★ AutoBike. Designing and marketing a bike that shifts gears automatically, based on road conditions. “The continuously-variable rear hub has an unlimited number of gear ratios, so you can always find that perfect gear,” says co-founder Sean Simpson. The computer that decides when to shift is powered by the bike’s movement. AutoBike is targeting consumers who don’t bike much today, and plans to initially market the AutoBike in housing communities for active seniors. Pricing will start around $1000. A former executive of Giant Bicycles has signed on as an advisor. AutoBike has already raised $250,000, and is hoping to raise an additional $500,000.
Why It’s High-Potential: No manufacturer yet owns the category of bikes with automatic transmissions, and there’s a nice opportunity to sell them through channels other than bike shops, which tend to cater to people who are already serious cyclists. (At right, Simpson and Kevin Smith of AutoBike.)