Last fall, Evan Solida had reluctantly shelved his longtime dream of starting his own company and was planning to go back to work as an industrial designer. A year earlier, he’d left a design job with Confluence Water sports. The kayak maker in Easley, to devote his full attention to building his own business around his idea for a "digital bicycle mirror.” Solida, a former bicycle racer, who lives in Mauldin had applied for a patent, created a website, and made models of his product, a tiny camera and screen that gives cyclists a view from behind their bicyles without having to turn their heads or use clip-on mirrors. By early Novemeber, however, Solida hadn’t attracted any investors for his venture and so felt like he had to return to his previous career "to keep food on the table” he said. His luck changed, however, on the very day he had scheduled an interview with Trek, a bicycle maker in Waterloo, Wisconsin called him. Matt Dunbar, managing director of the Upstate Carolina Angel Network, a group of affluent individuals who invest in startup companies. The call led to a presentation in front of UCAN members at the Greenville Chamber and ultimately to an undisclosed amount of funding from the investor group. Combined with a loan arrange through a Michelin program that helps small businesses, Solida had enough money to hire the Greenville office of Aeronix, an engineering services firm to develop the electronics for his product and line up a factory in China to make it. Now he’s set to introduce the device- called the Hindsight 35-to the cycling market at the Interbiek trade show in Las Vegas in September. Solida said he couldn’t have continued as an entrepreneur without support from UCAN and Michelin Development. "They made it happen,” he said. Solida’s startup company is one of three businesses that got a total of nearly $230,000 in loans in the latest funding round from Michelin Development, said Amy Friess, a spokesman for Greenville-based tiremaker Michelen North America. From UCAN, Solida also got valuable business advice from one of its members, Mark Smith, who ran companies for a private equity group before moving to Greenville from Atlanta about a year ago. Smith said he thinks the Hindsight is a "very intriguing product with a lot of potential.”
The 50 member UCAN has provided 4.4 million to 15 startup companies, 10 of them in South Carolina since it was founded in 2008, Dunbar said. It’s one of about 340 angel investor groups across the country, up from 100 in 2000, said Marianne Hudson, executive director of the Angel Capital Association in Kansas City. "People are figuring out these angel groups are a good thing for both the investors and the entrepreneur,” Hudson said. Hudson said the groups provide a way for entrepreneurs to find high quality investors and for investors to find good investments, pool their capital and learn from each other. The groups also help their communities by assisting with job creation. Solida said he’ll keep his startup, called Cerevellum in Greenville because the city’s focus on cycling makes it a great place to create products for the sport. He envisions the company making other cycling products over time. Solida said the Hindsight, which he plans to sell for $229 or $249, will enhance cycling safety and could attract more people to the sport. "We were surprised nobody had done it before,” Dunbar said. The Hindsight’s camera is mounted behind the bicycle seat and it’s screen between the handlebars. The device also functions as a cyclometer, measuring speed, distance, and time, and its three LED lights make it a taillight. In addition the Hindsight continutally records video of the view behind the bicycle in 30 second loops, and stops if the bicycle is suddenly jarred, which makes it a "black box” for bicycles, recording the moments leading up to an accident. Solida said he got the idea for that after being struck by a car while cycling near Wren High School. Sean Priddy, director of business development for Aeronix in Greenville said he sees the Hindsight as an "evolutionary platform.” "There’s definitely more innovation that can happen with this product.” Priddy said.
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