Coffee Break with Natalia Tomiyama from NUWIEL: Moving around on 2 wheels
Every month, during a Coffee Break, we dive into the stories of EIC innovators and get a glimpse of the persons behind the startups and research projects. Our guest for today is Natalia Tomiyama, the co-founder of NÜWIEL. NÜWIEL provides innovative solutions to move goods in a sustainable and cost-efficient way. eTrailer is the world's first electric trailer with patented technology to be used with a bicycle and to walk in pedestrian only zones. Find out more about Natalia’s story in July’s EIC Coffee Break article.
Tell us how the idea for your innovation started. Was there a stimulus or was it something that was bouncing in the back of your head for a long time?
We are a German based company and we provide innovative solutions to move goods in a sustainable and cost-efficient way, by bike. Me and my co-founder, were initially thinking about the pollution of the world, and since our student times we were both travelling a lot. Therefore, we came up with the idea of having a sustainable mobility solution for densely populated areas. The original idea was an electric trailer for kids. We conducted market analysis and despite the demand, decided to leave this idea for later as safety requirements for children transport are very high. Therefore, we shifted our focus to the transport of goods. Five years ago, the e-commerce sector was already growing, but we saw that even bigger opportunities were yet to come.
We started with an idea, not with a vision. The vision has been developed over time with the growth of the company and the market. There is a misconception that founders need a brilliant idea to start. In fact, we dropped the original idea but used the research and early developments and turned them into the product.
How did your family respond to your ideas/innovation?
Both of our families have been very supportive and open-minded. During the entire journey, my business partner and I set small milestones which step by step led to bigger achievements. We first received a grant from Germany to conduct the first research. Then, we won an additional grant from the city of Hamburg to build prototypes. And that was the moment when we decided that was time for us to set up the company.
At every step, our friends and families were very encouraging and supportive. It is very important for an entrepreneur to have this support and understanding.
Who or what has shaped where you are?
There are so many different factors that have contributed. For start, my parents who brought me up in the way they did. As I was growing up, there wasn’t a world divided between men and women. I am very grateful for not being restricted and pushed to pursue my goals. Women entrepreneurs are not yet so visible, even though there are many. There is a need of growing up with role models and reference points and women founders to have bigger visibility and this is one of the reasons why I am very thankful for this EIC Coffee Break article. Additionally, I am appreciative to my friends and former colleagues, who have influenced me; and of course, to my co-founder Fahad Khan and my current team, the constant source of energy, motivation and encouragement to continue and not to give up.
Can you tell us about a tough moment you had at your company and how you pushed through?
There are so many that it’s hard to pick one, but I think this is a standard journey for many founders. You start and you are highly motivated, you know what to do, you get the funds, you start developing and you are very excited. Then it comes to the testing phase with the customers, and everything goes downhill. That is a crucial point when you need to improve your product before your finances run out and to find the way out of the “valley of death”. You learn how to find the right investors that can open many doors, you find right people to work with and build a team culture which is one of the most crucial parts of the company’s success. Having a team of 5 or a team 30 people is very different. A bigger team requires processes, communication channels, work structure and different motivation.
Another challenging moment was the year 2020-21, with two lockdowns and Brexit, all within one year. We had a delay in production for 10 months and disruptions in our supply chain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak. So, we had to act quickly and make strategic decisions to manage the production, sales and to keep the team together and motivated.
What advice can you give people who are currently playing with the idea to start a company?
I would say just do it. Just go for it, try it, and see where it will bring you.
What are you currently reading? What book inspired you the most?
Besides the 100-pages work report, a book I recently read was the David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Is about the underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. Even the global pandemic can turn out to be an advantage for some underdogs who haven't been seen or otherwise would not have had an opportunity.
If you could talk business over lunch with a large corporate CEO or global leader, which one would you choose and why?
I would have a lunch with all Fortune 500 CEO’s and beyond. It is always interesting to learn about their personal journeys as entrepreneurs or CEOs. I would also love to have a chat with the historian writer, Yuval Noah Harari, of whom I learned from one of my team members.