Steve Ellis (Mechanical Engineering 1991, MSc Aeronautics 1992) has combined his engineering background with his love of sport and design to create the Icebyk, now in use just up the road from Imperial at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. We caught up with him to find out more.
Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?
My fellow students. I really wanted to do the joint course with Mech Eng and the Royal College of Art, but I was concerned I would not be able to combine it with my rowing. One of my contemporaries, Andy Thompson, did the course and went on to design the Dyson vacuum cleaner together with James Dyson. My father taught Design & Technology and I’ve always hoped that I would one day design something cool! People like Andy, Richard Jenkins (Greenbird/Saildrone), Luka Grubor (Olympic Gold Medal winner), etc – they inspire me.
How important were extra-curricular activities during your time at Imperial?
The boat club and Holt Villas at Putney was my favourite place at Imperial. We lived life to the full. And a bit more!
I began rowing aged eight and I was a junior international in rowing for Great Britain before I came to Imperial. I love engineering, but I love sport as well and Imperial ticked all boxes as it is great academically, and it has a great rowing facility. I was the Manager of the Boat Club in 1995-96, and then in 1996 I went to the Atlanta Summer Olympics as lightweight reserve.
One of my fondest memories of Imperial years beating first Oxford and then Cambridge in matches on the Thames!
Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.
After retiring from professional sport in 1996, I joined Shell International. But then in 1999 I switched to telecom where I worked (eventually for Vodafone) until 2017.
I am now building a business around my ice, sport and design interests. The Icebyk came from an idea I have been developing for a few years. I lived next to a canal in the Netherlands which freezes over in the winter. A few friends and I took our bikes out onto the frozen canal, some of us made it, but one fell and broke his bike. It crossed my mind that basically nobody has really tried to produce a serious bike for use on ice. I decided that I wanted to make one.
How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?
At Imperial I was encouraged to pursue a wide range of interests – this is very much in keeping with the vision of Prince Albert who championed having art, science, history, music, etc all together in one place.
The engineering and materials skills I learned, as well as sporting experience in rowing, cycling, and skating have all come together nicely in the IceByk.
What have been your career highlights and lowlights?
My career has been very varied, which is entertaining but has downsides. I’m not a specialist in any one thing, I get bored and have lost jobs (polite way of being kicked out!) along the way. I try and learn and develop all the time but it’s not so easy when you’re over 50! Partly due to other peoples’ expectations.
What does a typical day look like for you now?
It doesn’t exist. Virtually every day is different apart from having breakfast and supper with my lovely wife.
What would be your advice for current students?
When I look back, I didn’t really end up doing anything I was specifically trained to do. My career has been a result of taking opportunities that have come along. My advice to current students and recent graduates is to keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll be amazed.
Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
“I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.”
― Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Go to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and check out the Icebyks!