Micah Toll: Engineering Student, Electric Bicycle CEO
by Kathleen Toohill | University of Notre Dame
Micah Toll, named as one of the top five college entrepreneurs of 2011 by Entrepreneur Magazine, designs two-wheeled sustainable vehicles using the K.I.S.S. doctrine: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Toll, a senior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, founded Pulse Motors in 2011 with classmates Thorin Tobiassen and Max Pless. Pulse manufactures the Personal Electric Vehicle Zero (PEVO), a bicycle with electric power capabilities designed to make commuting easier for city residents.
Toll said of his team, “We come from three different backgrounds but were able to combine our diverse skills and produce a fleet of very impressive prototype electric vehicles. In less than a year we went from chalkboard designs to cruising the streets on the PEVOs we designed and built.“
The PEVO has an all-electric speed of 20mph, which can be increased if the rider is also pedaling, and charges in one to three hours. Pulse Motors began beta testing their PEVOs in Pittsburgh in October, and the vehicles were featured on the front page of the business section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in February.
Toll said that time management is the most challenging aspect of balancing life as a college student with his job as CEO of Pulse. “Being an engineering student is a full-time job by itself, but to try to start an electric vehicle company at the same time requires balancing your time and making sacrifices along the way,” said Toll.
“I often find myself drawing out schematics of gear ratios for electric vehicles in the margins of my class notes or planning out a study schedule for an upcoming exam during my Pulse time, so learning to balance the demands of both is a game I’m still playing,” Toll said.
The Pulse Motors team often spend time working on the weekends but are careful not to overload themselves, said Toll. “Sometimes after a long work day we’ll go for a cruise on the PEVOs to clear our heads and keep everything in perspective,” Toll said. “What’s the point of designing fun vehicles if you never get to enjoy them?”
Toll is involved with the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at Pitt, and frequently speaks to groups and clubs within his local community. “I really like working with students and talking to them about pursuing their own innovations, because I believe it was the quality public school education I received and the teachers I had that inspired me to take chances by following my dreams and using my head to invent solutions to today’s problems,” Toll said.
Toll plans to move to Tel Aviv and work full time for Pulse there after graduating from Pitt. “Our goal is to open an R&D center in Israel next year to tap into the strong entrepreneurial environment in Israel as well as a target market there that has already embraced electric vehicle commuting,” said Toll. “As Israel already has thousands of electric vehicle charging stations and the highest R&D funding per capita in the world, we are excited about collaborating internationally between our teams in Pittsburgh and Tel Aviv.”
Toll’s advice for budding entrepreneurs is to stick with a simple concept, which is where the K.I.S.S. doctrine comes in, and to surround themselves with a strong team. Pulse Motors is Toll’s third startup, and the first that utilized a team setting, a technique that Toll said has paid off tremendously.
“Find the right mentors and partners that have strengths where you have weaknesses,” said Toll. “Finding the right team can be hard, but going it alone is much harder.”Kathleen is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is majoring in English and minoring in journalism and is currently an editorial intern at Notre Dame Magazine. She worked as an editorial intern at San Diego Magazine and a news intern at CBS News 8 this past summer. She works for Notre Dame's student magazine and coordinates high school visitation weekends for the Notre Dame admissions office.