At Durham’s Organic Transit, high-level design combines with passion, determination and advanced engineering skills to propel the company to meet its goals.
November 6, 2014
10 Startups to Watch: Organic Transit, Vehicles for “Environmental Prosperity”
The Durham-based founder of the ELF solar, electric, pedal-powered vehicle is one of NCTA's Beacon Award winners.
This is the eighth of 10 profiles provided by the North Carolina Technology Association highlighting its newest Beacon Award category, Ten Startups to Watch. The companies will be recognized during the organization’s November 6th NC Technology Awards Gala.
By Ann Revell-Pechar
Organic Transit makes the ELF, a solar and pedal-powered hybrid vehicle touted as the most efficient transportation currently available. The founder and engineers came up with this unique design as a way to move people away from their dependence on oil with a fun—and healthy—technology. But the focus remains environmental.
“We’re surpassing sustainability,” says Rob Cotter, founder and CEO. “Our goal is actually ‘Environmental Prosperity,’ which we define as creating products that make the user, the community and the planet healthier and more livable.”
In the first 18 months of production, Organic Transit has delivered 425 ELFs, which have prevented 5.1 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. The impact has the same impact as planting 382,000 trees each year. While Cotter underscores a goal of addressing the negative effects of climate change, he also highlights the additional benefits the ELF provides: moving people away from a sedentary lifestyle, providing low-cost transportation alternatives and accessibility for the disabled.
This commitment, plus the opportunity to work on a technology and a market that didn’t exist before, has attracted enviable talent, partners and customers. Organic Transit is also attracted to Durham itself, as it provides fertile ground for entrepreneurial advancement in an environment where one can focus on growth.
But the market for ELF products, Cotter admits, is mostly beyond Durham’s borders. It’s across the globe.
“We already have delivered ELFs in 8 countries and the NC Department of Commerce is working with us exploring more overseas markets,” he says.
Within the next year, Organic Transit expects to have a plan to produce thousands of units per year. It will introduce new models, new markets and new technology that targets the business sector. Cotter hopes that the biggest challenge ahead will be keeping up with demand, as his team is constantly designing new and innovative products to stay ahead of the eventual competition.
Cotter is proud of the fact that Organic Transit’s funding now comes primarily through product sales. But it all started with a successful Kickstarter campaign. The large group of Kickstarter supporters has since been joined by a small group of dedicated investors who recognize the significance of the burgeoning international market.
Among the company’s supporters is the Durham Chamber of Commerce, which has worked to create a welcoming environment for early-stage startups like Organic Transit. Other partners include Alliance Architecture, which supported the product before it even existed; Duke University, which provided the resource of critical thinkers; the Research Triangle community and the City of Raleigh, Citrix, Performance Bikes, the American Underground and the thousands that believe in the products and mission.
Most importantly, Cotter says, is the Organic Transit team, for building the dream and creating the impossible.
With this kind of momentum, Organic Transit can continue to cover significant ground on its road to success.