The Woman Behind One Of The Most Important Kickstarters EVER

Photo: Courtesy Emily Brooke.
Bike commuting in the city can feel scary, and for good reason: You're a fraction of the size of a car, and careless drivers can easily not see you. Of cyclists involved in accidents, 79% are struck from the side while they’re biking straight ahead. When 30-year old physicist, designer, and cyclist Emily Brooke learned this, she found it appalling, so she developed something to make city biking safer: Blaze.

The $200 Blaze produces laser lights that secure to your handlebars and project the image of a biker 15 to 18 feet in front of you, making sure that other drivers — especially bus drivers with broad blind spots — know you’re coming. Blaze, also the name of Brooke's company, is quickly becoming the U.K.’s hottest bike-safety start-up; its lights are now on more than 200 Santander bikes in London (like NYC's Citibikes, but across the pond).

This week, Blaze launched its second product on Kickstarter: a back light called “The Blaze Burner,” which raised over $62,000 its first day. While The Blaze Burner doesn’t have a laser, it contains a light sensor that turns on when needed, like when you bike through a tunnel. The light is round, with a simple, magnetic bracket for mounting, so you can throw it on your bike without even looking.

We chatted with Brooke about what inspired her to start her company, and what you can learn from her experiences.
What was your “laser lightbulb” moment?
"Training in the countryside in the summer was beautiful, relaxing, and peaceful, but when I started biking in the city, it was damn right stressful, dangerous, and exhausting! I wanted to identify the biggest challenge for city cyclists and help solve that problem. After nearly a year of research (including cycling around London with a GoPro on my head), I pinpointed personal safety as the biggest issue to cyclists and the greatest barrier to those who don’t cycle."
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GIF: Courtesy Blaze.

Why did you start Blaze?
"I first patented the technology for Blaze while I was at university in 2011, but I didn’t think that I would be the one to bring it to market. I graduated and decided to learn to code and build a tech company. One evening, I had a eureka, 'kick up the ass' moment after I realized my bike had been stolen. I went to the police station and learned there that a young lad from Moo.com had been killed on his bike. I got so upset, thinking to myself that I had designed a solution to this problem, and why wasn’t I doing work on it? Two months later, I launched Blaze on Kickstarter, and it was one of the first successfully funded campaigns in the U.K."

How do you hope Blaze will get more women into cycling?
"My team is primarily women. We’ve found that most of our girlfriends are worried about their personal safety on bikes. With Blaze, we want to encourage more people to get on bikes, and we want to make it more accessible for everyone. So by making biking safer, we hope more women will jump on!"

What’s one thing you’ve learned about running a business that you wish you’d known when you started?
"There’s no right way of doing things; you just need to get on it with it and use the best available information. I spent my first year panicking about doing things 'the right way' and ended up learning everything I really needed to know on the go."

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
"Find a problem that you really understand, and solve that problem."

Who inspires you?
"My mum — she was a very savvy, hard-working businesswoman with the instincts of a bloodhound. She taught me that you don’t get anything if you don’t ask for it."