CU Students Bring Innovative Bike Lights to Market

By Jessica McWhirt

It’s been on every cyclist’s mind lately: Will I be next? We’ve seen an increase in cycling-related deaths in Colorado. Four deaths in July alone:

  • Alex Bounds, 37, was killed by a dump-truck driver on South Marion Street Parkway in Denver. 
  • Patrick Calvert, 31, was killed by a 22-year-old woman driving on Ninth Avenue and Main Street in Longmont. 
  • Edward “Chuck” Vogel, 62, was killed by a man driving a car in front of the Parker Core Knowledge Charter School in Parker. 
  • Andrew Bernstein, 34, was badly injured

 killed by a van in hit-and-run in Boulder. 

Speaking to Kathy Vega and Alex Mulvaney, founders of ShineOn, their motivation behind creating the ShineOn light was due to their fear of being hit by a car. 

How they came up with the idea

Both avid cyclists, engineers, and commuters, Alex came up with the idea to invent ShineOn as he was biking down the Boulder bike path. Around 5 PM every day, Alex passed a cyclist with the “brightest bike light imaginable,” nearly blinding him. One day, Alex noticed someone else was blinded by these lights. Alex thought to himself, “There’s gotta be a better way to see and be visible without reducing other people’s ability to see and be visible.” 

His engineer mind went to work. He realized that if you want to be visible, you don’t shine light away from you. To be visible, you shine light on you. He turned his normal handlebar bike light on his body and bingo. “As soon as I got home, I called Kathy. She loved it!” 

Although, the two often have close encounters with cars frequently, neither Kathy nor Alex have been hit by a car personally. Their friends and family haven’t been as fortunate. One path they often take is by a supermarket. If they pick up groceries, they have to take the path where the cars are exiting the parking lot. Often, cars have nearly hit Kathy. 

Once Kathy started using their ShineOn Light, “cars stop twenty feet away now.” 

Building ShineOn

Kathy and Alex started building ShineOn just over one year ago. The build slowed during Summer 2018 as they both were offered internships but this year the two have been working on it full time. 

Through the CU New Venture Challenge, Kathy and Alex were one of six winners who won a stipend that gives them a chance to build their startup along with mentorship and support. On asking them how many hours per week they spend on ShineOn while going to school full-time, the two laughed and agreed on 70 hours a week. “It’s a hard line between not working and working on it,” Alex said. 

The current bike lights on the market are becoming smarter with Bluetooth capabilities and increased lumens (measure of brightness from the lightbulb), but that doesn’t do anything for visibility. With the traditional lights, “All anyone sees is a dot. It only shines forward,” Kathy says. The only thing bike light companies are doing right now is increasing lumens. They’re basing it on a flashlight; it doesn’t actually do anything for illuminating a cyclist. With ShineOn, cars see the human on the road. 

Kathy looked into blinking lights and adding multiple lights to her bike as they developed ShineOn. Around the holidays, a car said she looked like a Christmas decoration. “Cars don’t see a human. People don’t see your body parts. They don’t recognize you moving. They just see a lot of blinking lights in the distance,” she says. 

ShineOn is a multicolored light with red, blue, and green. It was originally an accident, but people actually liked it. They were happy with the colors. They even said it brightened up their commute back home. 

There’s a special shield on the rider-facing light so it doesn’t get in your eyes. Also, because of the fun colors, it doesn’t reduce night vision. You can see 270 degrees around a rider with ShineOn providing side visibility. 

Both Kathy and Alex said the difference between a traditional bike light and ShineOn is “night and day.” They distinctly notice cars noticing them. The two said cars give them the distance they deserve. 

Their Why

When asked about their biggest challenges, Kathy said, “Learning how to take an idea to a small thing where you do 3D printing, then sell small bits, then selling ten 3D printed lights, and then jumping to mass production…It’s a complete mind twist.” 

Their next goal is to reach people outside of Boulder and Colorado. The two agreed that they need to learn how to do social media ads, how to get in different magazines and newsletters, and how to connect with new people. 

“Entrepreneurship is a totally different world,” Alex says. “As engineers, you kinda guess when you have the thing working, you’re mostly done but getting an actual working prototype is maybe 10% of the challenge. Getting every other piece together like manufacturing scales, finding partners, paying people, even something you wouldn’t consider like working on their cash flow statements. And every single thing to make a company. There’s layer after layer after layer below it. You have to think through it all to be successful.” 

Building and marketing ShineOn hasn’t been as easy as riding a bike though. “It’s a huge struggle. There are some late nights where you question every life decision,” Alex says. 

Kathy and Alex took big risks this summer. Kathy chose not to continue with an engineering internship and Alex has postponed his start date with Ball Corporation so they can focus on ShineOn for the summer. Sometimes they think it’d be easier to take a 9-5 job. “Being a startup turns into a lot of Ramen for dinner,” Kathy jokes. 

Both of them work at the office all day and then go to events to talk about ShineOn at night. “The balance of trying to go all in without getting burned out is something we try to figure out,” Kathy says. 

When asking them what keeps them motivated, Kathy says, “The testimonial. When someone comes back and says, ‘That was so cool,’ and they feel safer, and they had fun using it,” Kathy said that it’s fulfilling knowing that they made this thing and it’s helping someone have a better life. “That’s so great. You can’t quantify that.” 

Check out the kickstarter video here:

Alex’s motivation is making a better world. He wants to get more people on bikes. He thinks by making people safer with ShineOn, they’ll feel safer and more confident on the road or bike path. “It’s such a simple change you can make to live a much better life,” he says. 
We can’t control others, but we can control ourselves. We can illuminate our bodies so others can identify us as humans and not just a moving object. It’s obvious when talking with Kathy and Alex they trust their product to keep them safer on the road. Their KickStarter is live and as of this article’s publication, they already have 71 other people who believe in their product too.

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1 Comment

  1. ColoradoCyclingDad

    I heard about this company on CBS Denver and I immediately bought 3 of the lights. One for myself and two for my kids! I have been blinded by obnoxiously bright lights and love the idea behind this company. Good Luck ShineOn! You have my support!


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