When Aaron Powell ('11) visited Sweden in 2016, he was struck by the bicycle-friendly nature of the country.
He noticed families used cargo bikes, in which a large cargo box was attached to a three-wheel bicycle so several children could fit into it while an adult steered the vehicle.
"That is what we need," he thought.
When Powell came back to the U.S., he couldn't find a similar product. So he created one.
Now he heads up Bunch Bikes, which he started in July 2017 and employs 11 workers in Denton. He's racked up big sales during the pandemic -- 95% online and 5% through bikes shops across the country -- as people have sought out outdoor activities. He also will appear on the March 26 episode of Shark Tank to pitch his business for investors. And the former teacher accomplished these feats without any formal business education.
"I wanted families to experience this lifestyle," he says. "I was going to keep going no matter what."
"The thing I got from music that has been essential is working for incremental progress daily for a decade or more to become proficient at an instrument," he says. "Every day, I worked on one little thing."
After he graduated, he taught band at Bettye Myers Middle School, riding his bike all the way for the 9-mile commute. He married Rachel Leslie ('10), an elementary education major who he met at West Hall.
When Powell founded Bunch Bikes, he realized he had so much to learn -- from manufacturing to marketing. UNT's Family Business and Entrepreneurship Club was a great resource to the community and provided him marketing tips.
"There isn't a day I haven't thought about Bunch Bikes," he says. "A lot of great ideas have come to me in the shower."
During the winter, business usually slows down. And in late 2019 and early 2020, money was getting tight for Bunch Bikes. By the third week of March, Powell was eagerly waiting and ready for spring.
But major cities were shutting down because of COVID. Orders had stopped.
Then two weeks later, Powell says, "The sales were crazier than ever."
The outdoors and bicycle industries were selling out of their products instantly. With Covid increasing demand for bikes worldwide, manufacturing lead times tripled from 90 days to more than 300 days, with some components of his cargo bikes taking more than 18 months to get. To prepare, Powell has already ordered parts he needs to keep Bunch Bikes going for 2022. He has been raising money from investors to cover the cash flow gap caused by the bicycle industry supply chain being thrown out of whack.
With such success, he figured an appearance on Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to celebrity investors for money, may help even more.
"The experience was kind of surreal," he says. "I've watched the show and seen how it is like and then I was dropped in the middle of it. I asked myself, ‘Is this really happening?' But as I was taking part in the show with the entrepreneurs, it just felt like I was having a business conversation with friends."
He can definitely tout and stand behind his product. Powell uses his Bunch Bike almost every day to carry his children around, ages 6 and 3. The family owns only one car since they are able to haul other items, such as groceries, in the bike.
"There's almost nothing a family would need a van for that you can't use the cargo bike for," he says.