Startups like those in the 2017 NMotion Accelerator cohort often refine their product or do a complete pivot during the program. Rich Kronfeld, Founder and CEO of Minnesota-based Kronfeld Motors, doesn’t expect that to happen to him.
“I think I know what the product is going to be, it’s not going to change that much,” he said. “The early customer base is what it’s going to be.”
The product is the Raht Racer, a three-wheeled autocycle that combines an electric motor with human pedal power designed to reach speeds of 90 mph or more.
“It’s technically an electric motorcycle, it has that level of parts rather than bicycle parts,” Kronfeld said. “It’s a highway vehicle, accelerates fast. Pedaling regenerates the battery.”
The pedals are connected to a generator instead of the drive train, giving the operator flexibility in deciding how hard to pedal. The amount of battery regeneration varies by speed.
“If you’re going 65, the percentage you contribute is less than if you’re going 25,” Kronfeld said. “Compared to any other kind of highway vehicle, it would be very efficient because of the pedal regen function.”
A grant from the State of Minnesota funded development of the first prototype, which was finished in 2013. But the idea to turn it into a business came a couple of years later.
“I had a day job so I really didn’t start putting time into it to turn it into a business until 2015,” Kronfeld said. “It was all about building this thing that hasn’t been built before.”
“We were a finalist at the Clean Energy Trust Challenge in Chicago and a semi-finalist for the Minnesota Cup,” Kronfeld said. “There’s always been a lot of interest in it. When we first put it out there, we got a lot of good press.”
Kronfeld Motors was recruited to the NMotion program by Program Manager Keevin O’Rourke. Kronfeld feels the sense of community and focus among the teams in the cohort is a valuable part of the experience.
“I’m really impressed by the other teams,” Kronfeld said. “They’re young, focused, driven, none of them are posers or full of themselves.”
The commitment of NMotion staff is also very apparent.
“The staff is good, they really, honestly care,” Kronfeld said. “They’re putting everything into it, working as hard as we are to make this the best experience for all the teams.”
With the product definition clear, what does Kronfeld hope to accomplish through NMotion?
“The challenging thing for me is that nothing new has happened since we rolled it out,” he said. “We need to re-engage with people who are interested and the world in general to let them know we’re working on it.”
Rahtmobile’s target market includes car and power sports enthusiasts.
“It’s a person that’s into vehicles, into cool, might own a Tesla, sports car or jet ski,” Kronfeld said. “I envision it as this innovative new power sport, with a high tech quality to it that will appeal to that demographic. Ultimately I want it to be something commuters use.”
Kronfeld is realistic about the challenges.
“There will be skepticism, and we have to overcome that,” he said. “There have been other projects in this vein that have flopped or turned out to be semi-fraudulent.”
Innovation such as this doesn’t come easy. But there’s still the cool factor.
“When you pedal it, you go as fast as a car, like you have Iron Man legs,” Kronfeld said. “This is the car Tony Stark would build.”
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.