For Tyrata CEO and Triangle startup vet Jesko Von Windheim, a tire sensor isn’t just a tire sensor—it’s a tool to help save money and help save the world, starting in Durham.
Von Windheim, a professor of the practice in environmental entrepreneurship and innovation at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, joined Dr. Aaron Franklin—Tyrata’s Founder and current CTO as well as a fellow Duke professor—in 2015.
Tyrata’s IoT (Internet of Things) tire sensors provide near-constant data points that monitor the tread and thickness of tires, allowing for a safer experience for drivers and more efficient tire usage by fleet managers.
“When you think about what dangers are presented by the tires,” Franklin said, “or what things the tires protect you from, it’s largely related to their ability to remain with high traction on the road, right, like stopping distance and good control. Tread thickness is one of the key indicators along with pressure, which we’ve been able to measure for a number of years.”
Monitoring tread thickness gives drivers a much more accurate measurement of when a tire might need to be changed, thereby reducing the waste normally produced by often-inefficient manual monitoring. Recently, Tyrata’s ongoing partnership with GoDurham provided a real-world case study on how the company’s Drive-Over system—one of several Tyrata products that measure tread thickness—could make a difference with this problem.
“Because they could only measure them once a month, it wasn’t very efficient, so they were removing tires too early,” Von Windheim said. “With our system, they could be much more precise as to removal in the tire. Well, that saves them a lot of money, because the tires are used longer—but it also saves a lot in terms of the environment because that rubber is not being thrown away.”
Within the tire industry and increasingly in Tyrata’s mass transit partners like GoDurham, the technology has been a hit. In 2018, Tyrata raised $4.5 million in equity. The company had a bigger raise planned for 2020—but Covid-19 had other plans.
“We had gotten approval with a financing from the investors, so they were ready to go—and then Covid hit and the markets crashed,” Von Windheim said. “But beyond the market crashing, the whole demand for tires went down like crazy. People weren’t driving cars anywhere. So the whole tire industry went through six to 12 months of struggle.”
Even through its Covid struggles, Tyrata raised over $3 million last fall. As homebound workers temporarily shrunk the consumer demand for tires—and with it for Tyrata’s direct-to-consumer products—the company used the pandemic as an opportunity to deepen its partnership with GoDurham.
Franklin said Tyrata’s preliminary findings in Durham show that the sensors have massive impact potential for other fleets, such as delivery services.
“We’ve done some numbers for this particular fleet, which showed something around 12% more usage of tires than previous, so greater than 10% usage increase of the tires,” Franklin said. “This doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s thousands of dollars every year for even a modest size fleet, and has material usage implications that are also pretty significant.”
As Tyrata looks to deepen ventures in the direct-to-consumer and last-mile-delivery sectors, Von Windheim said the company looks to restart the financing process that was hampered last year in the depths of the pandemic. The goal would be to use that funding to help scale the company internationally while still keeping a Triangle-based job and production focus.
Von Windheim said working with the City of Durham on the transit project has further proven to him the value of the company’s Durham roots—Tyrata was founded on Duke’s campus and is currently headquartered in the heart of downtown Durham—and gives him hope for a blossoming green tech focus right here in the Bull City.
“To have a place, a community where you can innovate around environmental solutions, is just phenomenal,” Von Windheim said. “The fact that folks supported this, what we did early on—and I’m sure the City of Durham supports many other innovations, especially around sustainability. I think that bodes really, really well for our community.”