After launching a Kickstarter campaign this past August, two alumni from the USC Marshall School of Business, Amir Atighehchi and Mikey Ahdoot, have created a product called Nutlock to foil potential bike thieves.
The device is a specialized nut that fastens wheels to a bicycle frame that ordinary wrenches can’t loosen. The idea came to them after both founders were victims of bike theft several times. They finally were fed up when a thief stole Atighehchi’s front wheel and Ahdoot’s back wheel and bicycle frame.
“All he needed to do that was a wrench,” Ahdoot said. “That’s what got us so concerned. It’s just so easy for a thief to steal bikes and especially bike parts.”
The pair began researching for the device by closely examining bike racks. From this, they realized that the wheels were the most vulnerable parts of the bicycle. Since Nutlock would prevent the wheels from being stolen, students would then only need one U-lock to avoid carrying two locks to secure both wheels, Atighehchi said. After researching other ways to prevent bike theft, the duo drew up a provisional pattern.
Atighehchi and Ahdoot then contacted students at the Viterbi School of Engineering to help them design the project. The idea was well received, and after generating significant interest, they chose three engineering students to work on the project.
“That’s how we met, and that’s how I got involved with the project,” said Jazzmin Martinez, one of the engineering students. Martinez started off by working on Atighehchi’s concepts as product developer. The engineers then used the software Solidworks to create sketches for the product.
“In the beginning, it was definitely a lot of sketching and prototypes and 3-D modeling to try and get these concepts out in the open so we can test them out,” Martinez said.
Atighehchi and Ahdoot brainstormed with the engineers for the design of the product as well as for developing its initial business model, a process that included surveying 100 students and getting consulting help.
“We tried to raise funding as well,” Atighehchi said. “We were doing the leg work of trying to find the best sources to help us produce the product.”
The components to the product are compact: the key is only 3.5 inches long and the nut is 0.95 inches in diameter. The nuts have special cut-outs that only the accompanying key can fit, the founders said.
In May 2012, the Nutlock project was accepted into the Accelerate, Incubate, Mentor Program at USC, a highly competitive program that gave them seed funding of $15,000.
The founders also launched a Kickstarter campaign on Aug. 6 that will last until Sept. 14. Within a span of 10 days, their campaign reached over twice its goal amount of $15,000.
Their product gained support from various types of cyclists, ranging from commuters to students to city cyclists. Donations came from people as far as the United Kingdom and Brazil.
According to the Dept. of Public Safety, 49 bicycles were reported as stolen during the 2013-2014 school year, and 12 bicycle thefts were reported in the summer.
“I know of one [student] who said his bike was stolen twice,” said Deji Adeleke, a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention. “He’s afraid of getting a new bike.”
Marc Cocjin, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering, said that locking a bicycle with a cable is ineffective.
“Some bikes look like you can steal them,” he said.
Certain students feel the threat of bicycle theft more than others. Christian Washington, a second-year graduate student in computer science thinks his bike is safe when locked on campus.
“If my bike was stolen, I’d be very surprised,” he said, “Especially given there [are] so many bikes.”
Even though the Nutlock start up has yet to bring its product to stores, those working on it are excited about its potential.
“I was attending a graduate-level design class taught by Professor Stephen Lu, and this project was a perfect opportunity for me to put what I learned into real life,” said Huy Tran, one of the engineers for Nutlock. “It was an exciting idea that would help fixing the bicycle theft problem, of which I was also a victim during my university years.”
The Nutlock product can be bought online via the website www.lockyournuts.com.
“As a student at USC, I lived through the pain of bike theft,” Ahdoot said. “If you’re biking on campus, your bike wheels will get stolen unless you use Nutlock.”