The NYC Urban Tech Ecosystem
Since launching our venture accelerator focused on scaling "urban tech" startups, our team at Dreamit UrbanTech has met with over 500 founders building products that solve pressing problems for cities and their inhabitants. We have also built relationships with dozens of larger organizations that work with or support these fledgling companies.
See our earlier piece "The Urban Tech Movement is Transforming Cities"
Urban technology is a broad category and encompasses startups that operate within other more widely recognizable sectors, including construction tech, IoT, energy efficiency, big data, and prop tech, among others. It becomes a little easier to understand what urban tech means when you know more about who the leaders of the urban tech movement are. We've put together some of the leading voices in the nascent urban tech movement below.
New York City: A Hotbed for Urban Tech Startups
Transit Tech Lab: This accelerator program is for startups solving public transportation challenges and was created to identify and test promising new technology and other products that will accelerate modernization of New York’s public transportation network and contribute to improved services and a better customer experience. Accepted startups have an opportunity to pilot their technology with the MTA and help to transform New York City. Created by the Partnership for New York City and the MTA, the Transit Innovation Partnership (TIP) is a privately funded, nonprofit initiative that was developed in response to Governor Cuomo’s challenge to the business community to help address the needs of the regional transit system. It is led by Rachel Haot, Executive Director and the former Chief Digital Officer for both New York City and New York State, and an advisory board of civic and business leaders that is chaired by Alan Fishman, Chairman of Ladder Capital Finance.
SideWalk Labs: The brainchild of Google founder Larry Page and former CEO of Bloomberg Daniel L. Doctoroff, Sidewalk Labs is on a mission to reinvent cities “from the internet up” accelerate the pace of adoption of digital technologies like ubiquitous connectivity, social networks, sensing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and new design and fabrication technologies in urban areas. Here's how it works: SideWalk Labs consists of "hyper-focused, cross-disciplinary teams of policy experts, engineers, product managers, and designers — a full range of urbanists and technologists. They’ll be empowered to advance an idea into a functional prototype that can be tested in the real world, drawing on the Sidewalk team for business development, talent acquisition, communications, and administrative support." There will be about nine of these labs in total, and you can read more about them here. The team at SideWalk is also eyeing a 12-acre strip of land in Toronto to build a connected, high-tech city district from scratch.
Dreamit UrbanTech: With Avi Savar at helm and in partnership with one of the largest urban development projects in the country, Dreamit has honed in its focus on scaling startups with market-ready products and helping these startups sell to large, enterprise-level companies.The accelerator team has created a system for deploying tech solutions created by startups on a national scale by crafting a customer network of some of the top developers, construction managers, general contractors, architects, design firms and other decision makers in creating the built environment in cities. Dreamit is helping to integrate startups into one of the largest development projects in the country with core customer partner Strategic Property Partners (Bill Gates and Jeff Vinik)
The NYC Retrofit Accelerator offers free, personalized advisory services that streamline the process of making energy efficiency improvements for building managers, with the aim of reducing operating costs, enhancing tenant comfort, and improving the built environment. The energy used in New York City’s buildings is responsible for nearly three-quarters of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the city, and the vast majority of existing buildings will still be used in 2050. The de Blasio administration made a commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 (80x50)—the level that the United Nations projects is needed to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change. If your startup is solving problems with energy efficiency, heating/cooling, solar panels, or water conversation, this is an organization you should know.
Gehl Institute: Backed by the Knight Foundation, the Gehl Institute is an offshoot of urban design firm Gehl Studio and was founded to help create public spaces that draw in people and boost economic opportunity of the surrounding area in Knight communities. Carol Coletta of the Knight Foundation summed up the mission of the Gehl Institute: “We want to discover how public spaces can be designed to invite people to engage their neighbors and their community. We want to know how this can lead to a culture of civic engagement and how it can advance economic opportunity.”
The New Lab: Shaina Horowitz manages the Urban Tech Hub at the New Lab, a workspace in the Brooklyn Navy Yards that gives community members access to prototyping shops, digital manufacturing tools, events, workshops and a large partner network. About 30% of the 84,000 square foot space (described as a "tech paradise" in Vanity Fair) is a shared resource useful to startups in robotics, artificial intelligence, and design. This mission of the Urban Tech Hub in the space is to "support designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs leveraging advanced technologies in an effort to address challenges faced by cities."
Intersection: Led by former COO of MediaMath Ari Buchalter and birthed out of SideWalk Labs, Intersection aims to connect the digital and physical worlds with public services like free Wi-Fi and calling, navigational services, and other products. The company’s most well-known initiative is LinkNYC, which provides super-fast Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging, and a tablet for access to city services. By the end of the 2017, Intersection will have nearly 500 Links installed in all five city boroughs.
NYU Tandon Future Labs: Led by Steve Kuyan, this incubator within the NYU Tandon School of Engineering is a public-private partnership with New York City on a mission to create a sustainable incubation program and to increase the success rate of new ventures that generate positive economic impact. The Labs have various partners around NYC, as well as access to professors at NYU. The programs provide guidance, expertise, resources, and community for startups. The Urban Future Lab within this program is a hub for smart cities, clean energy, and smart grid tech. Companies that have been part of the program include Ev-Box, East Coast Electric, Bandwagon TaxiShare, AnelloTech, Urbiotica, Sistine Solar, Enerknol, Rentricity, Voltaiq, BlocPower and many others.
NYC EDC & UrbanTech NYC: The mission of the NYC Economic Development Corporation is to grow quality jobs and make New York more resilient. With this in mind, the team launched a program to support fast-growing urban tech companies. Urbantech NYC offers flexible office space, equipment for prototyping and testing, commercialization support, demo opportunities, and a variety of shared resources to entrepreneurs addressing some of New York City’s most pressing urban challenges. In partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation and New York University’s Center of Urban Science & Progress, NYC EDC defines spaces throughout New York City that will provide a new way for Urbantech NYC companies to demonstrate their technologies on NYC infrastructure and to solve problems defined by City agencies in the communities in which they are deployed.
Civic Hall: Founded by Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, who also are co-founders of Personal Democracy Media, Civic Hall is a co-working space and "collaboration center" for the world’s civic innovators. Innovators in urban tech can purchase varying membership levels to access the space and join the community of like-minded individuals. Civic Hall also hosts the Personal Democracy Forum, an annual flagship conference that brings together close to 1,000 top technologists, campaigners, hackers, opinion-makers, and government officials.
Urban-X + Urban.US: A recent TechCrunch article announced the partnership between these two big players in the urban tech space. The Urban-X accelerator program was founded in partnership with BMW MINI. (Fun fact: the BMW Mini was designed in response to rising gas prices brought on by the 1956 Suez Crisis and allow city-dwellers to consume less gas and park cars more efficiently, making it one of the first examples of urban tech.) Urban Us is a micro VC investing in startups that reimagine city life, including companies like Bowery, BlocPower, HandUp, Radiator Labs, Rach.io, Starcity, Citymart, Flair, Ecomo, BRCK, Skycatch, and others. With this new partnership, the two will be making investments in pre-seed companies in connected living, mobility, energy, and food waste and making $100,000 investments for an equity stake that Urban-X will take will vary depending on the startup.
Founded by Peter Hirshberg, Maker City is a social impact and advocacy firm based in San Francisco that gives cities a playbook to leverage the "maker movement" to accelerate jobs and opportunity in local neighborhoods, particularly those affected by deindustrialization. The organization runs a number of programs to help cities increase the number of workers trained in areas like computer science, CAD/CAM, robotics, electronics, CNC tooling. The idea behind the movement is that manufacturing that creates jobs in the new economy tends to be local, built around industry-as-a-service, and focused on enabling consumers to customize products. These jobs tend to require more skills than traditional blue collar industries, and cities must adapt to train their populations.
Urban Tech Leaders in Other Cities
UI Labs: This Chicago consortium led by Steven Fifta has a focus on IoT, big data, and large industry-level challenges that are too big in scope for startups to solve on their own. This is a great example of open innovation — the leaders bring together technical experts, entrepreneurs, executives, investors, and leaders in government to reimagine the challenges they face. They focus on commercialization, and startups in the program can design and test in the city, allowing startups to get to market a lot faster.
Tumml: Real estate developer turned social enterprise entrepreneur Clara Brenner founded this San Francisco-based hub for urban technology. Tumml selects early-stage companies and gives them temporary workspace, mentoring, contacts, training and $20,000 in funding in exchange for a 5 percent equity stake in each company. Startups in Tumml typically have a consumer-facing solution to business challenges facing cities. It has accelerated startups such as CityHeroes, Farmery, HandStack, Hitch, Neighborly, Chariot, and others. Brenner also works as the managing director for the Urban Innovation Fund, which provides seed capital to startups in the space.
Singularity University Smart City Accelerator: Sponsored by Singularity University, the Columbus Smart City Accelerator is the first urban tech-focused accelerator in Ohio (Columbus won the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge recently). The SU Smart City Accelerator provides participants with technologies, tools, and a network of experts, mentors, and partners. The accelerator is sponsored locally by American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) and NCT Ventures. Each of the 10 selected businesses will be eligible to receive up to $100,000 in funding from NCT Ventures. The accelerator is focused on mobility, connectivity, data and analytics, infrastructure and energy, and manufacturing and production.
Get Your Organization on this List
The field of urban tech is only just starting to evolve, and there will be many more influential organizations formed to address the problems of urbanization, deindustrialization, and life in cities. Please send me a Tweet if you’d like me to add an organization to this list.