Inspiring Women in Cleantech: Meet Elizabeth Yu, Founder of Onsee

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Jemima Heard
March 5, 2021

Onsee are increasing road safety for cyclists with REBO, their smart bike light and dashcam. REBO will help cyclists capture the data of their rides through video footage that maps location and records number plates. REBO will also enable users to download incident data.

By aggregating this data, Onsee will be able to 'detect and generate near-miss hot spots to feed into infrastructure planning', and help prevent future near-misses from occuring.

Onsee's REBO device and button, as seen in position on bike handlebars.

Studies by British Cycling show that adopting Danish levels of cycling in the UK would

  • save the NHS £17bn within 20 years
  • increase mobility of poorest familiest by 25%
  • save 80 lives a year from by making roads safer for cyclists

If 10% of car journeys were made by bike, the cut in air pollution would save 400 productive life years. By making cycling safer, Onsee are paving the way for a greater increase in cycling, supporting the Great Bicycle Boom of 2020 to maintain momentum.

REBO is currently being trialled by cycle courier companies throughout Europe, and has also been feasibility tested in Oxford by Pedal and Post. Onsee are now working with our Sustainable Innovation Programme to test some elements of the REBO device, such as durability and data upload capability.

Onsee founders, Elizabeth and Crispian, brainstorm together.

Onsee was founded by Elizabeth Yu and Crispian Poon under the name 'Pelation'. Elizabeth is an alumni of Imperial College Business School and has a background in business development. For International Women's Month, Elizabeth spoke to us about her entreprenurial journey and her experience as a woman in the Cleantech sector.

Hi Elizabeth, thanks for talking with us! Tell us a little about yourself?

Originally from California, I’ve lived and worked in Taipei, Boston, Los Angeles, Singapore, and now very happy to be based in London. Strong believer that when it comes to luck and opportunities, you make your own. My expertise and background is in business development, growth hacking, and project management. My previous sales role in a luxury hotel in Singapore led to exceeding targets and planning/executing over 75 weddings in one year. I’m passionate about people, bikes, and productivity tools.

In 2019 I took up a new challenge and joined my co-founder Crispian on a mission to help people feel safe using the best, fastest, and healthiest form of travel in cities: bikes! It’s been a whirlwind of an entrepreneurial journey ever since but it’s been incredibly exciting and fulfilling!

Onsee's innovative REBO device as seen from behind the bike seat.
Describe your innovation in a sentence?

Focused on eliminating dangerous near misses, our innovation uses IoT sensors and self learning technology on bikes to improve road safety problems and increase usability of spatial road incident data captured.

How did you discover the issue that your innovation addresses?

I used to cycle during my university days in Boston and absolutely loved it - it got me around the city quicker than a car and was a great form of exercise. When I first moved to London, I found the road environment very intimidating and even though I’m not new to city cycling, I was afraid to get on a bike. My co-founder Crispian, who I met during our MBA year at Imperial, understood my fear but with some advice and convincing, he was able to get me to start cycling again. Together we echoed the same sentiment: there really is nothing quite like cycling across London - you get to see how every part of the city connects to each other instead of feeling like you have been teleported from one place to the next on the Tube. Not to mention, an increase in cycling can decrease traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, and create healthier and cleaner cities. From our first hand experience and speaking to the people around us, we realised that our vision of cycle cities across the world will not come to life until we have tackled the safety barrier stopping people from getting on bikes.

When did you start working with the SBI team, and what have you achieved so far?

I met the SBI team back in December 2019 at the Sustainable Innovation* Women in Tech bootcamp and we started the Onsee (Pelation) x LSBU collaboration discussion shortly after. Our collaboration officially kicked off at the start of this year. It’s been an amazing few months working with the professors at LSBU who are able to help with developing deep neural network models, analysing and reviewing our prototype designs, and building out important connections with our stakeholders.

What has been a challenge or an obstacle in your product development?

As a start-up, there is always a timing balance between building your product and growing commercial traction. You want to make sure you have interest before you start building a product, but people tend to want to see and use the product before they commit their interest. We have always had a very problem-driven approach, so we are constantly reviewing our product market fit and analysing our stakeholders and users’ needs as we continue to develop the product. This means sometimes deploying rough and ready prototypes that we are not necessarily ready to show but will gain a lot of insight by doing so. The hardware element of our product is an additional challenge, as we cannot prototype as rapidly as a pure software product.

What are the benefits of working with SBI/LSBU for you?

Working with the South Bank Innovation team and LSBU professors during the program has been an incredible experience. The dedicated SBI team really took the time to understand challenges specific to Onsee before we started, so they were able to tailor the work plan to hone in on those tasks that the LSBU professors/experts can help with. The initial meetings and conversations during the project set-up stage structured the project in a very effective way which provided both the professors and our team with very focused and actionable methods towards solving a particular challenge. It’s come at the perfect time for our company as it not only provided niche technical insights, but also helped establish connections with key government stakeholders.

What were you doing before you founded your company?

Before I moved to London, I worked on the business development side of the Hospitality industry in Los Angeles and Singapore. My roles were always a cross between business development and project management - selling, planning, and executing large corporate conferences, trade shows, product launches, weddings, and more. This means working with all types of people and learning how to be exceptionally organised- I loved it but have always wanted to start my own business so decided to take some time out to get my MBA in London at Imperial College. Shortly after we graduated, my co-founder Crispian and I realized that not only do we have very complementary skill sets as business partners, we were also passionate in solving the same challenge - and here we are!

What’s next for you and your business?

We’ve successfully developed our flagship product REBO to an operationally viable level and collected a substantial data set from our prototype trials. We have just launched another pilot with the Government of Jersey and will be launching one in London. We are now on a Geospatial Commission and Innovate UK funded grant to further develop capabilities to automatically identify and analyse cycling near misses using our device’s video footage and data. This will produce near miss insights and actionable feedback for local authorities, and will allow them to easily understand, prioritise, and implement Active Travel action plans faster and more efficiently. We plan to launch the data platform later this year as wellas a consumer version of our bike light/dashcam soon.

What is your top tip for women developing new products?

Start with the problem, not the product ...

Many people develop a product because they have a great idea in mind. This is okay - but before you build your solution, you need to go out and speak to your target audience. This means getting out of your comfort zone and verifying your hypothesis in a non-leading way. If you ask someone if they think your idea is good, most people will tell you it’s great, so you need to structure your questions in a way that will give you an unbiased view of what they need, even if it might completely crush your hypothesis ... I highly recommend reading The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick for methodology on how to do this... And look, you don’t need to get 100% of people agreeing with you - there are going to be plenty of noises and ‘recommendations’ to filter out, but listen closely to what people are telling you and find the key insights to proceed with. And keep talking to people! - other potential users, your customers, other co-founders. I personally think that as entrepreneurs, we are always working on the same problem and every once in a while it is important to get out of your own head a little bit and listen to the problem from someone else’s point of view.

How would you describe your experience as a woman in business or a woman in STEM?

As a woman in business and tech, I do tend to have more male peers and find that men outnumber women in programmes, conferences, and industry events I attend. There are times in the past where, yes - I have gotten occasional sexist comment, or felt the need to speak louder than my male counter-parts in order to be heard. However, probably contrary topopular beliefs, I’ve never quite found being a woman in business/tech to be a disadvantage. I am lucky to be here at a time where there is already a very welcoming community of incredible like-minded women entrepreneurs and professionals. There are many opportunities out there just for women: programmes, grants, exclusive networks, mentorships and they are all on a mission to grow, empower, and help tackle the main problem areas. Underrepresentation of women in business and the need to improve gender equality in tech are recognised, and it’s important for women in business or STEM to keep this in mind, and continue to pave the way for other women as we progress through our journeys.

What do you think is the most important issue that tech entrepreneurs should be addressing?

Climate Change. Hate to be cliche about it, but climate change is the most complex and defining issue of our time. Every tech entrepreneur should be addressing this either directly or indirectly. This is a global problem felt immensely on local scales and so, understanding, mitigating, and adapting to climate change are all crucial to how we will change and affect the future generations of the world.

How do you imagine innovation helping women?

Innovation has already played a huge role in increasing opportunities for women. Whether we are looking at the growing FemTech sector bringing innovation to issues that have long been ignored, learning tools providing access to women who have limited infrastructure and opportunities, or other innovation tackling inequality/changing social norms /closing the gender gap, and more ... these successes are, and continue to be, instrumental to changing the lives of women, especially those in the developing world. I believe it is key to further the power of innovation to continue to generate large scale changes and meaningful opportunities for women globally.

Follow Onsee's journey through their website, where you can sign up to join their cycle community, or follow them on Twitter. You can also connect with Elizabeth on Linkedin here.