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Rainstorm led to young inventor’s brainstorm for inflatable bike rack

In Photo: Tyler Nelson, 23, a former SMU student with his invention—the TrunkMonkey—at the SMU Lyle School of Engineering on August 5. The TrunkMonkey has caught the attention of Dallas investors.

By Michelle Pitcher / The Dallas Morning News/TNS

DALLAS—Rain dripped off of Tyler Nelson’s hair as he sketched the design for his product. He had ridden his bike more than 2 miles through a storm, and he wanted to make sure he would never have to do that again.

So he created a portable and inflatable bike rack—quite possibly the first of its kind.

Three years ago, as a junior at Southern Methodist University, Nelson got around primarily by bicycle. On more than one occasion, he had to turn down rides from his friends because his bike wouldn’t fit in their small cars.

One stormy day, Nelson decided it was too much.

“It was just a nightmare, and it was dangerous. The entire time I was riding home, I was thinking, ‘How could I have taken that ride?’“

His solution, TrunkMonkey, is a bike attachment that can inflate and latch onto the back of a car. It can be stored on the bike frame, so cyclists can have it on hand in a pinch.

The rack is made of the same material as bulletproof vests, with nylon webbing straps that secure the bike. It was designed to be attached to almost any car without damaging the vehicle or the bicycle.

Nelson, now 23, and his team launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising $25,000, which they achieved after five days. By the end of the campaign, which ended in July, 497 people had pledged nearly $72,000 to the project by preordering.

Nelson worked on the product in SMU’s innovation lab, which provides equipment, programming and mentorship to students.

It was there that Nelson met TrunkMonkey’s first investor, Joel Fontenot, a managing partner for Trailblazer Capital, a Dallas-based venture capital firm.

Nelson came in second place in last year’s innovation competition at SMU. Fontenot, who helped sponsor the competition, said he was impressed with Nelson’s vision.

Nelson and Fontenot teamed up later that year, and the investment firm granted Nelson funding in December. Fontenot and other investors have put more than $300,000 into the venture, which he said will create a new category of product in the outdoor market.

The product garnered more attention at a pitch event this summer, hosted by the RevTech accelerator, a Dallas-based organization that works to promote retail technology innovation.

Now, a team of five has successfully launched the product, which is made in China and began shipping in August.

According to TrunkMonkey’s director of marketing Brad Swaringen, the company is already planning to create more products, including a multibike carrier. The team plans to work out deals with retailers, but until then the product will be available only online.

Image credits: David Woo/Dallas Morning News/TNS

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