Nasir Pirani of SumNett Inc. talks about bringing a self-regulating tire valve to the market, the challenge with ETF funding, and practices his elevator pitch for the upcoming FastPitch Competition.
What is your background?
I was part of a team that helped establish the first private university in Pakistan in 1983, the Aga Khan University, and was later responsible for raising $200 million for its endowment. . This university now has faculties in Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Syria, Egypt and the United Kingdom. I’m an architect by training, and since coming to Austin in 1996 I’ve been working in real estate, mostly investment properties. I was appointed CEO of SumNett Inc. in July 2006 to help bring the NGN Valve to market.
What does NGN stand for?
No Gauge Needed.
What is the concept?
Filling air in car tires is a chore we tend to postpone until absolutely necessary, and that’s why 40% of the cars on the road have tires that are 30% below the recommended inflation. Besides being a safety hazard, it reduces tire life, increases gas consumption, and adds an extra 20% to car expenses. In dollar terms, with today’s gas prices, under inflation costs us an extra $40 per month. According to EPA estimates, 4 million gallons of gas would be saved per day if tires were properly inflated. That would help save a whopping billion and a half gallons per year in the US alone.
We have taken the humble tire valve, which has essentially remained unchanged since August Schrader patented it in 1896 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schrader_valve), and turned it into a two way valve. If your car tires need 32 pounds of pressure, all you do is install 32 psi NGN Valves. Simply fill air and drive off. The valve releases excess air and automatically seals at 32 psi. It takes less than half the time, because you don’t need a tire gauge to check if you have filled enough air. By making it fast and easy to fill air, hopefully more people will maintain proper tire pressure and save hundreds of dollars for themselves, and help the environment as well.
How does it work?
The beauty of the NGN Valve lies in its simple, low tech, but practical technology. Since the technology is well known and not esoteric, it also minimizes the risk of the valve failing. Each valve is precision calibrated, ranging from 20 to 120 psi, and suitable for all kinds of tires. If your car needs two different psi for its front and back tires, this can be easily accomplished, and you don’t have to remember the specifics. After filling air the valve self adjusts to its designated pressure. When the pressure inside the tire builds up beyond 25% of its designated psi, the calibrated spring compresses, air is released, and the spring once again seals the valve. We have also designed NGN Caps, that you can screw onto a regular tire valve, converting it into an NGN Valve in seconds.
How much does it cost?
The cost of the valve is practically the same as a regular valve. Its choice should be a no-brainer because for a few pennies more you get vastly improved convenience, safety and economy.
What is your channel?
The consumer is generally not the decision maker when it comes to buying tire valves. The tire retailers usually install new valves along with new tires. New cars will hopefully have the NGN Valve preinstalled. However, caps will be available for purchase at auto retail stores.
Did you try to get ETF funding?
Yes, but we didn’t make it. Our project went through the due diligence and approval of all the review committees, but at the final stage the decision of the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker has to be unanimous – and it wasn’t. In many ways this was a blessing in disguise, because one of the requirements of ETF funding is that the product be manufactured in Texas. It turns out that 99% of the world’s valves are built in China. I think manufacturing it in Texas would have been much more expensive. They are able to do it for less than 10 cents a valve, whereas in Texas despite our best efforts, our projections could not bring the cost below 34 cents.
Are you going to manufacture the valve yourself?
No, we plan to license the technology to major manufacturers of tire valves, and let them use their production, distribution, and retailing experience to speed the phase-in of the NGN Valve. By major I mean companies that are already manufacturing over 100 million valves annually. There are only 6 or 7 such companies worldwide. In fact just two of them jointly produce almost 600 million valves. The annual global production of tire valves exceeds 1.3B, so it is a massive market.
How much are you trying to raise in funding?
About $300K for the first round. Later, we’ll need to raise another $400K. We’ve had a lot of interest from unaccredited investors, but what we are looking for are angels with expertise and contacts in the automobile and tire industry. Having them on our board would be very helpful when we start negotiating with manufacturers. When it comes to royalties, losing even one cent per valve can make a huge difference because of the volume involved.
What about competition from the new RF-sensors on valves that is coming out?
The NGN Valve can be easily adapted to conform to the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) mandated by the government. The self inflating tire systems, available for high end cars, is a costly option upwards of $1000. Whereas, the cost of manufacturing the NGN Valve is in pennies.
I see you will be in the FastPitch competition on April 18th. Can you give us your elevator pitch?
I haven’t finalized my one minute pitch, and need to shave off at least another 10 seconds or so, but it goes something like this:
Filling air in car tires is a chore we tend to postpone until absolutely necessary. That’s why 40% of the cars on the road have tires that are 30% below the recommended inflation. Besides being a safety hazard, it reduces tire life, increases gas consumption, and costs an extra $50 per month.
My name is Nasir Pirani, and I’m the CEO of SumNett Inc. We have designed a tire valve that makes it fast and easy to fill air – without the need to check pressure with a tire gauge. It’s called the NGN Valve™. NGN is the acronym for No Gauge Needed.
After filling air, the valve releases excess air and automatically seals at its designated pressure. It takes less than half the time, because you don’t need a tire gauge to check the pressure.
Global sales of tire valves exceed 1.3 billion annually, and we have patent protection in the US, Europe, Japan and several other countries. The NGN Valve costs about the same as a regular tire valve, with vastly improved convenience, safety, and economy. We expect to take customer orders in six months time, and production is planned from 4Q 2009. Currently we are seeking $300,000 in funding, with a projected three year ROI of 1000%.