Mihkel Annus, a TUM student from Estonia, has had an entrepreneurial mindset from an early age. While still in high school, he first became interested in launching his own product. Today, while still working on his bachelor’s degree in Management and Technology, he and his team have already developed a unique product in his newly founded startup. How did that come about? you ask, Mihkel had a really unconventional but timely business idea with the potential to eradicate numerous pain points…
Mihkel, you are currently in the midst of your studies and already founded a company – how did that come about? Why did you choose to work on a bicycle bell?
I’m a casual cyclist. I noticed that every time I rang my bicycle bell, the sound scared the pedestrians in front of me. As you’ll surely agree, unintentionally scaring other people isn’t how a bicycle bell should work. Therefore, with a couple of classmates, we got together and built a more friendly-sounding one. Compared to classic bells, it had a more mellow and calm sound. We called it the “polite bicycle bell” – or “Plyke“, for short.
Soon after, we attended our first trade fair and surprisingly sold our entire stock in just four hours. What struck buyers the most, however, wasn’t the “politeness” but the distinct and innovative design of the bell. Since we understood that besides the much too aggressive sound, another main problem of the classic bells was their undesirable structure combined with weak durability, we decided to improve that as well with our product.
Another focus for us was the sustainability of the product. Because regular bicycle bells consist of many different parts and materials, their production, assembly and transport is environmentally disastrous. To date, more than a billion bicycle bells have been produced worldwide, leaving a substantial carbon footprint. By using only a 3D printer and a disc cutter for our production, we were able to reduce the part count in a bicycle bell from 15 to just three. Right now, we are developing the concept even further by making the bell from a single piece of metal. In the end, our new and improved Plyke will be even more durable and environmentally friendly, while still remaining affordable.
What are your visions for this year and generally for Plyke in the future?
Actually, we are currently looking for potential partnerships with mobility companies across the EU to get our bells on as many handlebars as possible. We are planning to start selling them B2C this spring or early summer, just in time for the cycling season.
Next, we want to apply what we have learned in the development of single-piece mechanisms to products in various fields. We believe that our design philosophy has the potential to be applied in battery structures and even spacecraft!
What are the advantages and disadvantages of founding a company while studying?
I would encourage everyone to think about founding a company during their studies, and especially students from the Bachelor’s in Management & Technology. Not only does the program enable you to actively learn new concepts and simultaneously use them in practice – you also improve your cognitive abilities while doing it. The university demands a highly productive work ethic, pushing you out of your comfort zone to achieve more in the same amount of time.
The perhaps obvious disadvantage would be a lack of time. However, working on developing your own company always requires effective time management – whether you’re still studying or not. A skill like that will come in handy rather sooner than later, and the university is an excellent place to acquire it.
To what extent have your studies at the University helped you with founding a company?
I found a variety of courses helpful for evaluating decision making, team composition, the value chain, and other key company-related aspects at Plyke. To name an example, I recently attended a lecture in Organizational Behavior with Prof. Hugo Kehr. The module really helped me to better understand social relations in a team. Furthermore, I also found his specialized input on workplace motivation intriguing. These kinds of teachings provide me with new perspectives on a variety of management-related topics.
What role does the TUM Management Alumni e.V. play in your studies?
The TUM Management Alumni e.V. is my gateway to some of the greatest Bavarian minds in entrepreneurship and a great community for networking – which is always essential for business students.