Tauranga-based electric adventure vehicle company UBCO was recently named the Pacific Edge Hi-Tech Emerging Company of the Year at the 2022 NZ Hi-Tech Awards.
The Award recognises the growth and impact to date of the UBCO electric bike, along with the future global potential of its hardware and software platform. It was presented in front of a record 1100 crowd of New Zealand’s top tech talent, alongside the other outstanding finalists in this category including NanoLayr, Auror, Lumin, MacroActive and Tauranga’s LawVu.
“We are thrilled and couldn’t be prouder of the UBCO team, and our supporters,” said UBCO’s executive chair and CEO, Katherine Sandford.
Back in April 2018 the startup featured on Bay of Plenty Business News’ front page. The company’s then CEO, Timothy Allan talked about UBCO’s success at the time in securing funding to launch its electric utility bike into the American market (Allan was speaking then at the Innovation is Gold seminar in Tauranga, one of several hosted around New Zealand at the time by IP law firm James & Wells).
Rise from humble roots
UBCO has risen from humble roots in a Wairarapa shed and has achieved almost 3X year-on-year global revenue growth. The company now addresses a gap at the intersection of the US$50 billion powersports market and the fast-growing adventure market, worth an estimated US$800 billion in the US alone.
Sandford told Bay of Plenty Business News that the idea was born from its early roots in farming.
“We remain committed to that sector, and it’s a great testing ground, particularly in New Zealand, to ensure our products continue to be tough enough to deal with any environment in any geography,” she said.
“But focusing on the adventure market for explosive sales growth allows us to take advantage of the multi-billion-dollar powersports sector in Northern America. There’s a fast-growing hunger for outdoor recreation and exploration activities.
“There’s a fast-growing hunger for outdoor recreation and exploration activities, and we have had such high demand for our newest models that we’re expecting more than 3x revenue growth again this year.
“They’re using UBCOs for everything from conservation in Africa and tourism in Rarotonga, to off road exploration in the US and urban food delivery here in New Zealand. There’s even Art Mathias who straps our 2X2 to his plane to explore the Alaskan wilderness.
“Much of this success is built on what we learnt from our original Kiwi users – many of them farmers who took a risk on an unusual product by a small startup.”
What the judges liked
For the Award, the judges were looking for a winner that had made the transition from a startup, revenue-wise, that had an exciting story of innovation, market opportunity, competitive advantage and plans to achieve the goals it sets, and that could demonstrate significant revenue growth, while having a clearly articulated business strategy.
The judges said, “New Zealand now has a globally focused motorcycle company, and the product is green, fun to ride and targeting a growing market niche. Fantastic.”
Sandford told Bay of Plenty Business News the company was still seeing demand from other markets, but they were keeping their eyes on North America for initial growth, opening up Canada as an extension of the massive US market.
“In the US, we have signed a recent deal with Tucker Powersports who have around 6000 dealerships, providing UBCO with an extra 75 sales reps on the ground across the country,” she said.
“In addition, we’re firing up our US direct-to-consumer (DTC) engine and are seeing steady growth from that channel as well. UBCO is also currently in the midst of a funding round seeking a minimum of US$5 million from wholesale investors.”
The new round would then be matched by an undisclosed existing investor.
Growth across key markets
“Currently, at UBCO, we are taking the company to almost 4,000 units sold to date across our key markets,” she said. “There’s a fast-growing hunger for outdoor recreation and exploration activities, and we have had such high demand for our newest models.”
And the upsurge in demand for electric vehicles was growing as the products become better and more suited to the mainstream market, she said.
“Kiwis have always been great adopters of more sustainable practices and switching to electric is one aspect that is just continuing to grow.”
China was initially, and continued to be, a key supplier of components and products, but Sandford told Bay of Plenty Business News that UBCO had secured supply chain and production agreements with Taiwanese-based powerhouse, TPK.
“For the US market, we actually produce the 2X2 in Oregon. That enables us to be able to label the product as, “Designed in NZ, made in USA” – which is seen as a real positive by our customers there.”
Covid 19 had a major impact on manufacturing supply chains globally, but Sandford said the company currently had a very healthy supply chain that was keeping up with the company’s high demand and growth.
“UBCO is currently delivering on average within five days of order to customers in the US, so for now, we have a massive competitive advantage.”