Jon Akers

In the Fast Lane: Jon Akers

Former CEO and Founder of Lithium Cycles

M. Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2015

B.S., Finance, Lehigh University, 2010

Jon Akers is on the move. After living most of his early life in Spain, Jon returned to the United States with his family when he was 12 and grew to embrace three passions: racing bicycles, making things, and launching businesses. He knew early on that there had to be a way to build a career around these interests, and he set out to do just that.

It takes a lot of grit to be an entrepreneur. If this is your passion, you have to take the leap. Chart your course, get started, and keep going.
We Asked Jon some important questions:
You were a successful entrepreneur before you enrolled in Lehigh’s Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) master’s program. Why did you opt to get this degree?

When I made the decision to pursue my M.Eng. in TE, I’d already had a variety of experiences in the entrepreneurial marketplace, and I knew this is where I wanted to be. I thought that the rigor integral to Lehigh’s hands-on academic program would push me and, in so doing, increase my potential for success going forward.   

What skills did you develop in TE?

I learned to prototype and produce things, I developed an understanding of practical applications for concepts and theories, and I made invaluable connections. The systems knowledge and the skills I took away from the TE program act as solder in a way, reinforcing my strengths, sharpening my business insights, and, hopefully, positioning me to reach greater heights in years to come.

What did you do immediately after receiving your M.Eng. in TE?

I founded Lithium Cycles, a privately held electric vehicle startup, just months after earning my master’s degree. My team included three other individuals as well, each of whom brought a different expertise to the process. The product we developed, the Super ’73, is a provisional patent pending 1,000-watt electric bicycle that can be driven in throttle mode or pedaled. It has lots of features and extras, including an LCD screen, a USB port for phone charging, and a removable lithium-ion battery.

 

Funded by a Kickstarter campaign and in-kind support from an entrepreneur I met at a tradeshow during my TE year, the Super ’73 is produced in a 4,000 square foot warehouse in Tustin, CA. I actually lived in the warehouse for a while…an arrangement that simplified my life and improved the efficiency of our operation. As CEO, I was integrally involved with most aspects of product development. 

 

Lithium Cycles shares floor space with Nimble Scooters, another startup in which I was a partner and CFO. The latest product in Nimble Scooters’s line of cargo-carrying scooters, the Urban, launched on Indiegogo and reached 120% of the target funding level. 

The Super ’73 was named one of the “10 most beautiful bicycles of 2016” by the BBC. How did it do in the marketplace?

We hit it big right out of the gate! In July 2016, we reached $440,000 during the first month of sales. I felt it was the right moment for a pivot, so I sold my shares in Lithium Cycles and exited the company.

So what are you doing now?

I’m trying to figure out my next venture. Knowing that I always find inspiration and renewed energy through travel, I’m going to take time off to explore before starting something new. Thanks to TE year, I feel like I have the skills to take advantage of whatever opportunity I ultimately pursue.

That would certainly seem to be the case! You’ve already demonstrated remarkable entrepreneurial agility. Tell us about your other experiences in this arena.

I co-founded Fietsklik, an international bicycle accessories company based in Amsterdam, prior to enrolling in the M.Eng. in TE program. A Kickstarter campaign which exceeded the 200% funding level got the company off the ground. While I’ve since exited the firm, Fietsklik continues to produce click-on bike accessories such as messenger bags, laptop carriers, and crates in Europe.

 

I’ve also worked in product management, design, marketing, and strategy development with established companies such as Lutron, the lighting control industry giant where I served as a category manager for more than a year, and with fledgling companies such as Lamprey Systems, a shipping logistics and tracking company where I functioned as a consultant and director of marketing for almost two years.

 

Along the way, I’ve had unique opportunities to help others just starting their entrepreneurial journey. While focused on Fietsklik in Amsterdam, for example, I was approached by a competitor in the bicycle accessories industry, Willex. They asked me for assistance in getting their bike bags into the United States market. I agreed because, well…because that’s what I do. 

 

I thrive on creating things, on solving problems, on getting my ideas out there, and on changing any industry in which I’m involved. Needless to say, my commitment to entrepreneurship – and to entrepreneurs – runs deep.

How have your travels contributed to your success?

I do think it helps that I’ve lived abroad and traveled extensively. As an undergrad, I completed an internship in Madrid through Lehigh’s Lee Iacocca International Internship Program and, while there, served as economic ambassador to Spain through Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development. That really set the course for much of what was to follow and gave me a leg up in terms of understanding the global market.

You’ve achieved all this before your thirtieth birthday! What are you thinking about the future?

Eventually, I may want to teach technical entrepreneurship. That’s down the road, though. I have other ideas, goals, and plans that will keep me busy for well into the foreseeable future. The TE program gave me a foundation for all that’s to come, and I intend to make the most of it.