A wheel revolution in Victoria

Jon Partington and Simon Pilkington, the brains behind high-end carbon-fibre cycle wheel start-up 36T, speak to Adam Carswell about their journey so far, and what winning a small business grant from Bank of Melbourne has meant for the business.


Who came up with the idea for 36T and what was involved in terms of arriving at where you are now?

Jon Partington: From concept to where it is now has all been a product of my imagination.

It started out as identifying a gap in the market. I’m from the UK originally, and the cycling scene is somewhat bigger there, and in Europe generally, where there are a few niche manufacturers of premium products.

It started off with very small metal components available in various colours. When I explored that a bit more, what was going to be our contribution to the industry grew as I learned about the opportunities that existed. Simon came on board about two years in, at a point where all the design, engineering and manufacturing work was more than a full-time job in itself.

There was also the marketing and brand development side of it, and I was aware that I was dropping too many balls just trying to do it on my own.

Simon Pilkington: Jon and I both worked in engineering previously to the start of 36T, and Jon came and bounced ideas off me in the early days. I looked at his designs and gave him feedback on them – that’s how we eventually got into it together.

‘36T’ is a unique name. Whose idea was it?

Simon: That was Jon before I jumped in and got involved. We’ve reviewed it many times since, but I think it was a good choice from the outset really, because ‘36T’ represents the 360 degrees in a cycle wheel. We’ve been really happy with it and everyone that we talk to seems to think it’s a great name. It really fits.

How viable is the business at this point commercially?

Jon: We’re still ‘emerging’ if you want to call it that. The grant we got from Bank of Melbourne has allowed us to pay for our patent application and protect our intellectual property, and buy materials to produce our first prototypes. Competitive cyclists and elite triathletes are some of our key customers, and therefore we’ll be interested in building relationships with them. We’re working on distributing a fleet of wheels that we can give to athletes to start getting exposure.So we’ve got a couple more milestones to meet before we actually get the product to market and start selling it.

How are you planning to take it to market?

Jon: Initially, our sales and marketing will be predominantly online, shipping globally from Geelong. All product development and manufacturing will be local to ensure product quality and allow us to draw on the experienced talent pool in the region.

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Simon: The biggest challenge from a commercial point of view is how we take it from this fantastic product that we’ve got into large-scale production.

We’ve got it patented now, we’re manufacturing in small prototype volumes for people to ride around on and give us feedback, [but] manufacturing a high tech product line, there’s very significant capital investment involved.

Jon: Always money. Our rate of progress is always constrained by the resources available to us. We’ve got a lot of technical work to do, but it’s more the scope of work that we have to do rather than the challenge per se.

The biggest challenge, aside from money, is being received by the market. We’re looking at producing a premium product for semi-pro and professional athletes and our aspiration is to be the best on the market.

So getting that recognition and getting to the status where people are saying, “I need this hardware”, is what we’re striving for, and it’s probably the biggest hurdle that we face.

What’s the most exciting aspect of the journey you’re going on?

Jon: Getting involved with Bank of Melbourne and getting fairly high-profile exposure has been really exciting. It makes it feel a lot more real.

It really feels like it’s getting traction and there’s a lot of interest in what we’re doing. It’s been really positively received and that’s really exciting too. It just feels like we’re getting closer.

Simon: It’s something we all have a passion for, to be the best in the world.

Why not? You can’t ask for anything more than that!

Proudly supporting Victoria’s innovators

More than 300 inspiring business plans were received from across Victoria for the 2014 intake of Bank of Melbourne’s Small Business Grant program.

Bank of Melbourne offered three separate small businesses grants of $10,000 each, across three funding categories: businesses operating for 12 months or less, businesses operating for 12 months or more, and businesses operating outside of the Melbourne metropolitan area.

The grant program looks for projects that find innovative solutions to problems, understand their key audiences and have viable and sustainable business models that will allow the business to start, develop and grow.

In 2015, we are adding the criterion of community. Where we look at how a business benefits the community in which it operates. We will also be asking for (although they are not compulsory) video submissions of a business’ elevator pitch and how their business addresses the four key criteria of innovation, insight, viability and community.

The three recipients in 2014 stood out for their innovation and viability, each receiving $10,000 to take their business journeys to the next level.

Mpira Recycling is a clean-tech tyre recycling and industrial rubber sheet manufacturing business, currently establishing its first manufacturing plant in Melbourne.

Mpira uses a series of innovative and patented technologies to manufacture premium rubber crumb from waste tyres, which is further refined into a robust industrial rubber sheet and sold to manufacturers as a high-grade, low-cost option to natural or synthetic rubbers.

YourGrocer is an e-commerce solution that brings local consumers together with their local butchers, bakers, greengrocers and delis. It allows consumers to shop online at the local shops, with everything delivered to their homes on the same day.

YourGrocer currently delivers 4,000 products from local Brunswick retailers, and Bank of Melbourne business grant has helped the company to expand its delivery areas to Melbourne’s inner south, north and east, now covering around 80 suburbs.

36T is a developer of high-performance carbon-fibre cycle wheels for elite athletes. Its wheels are a carbon-intensive product, weighing less than traditional carbon wheels that use metallic spokes and hubs. The business plans to produce the world’s absolute best performance cycle wheels, exporting internationally from Geelong.

Issue one of Business State featured our interview with Morgan Ranieri from YourGrocer, and the previous page of this issue features our chat with the founders of 36T.

To find out how Bank of Melbourne can help your business get started or to grow an existing business, visit bankofmelbourne.com.au/smallbusiness.