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Organic Transit CEO says the ELF maker may be bankrupt but mission isn’t over

Organic Transit, maker of the ELF, filed for bankruptcy in June, but the mission isn’t over yet, founder Rob Cotter said.

The company filed for bankruptcy because it ran out of time and money, he said. The company was meeting with investors but didn’t secure them before money ran out.

Cotter said he is hearing from international companies and anticipating several investment offers.

ELFs are a cross between a bike and a car, aimed at creating a green transportation alternative. They can be powered by pedal, electric motor or a combination of the two. Their batteries can be recharged via a standard wall outlet, and a solar panel on the roof works as a trickle charger whenever the sun is out.

The company was trying to move manufacturing overseas at the time of bankruptcy.

Organic Transit was getting more orders than it could fill, Cotter said. Locals were buying ELFs after seeing them around town, and people from all over the world were sending in online orders. People had to pay for their orders in advance, then they were handmade in Durham over about an eight-month period.

Following the company’s bankruptcy, there was much speculation about what happened, said Maureen Costello, chief administrative officer of Organic Transit and Cotter’s wife. Some thought Cotter’s leadership skills caused the company to fail, while others blamed the rise of ride-sharing companies like Lime.

Costello disagreed with both.

“He’s not perfect, but to found an industry, to start out in your garage,” she said. “He’s given so much freedom to so many people.”

“I did the best I could,” Cotter said, mentioning the fact that few people had made anything like the ELF before.

The ride-sharing bikes and scooters actually helped prove the viability of the company, he said. They showed that the ELF had advantages, like passenger seating and weather protection.

Kevin Primus, a Durham resident who owns an ELF, said he thought the company began in the wrong time and place.

“If it were to come out now I think people would get it,” Primus said. “If it were born in Southern California, it would be thriving.”

The company going bankrupt was not a reflection of the technology, Primus said, but instead a reflection of the community.

The company started seven years ago in Durham, with Cotter and Costello funding most of the work by taking out a few million dollars in loans.

Cotter said he knew that the ELF was early to the game.

“From a certain perspective it was too early,” he said. “But from an environmental perspective, I was hoping to God we weren’t starting it too late.”

Cotter plans to keep the idea behind the ELF alive, and is speaking to more investors.

“I don’t think that the bankruptcy will be the end of the ELF or Organic Transit,” Primus said. “The engineering is sound and innovative.”

The ELF does have some competitors, like the Pebl from Better Bike, but Cotter said he’s not worried about them. Unlike the others, the ELF has the advantage of weighing only 160 pounds.

Organic Transit’s bankruptcy will not affect those who already have an ELF, Cotter said. The company created a curriculum for bike mechanics, so that bike shops can work on ELFs as well.

“I’ve been building and designing little vehicles for several decades, long before Organic Transit, and I will be afterward,” he said.

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