Facing Risk in Challenging Times: Madi Rifkin ‘16
Madi Rifkin ’16 got her first exposure to entrepreneurship through her family, which includes a grandfather who started a business and another grandfather who still invests in and advises start-up companies. “Growing up around the entrepreneurial ecosystem and seeing it firsthand definitely influenced what I wanted to do,” she says.
Madi’s own first foray into the start-up world came in elementary school through a time-honored kid tradition: the lemonade stand. By 5th grade, she had also founded a custom sticker company, and in middle school, she was experimenting with product development. Her product idea, a bike lock built into the bicycle, ultimately received a fully funded patent through a school-sponsored pitch competition.
The bike lock idea stayed with Madi through high school and into college, where it evolved into Mount Locks, a smart lock company she founded that focuses on the scooter “micro-mobility” market. “Micro-mobility is without a doubt the future of transportation,” Madi says.
If you’ve visited any major city in the U.S. (including Denver!), you’ve likely seen these rentable scooters propped up near parks and on heavily trafficked street corners. Using an app, you locate a nearby scooter and pay to rent it, with your phone serving as the key to unlock your scooter. Once your time is up, the lock reactivates, and the scooter is parked and waiting for its next rider to come along.
However, according to Madi, “Without a reliable system to prevent theft and damage to the scooters, they must be replaced, which not only costs scooter companies upwards of $500 million a year, but also causes harm to the environment.” Madi’s Mount Locks can be installed on any scooter and come with additional tracking technology to help scooter companies find and monitor their fleets.
Madi has done all of her prototyping and business development work while studying at Northeastern University. She’s taken advantage of the school’s co-op program, which allows students to mix traditional classroom learning with experiential opportunities like running a start-up. “The opportunity to learn outside the classroom is huge. Hands-on work lets you teach yourself a lot of skills,” Madi says.
However, she does credit classroom experiences at Kent Denver with giving her the foundational skills to be a young CEO. “I came into Terry Rubin’s history classroom as a terrible writer,” she recalls. “He taught me how to organize my thoughts, provide evidence and be concise. All of those skills are key for writing a good business plan.”
Likewise, former music program director Steve Holly gave her unique leadership experience as the drummer for the Quincy Avenue Rhythm Band. “Mr. Holly expected us to play as if we were a professional band, and as the drummer, I really had to lead the song, the set list, and to some extent, all of my classmates in the performance. Looking back, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I had at Kent Denver.”
Now she finds a great deal of reward in taking risks in the notoriously cutthroat start-up industry. “A lot of risk is involved with entrepreneurship,” she confirms. “Especially now with the COVID virus. Start-ups have been hit with this huge wave of [change]: we have no customers. Everyone is inside.”
Because of these market changes, Madi has pivoted her business strategy. In addition to launching locks in Colorado scooter markets (both Avon and Denver served as test sites), Mount Locks is also piloting a partnership model with Airbnb hosts. “We are offering our locks, fleet management system and scooters as a package to Airbnb hosts,” Madi shares. “They station the scooters at their property for the guest to use and the lock controls the whole system. We are launching on February 8 in Arizona at 10 Airbnb properties. We now have a wait list of Airbnb hosts and properties who [want their own scooter] fleets.”
Whether dealing with a global pandemic or other unpredictable changes in the marketplace, Madi thinks entrepreneurs are positioned to succeed in the future. “Risk is something an entrepreneur is always willing to take on. You constantly ask yourself, ‘How do you plan for risk? How do you mitigate risk? And how do you endure it when it happens?’”
Catch up with your classmates, and submit your own good news!
Meet the members of 2020-2021 Kent Denver Alumni Association Board
Kent Denver was proud to learn that fashion designer Ali O'Neill '04 and her company, Markarian, had the honor of dressing Dr. Jill Biden for the 2021 Inauguration ceremony.
The Alumni Courtyard is already a much loved gathering place for students and faculty. We can't wait to welcome alumni to the space soon!
Class of 2016 alum Madi Rifkin on her favorite Kent Denver teachers and how her start-up is navigating COVID challenges.
Honoring beloved Kent, DCD and Kent Denver community member Kay Eppich Black '45.