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People:: How Jimmy Östholm, founder of Vélosophy, is transforming lives in Ghana by selling bikes in Sweden

Founder and CEO, Vélosophy

Published in Sports Management 11 Jul 2016 issue 124
Östholm came up with the concept after discovering the need for bikes in the developing world
Östholm came up with the concept after discovering the need for bikes in the developing world

What is Vélosophy?
It’s a bicycle brand with a “one for one promise” – for every bike we sell, we donate another to a schoolgirl in Ghana, bringing her hope of a brighter future. We like to think that Vélosophy is part bicycle and part philosophy – and that’s where the name comes from.

The bikes we sell are great looking urban commuters – 3-speed, aluminium bodied and with disc breaks. The bikes we donate are different in concept and have been fully developed for the roads and more challenging environments they are to be used on.

When and how did you first come up with the idea behind Vélosophy?
It was a basic idea, to create and design a new bike brand, but I wanted to do something totally different with it. Finding a greater purpose was essential and if I hadn’t found this cause, I would have never started this business.

It all began when I stumbled over an article describing the needs for more bicycles in the developing world. Extending my knowledge of the huge role a bike can play, I slowly came up with the philosophy.

The bikes we provide will help girls get to school, lengthen their education and therefore play their part in helping decrease the number of teenage pregnancies. The education they will receive will improve their prospects of getting a job – a significant step on the road to break the cycle of poverty. It’s things like that which motivate me to do what we do.

When did Vélosophy launch?
We had a small pre-launch last summer (2015) to test the product, but made it official March 2016, when the bicycles were manufactured and ready to deliver.

Who designs the bikes?
The design is our own. It’s developed within the team. So the design is Swedish but manufacturing is based in France, outside Nantes.

How does the sending of bikes work and when will the first bikes arrive in Ghana?
The distribution is handled by UNICEF and its field office in Ghana. The first donation will mainly contain bikes manufactured locally, so we’re supporting local labour and local business as well. We are currently in discussions with UNICEF over the timings and we hope we’ll have some information to share in August on that.

What has been the most challenging aspect of bringing Vélosophy to market?
The most challenging aspect by far is what every new manufacturing company faces – the need to have the capacity to lock your means into stock. There’s a reason there are so few startups in manufacturing, compared with tech and consultancy-based firms.

What are your future plans for Vélosophy?
To continue our work and to grow a successful business combining a strong social mission with an outstanding urban commuter.

The one thing we do differently to others is our no-compromise promise: for every bike sold, another one is donated. Our ambition is to grow this mission beyond just donating a bike. We want to support local labour and local business and aim to become a partner in local growth. I think that’s what defines us and makes us unique.

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