president of Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt; Ellen Tressel, board member for the Beatitude House, Mahoning Valley Historical Society, Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation and “We See Tomorrow” campaign at Youngstown State University; Tom Stabi, senior advisor at Schroedel, Scullin & Bestic LLC; Lena Esmail, CEO and owner of QuickMed Urgent Care; Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, entrepreneur and boxing legend; Herb Washington, CEO and founder of HLW Fast Track Inc.
Rides can span from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on which pricing model a customer follows. If the bicycle is not docked by the allotted time, the rider is assessed 10 cents a minute in overtime charges.
“You don’t have to dock them from the station where you got it from,” Elkins says. “You can dock them at a different station closest to your final destination. It hinges on bikes being readily available so multiple people can use them.”
He adds there are tracking devices on all the bicycles, “so we’ll know where every bike is at every second.”
After Elkins observed bike sharing programs in other cities, he thought the idea could work in Youngstown.
YoGo started in the Youngstown Business Incubator with $174,000 in initial capital through a Valley Economic Development Partners loan. Elkins and business partner Kent Wallace each put in $5,000 of their own money to start this company.
Elkins concedes the idea may require some psychological change for residents. YoGo is a family-owned and operated business whose mission is to foster healthy community interaction while providing an environmentally friendly alternative through cost-effective transportation.
YoGo is scheduled to host a town hall meeting at the Youngstown Flea building at 365 E. Boardman St. on Sunday between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to introduce the company and its rideshare platform, Elkins says. It will be one of three town halls YoGo will host. A second meeting Feb. 6 concerning safety issues will be held at an as yet unconfirmed location, while the final town hall is Feb. 20 at the Youngstown Business Incubator, where the first bicycle will be displayed, Elkins says.
“It’s a way for us to communicate in a group setting on what bike sharing and micromobility is, and answer any questions people might have,” he says.
Elkins says the charging stations would be placed in three locations — on the sidewalks in front of the DeYor Performing Arts Center and the Main Library, and on property owned by Penguin City Brewing Co. along East Federal Street. The charging stations have enough space to accommodate 15 bicycles, but dock 10 at a time.
Charging stations could be installed between mid March and early April, depending on when the company receives its equipment. Elkins adds the electric bicycles would be available for use between March and early November, weather conditions permitting.
The company plans to meet with Mayor Tito Brown and other city officials next week regarding the venture, since the project would most likely require approval from the city’s Design Review committee before work could begin.
Bicycles will enhance the city’s economy and overall health of its citizens, says Wallace, YoGo’s vice president of operations.
“There’s many benefits involved,” he says. “We want to make people aware of that in the first town hall.”
Wallace says YoGo will continue to generate funds through the year and work with different sponsors. Currently, the company is partnering with Penguin City, Youngstown Flea, Youngstown Business Incubator and Dope Cider House and Winery.
“As of now we have what is necessary to at least get us going,” Wallace says.
Pictured at top: An electric bicycle that YoGo Bikeshare plans to have in downtown Youngstown this spring.