What we’ve learned from the global tech community.
Beginning this May, Urban-X set out on a five-month, international tour of 20 cities — from Vienna to Toronto, from Barcelona to Portland, Ore. – to meet with startup founders and the business and governmental leaders that support them. Along the way, we picked up valuable insights and key learnings from the URBAN-X World Tour:
The international startup scene is highly diverse — from creators to investors, from business partners to city officials who support new ventures.
As Jane Jacobs said, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when they’re created by everybody.” We see people coming from traditional city-focused backgrounds, like architecture and urban planning, but also people coming from data science and machine learning. We see men and women, people of different income levels and socioeconomic backgrounds, all eager to engage in the business of reimaging city life.
Regional specialization means more winners.
In the GDPR, trade-war era, big tech doesn’t have the same hold over urbantech as it might otherwise. While some companies like Uber have regional scale, there is no global hegemony, which means a more open playing field for startups. It’s interesting to note that Uber walked away from the Chinese market and has been severely limited in many parts of the EU. Some of this can be linked to Uber’s aggressive strategy, but also a sense that many things around cities feel “strategic” and cannot be left to teams headquartered many time zones away.
The tech hype-cycle is still in full swing.
Just because a pitch contains AI/blockchain/AR/VR and Distributed doesn’t make it good. Who’s the customer? What’s the use case? What’s the revenue model? Many of these questions aren’t being addressed by startups, and it’s starting to feel frothy. Maybe the smell of VC cash burning is making us woozy. We’re always looking for people who deeply understand big problems – we’re certain a long list of big challenges remains in cities.
Big corporates are more active than ever.
They realize that their R&D efforts will get them some answers, but a lot of promising new products and services will come from outside their organizations. Some of the best corporate VCs are firms like Intel and Google, but they’ve had almost two decades to refine their approach. Firms working in city sectors are still trying to figure out how they should work with startups. Corporate innovation teams are at every startup conference, and have never been more active in scouting, investing, and partnering with early-stage companies. It’s a brave new world with a ton of uncertainty. There’s no silver bullet, only silver buckshot.
The evolving mobility landscape is having real impacts in cities, with both positive and negative effects on quality of life.
There is no true friction-less multimodal approach to mobility yet. You can choose multiple modes, but things will get interesting when it’s possible and efficient? to combine modes. But this hasn’t kept cities and startups from experimenting. While there’s more transportation choices than ever before, some European cultures have rejected the free-floating bikes that litter city streets as an affront to their collective investment in mass transit, and their ideals of community and placemaking.
The 2018 URBAN-X Global World Tour is an opportunity for the URBAN-X team to meet founders, investors, municipal officials and other public and private-sector leaders reimagining city life. We’re looking for our fifth cohort, which will start this Fall, and we’re visiting 30 cities across the U.S., Canada and Europe over the next five months to spread the word. To sign up and for more information on locations and dates, click here.