City Life Reimagined

By Micah Kotch, Managing Director, Urban-X

Micah Kotch, Managing Director, Urban-X

Cities play a central role in innovation and creation of economic opportunity. And since the early days of human civilization, cities have depended on technology to improve quality of life. That’s one of the core principles behind URBAN-X, the urbantech startup accelerator built by MINI and Urban Us.

"While each new generation of technologies enabled cities to grow for every positive outcome, there were also unintended negative consequences—everything from traffic and affordable housing shortages to CO2 emissions and job displacement"

Each new advance—from Roman aqueducts to Manhattan’s electrical grid—solved problems from a previous generation and created huge opportunities for the next. For eons, the often brutal challenges of urban life turned cities into crucibles of innovation, culture, economic vibrancy, and creativity.

Most of today’s ubiquitous technologies emerged from the demands of city living: Street lighting. The elevator. The automobile above ground, and the subway below. The telephone, smartphone, and the cellular networks that power them. The 911 and 311 systems.

While each new generation of technologies enabled cities to grow for every positive outcome, there were also unintended negative consequences—everything from traffic and affordable housing shortages to CO2 emissions and job displacement. As odd as it may seem in the age of digital transformation and the Internet of Things, modern cities struggle to be early adopters of tech.

As consumers, we constantly fiddle with new products and services; if they don’t work, we move on. But this is much more challenging for leaders charged with running cities. What happens if a new 911 system fails? What is an acceptable risk when trying new road surfacing materials? What’s an acceptable failure rate for a self-driving bus?

It’s not just city government that has to worry constantly about the public interest. Private organizations manage a great deal of what makes cities possible. Real estate firms, utilities, logistics companies, and others grapple with questions such as, “How will new energy storage behave in the next hurricane? How do I work with water equipment installed inside a customer’s home when I have spent decades just delivering water to their home?”

Startups are uniquely positioned to solve some urban problems, but they face unique challenges when working with cities and the large, established industries that manage critical city services and infrastructure.

That’s why URBAN-X was created—to help a new class of urbantech pioneers engineer the city-as-a-service and steer past the roadblocks; from how best to work with city governments and highly regulated marketplaces such as energy and real estate, to dealing with slow budget cycles and local bureaucracies. MINI experts guide founders in design, manufacturing, engineering, marketing, community building and branding. Urban US connects startups with the leading community of founders, investors, companies and city officials.

Currently, we are working with seven startup teams and applications are open now for our next cohort, which will kick off this summer in NYC.

We work with founders who have proven it’s possible to build startups that deliver both public benefits and outsized venture returns. They have attracted funding from many of the best known venture firms and count some of the best known public and private organizations as their customers.

We can’t make startups easy, but we have developed a program and a playbook to increase your chances of building not just great companies, but the great cities of tomorrow—today. Here’s a look at some of our alumni companies, and how—and where—they are already making a difference.

Faster, safer construction projects

Versatile Natures quickly gathers and analyzes data about construction site operations. In Israel and the US, the company has already demonstrated that it can improve productivity and safety.

3D-printed antennas for advanced radar

Lunewave has solved traditional performance issues that have limited adoption for radar for machine vision applications like autonomous vehicles. Their Luneburg lens and antennas gives Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs like BMW access to radar with similar performance to LIDAR, but without the failure modes associated with adverse weather conditions.

AI-powered road diagnostics

RoadBotics builds on research from Carnegie Mellon University to automate the inspection and analysis of streets. They precisely identify and rate a wide array of important roadway features and conditions, including cracks, potholes, signage, vegetation, debris and other characteristics. The company is currently serving nearly 100 municipal customers around the world.

The evolution of our energy grid

Blueprint is transforming real estate assets into energy assets. They are building a suite of data-driven, machine learning tools that automates the curation, operations, and cash flow management for a new class of energy systems and marketplaces.

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