What do you do with your helmet when it’s not on your head? That’s the question that started the entrepreneurship journey being undertaken by Fermanagh-born brothers Tim and Jonnie McCrea.
The brothers became cycling enthusiasts as children, then as students they became commuters, mountain bikers and road riders. Now, as parents of children who also like to cycle (and are constantly leaving their helmets lying around, or dangling off handle bars), Tim and Jonnie have created a device which can secure a cycle helmet to the bicycle, leaving hands and handlebars free.
Over the past few months – with the help of an Invest NI Technical Development Incentive (TDI) grant – they have designed Helmetor, “a unique, lightweight device that attaches to the front of your bicycle handlebar, or, in the case of the wall-mounted version, to any wall, door or other flat surface.” In order to present their innovation to a global audience, Tim and Jonnie have launched Helmetor on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.
“Kickstarter is a global brand that allows designers, like ourselves, who aren’t involved in large corporations to present their ideas to a global audience,” Jonnie explains. It consists of members of the public who can pledge their support to the project, as well as regular backers of Kickstarter projects. “It’s part philanthropy, part shopping,” Tim explains.
Already, Helmetor has had backing from across the world, including America and UK, with one backer describing it as “an ingenious and deceptively simple device.” If Helmetor does not meet the target of £17,250 before Christmas, the backers do not lose any money, and neither do Tim or Jonnie. Rather, they will have gained invaluable global exposure for their unique invention. If they do meet the target, they will be funded for the tooling and production of Helmetor.
Describing their new and unique product, Tim says: “This is a ground-breaking cycling component that solves a very genuine, enduring problem for cyclists of all levels, everywhere.” The father of two, who lives on Innishmore island near Carrybridge, has always had a habit of inventing things in his garage. It was a chance encounter with a wire coat hanger that got him thinking about attaching cycle helmets to bicycles.
Tim explains his invention: “Due to its intuitive patent-pending design, its lower arm acts like a leaf spring allowing Helmetor to hold the helmet using a single air vent whether it is 3cm or 8cm long. It is easy to use, attaching a helmet securely in one, swift, single-handed movement.
“You can also lock your helmet onto Helmetor; just fit the lock through the hole at the end.” He continues: “The device is ideally positioned on the handlebar, close to the stem. This keeps it out of the way of lights, bells and speedometers. It will be supplied with three sizes (in green, red, grey, orange, blue or pink) to allow it to be attached to the following handlebar diameters: 22.2mm (the standard diameter for handlebar grips and kids’ bicycle bars are usually this diameter throughout); 25.4mm (one inch; the diameter found on most bicycles where the handlebar widens at the middle of the bar to be clamped by the stem); and 31.8mm (the ‘new’ universal standard).
To get to this stage, Tim (an art teacher) and Jonnie (a physiotherapist, who lives with his wife and two children in Moira) have put in a lot of “hard graft”.
Their first port-of-call was Invest NI, which immediately saw the export potential in Helmetor.
“The project was eligible for an Invest NI Technical Development Incentive (TDI) grant which helped fund the initial design process,” Jonnie says. “A designer created the final drawing and specified the material that would meet our specifications.” From there, Jonnie entered the difficult arena of intellectual property.
“We wanted to be sure that no-one else had our design, otherwise we would have been infringing on that. I wrote a patent application, submitted it to the UK Patent Office and they were able to do a global search and they didn’t find a device like this. That meant we could file our application as Patent Pending.” He continues: “For the UK application I did it myself; it was very difficult. We got some guidance from the Patent Office in Cardiff and were able to work out how to write a patent. Following that, we got further help from Invest NI on how to file for a world-wide patent pending product. We are at the stage now that we can protect that throughout Europe if we want to.” His advice to budding entrepreneurs is to be ready for a lot of hard work.
“Let’s put it this way; I’ve done a PhD in physiotherapy and the intensity of this has been at the same level, if not greater, than doing a PhD. There are so many dimensions; from writing patents, to designing, working with manufacturers, working out the specs, applications to Invest NI, liaising with patent attorneys and family life on top of that.” The Helmetor prototype was machined in China, which they found to be the most cost-effective manufacturing location. The overall unit cost would depend on how many devices are produced, Jonnie explains.
Tim points out: “It has been absolute graft for two months to get to this point and to get the Kickstarter campaign up-and-running.” Jonnie says: “I have learnt many skills; I enjoyed it; that’s been the good thing. This has required time, thought and effort, along with the support of Invest NI. It hasn’t been about pumping money into this venture.” The pair have been heartened by the response to their invention to date. It has been reviewed by Bike Biz.com and has been nominated for a Fred CC award (part of the Belfast-based Fréd Festival, the awards are voted for by the cycling public and are awarded to people who put an enormous amount of effort into campaigning and working to build a better cycle culture for everyone but go unrecognised.) In addition, local cycle retailers such as Peter Jones from Lakeland Bikes have voiced their interest in and support for Helmetor.
To check out the Kickstarter campaign, log onto www.kickstarter.com/projects/1849100966/helmetor-the-bicycle-helmet-holder For more updates, photographs and debate follow The Impartial Reporter on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/impartialreporter And on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/impartialrep