[about to go looking for the shark]

Brody: On the water?

Hooper: Well, if we're looking for a shark we're not gonna find him on the land.
—Jaws

Lot’s of Urbantech problems remain unsolved. It’s not because they’re unknown or because people don’t care. It’s just that solving the problem means leaving the relative safety and certainty of land for the many unknowns of the water. Jaws might be the ultimate dramatization of Paul Graham’s “schlep blindness,” in which founders unconsciously shy from big challenges.

Most people don’t want to leave the comfort of what they know well. They prefer to write code or design hardware or hang out with a community of likeminded people instead of figuring out how to work with less familiar industries or organizations. It’s much easier to put up a “Beach Closed” sign or to offer a bounty and hope that someone else will come along and do most of the heavy lifting. Heading out into the water is just too scary.

We often meet founders who appear to be running around on the beach trying to catch sharks. When this happens, we think of teams like Blocpower. Blocpower has taken on the Jaws of the energy retrofit world. A lot of people have taken on the energy retrofit problem by staying safely on land - there are software models to identify promising buildings; there are building management systems to operate buildings more efficiently and there are pools of capital for the right projects. And yet, energy retrofits remain a massive, largely unsolved challenge, especially in poorer communities.

Over the last 18 months, we’ve witnessed Blocpower’s CEO Donnel meet with so many people that it sometimes seems like he might be running for mayor! As investors, we’re far from immune to the temptation to stay on the beach. In fact, we’ve often found ourselves asking the Blocpower team questions like: Shouldn’t you be writing more software? Can’t you avoid some of the slower business development processes?

It’s too early to predict if Blocpower can succeed at a scale that will transform energy retrofits. But they’ve taken the essential step of leaving the safety of the beach and heading out onto the water.

[Startup Candidate] Industrial Organics is turning food waste into useful products - and solving multiple city problems in the process. More on I.O.

[Startup Candidate] Booklyness has made a smarter bike helmet to help cyclists and drivers avoid accidents. More on Brooklyness.

[News] The Global Covenant of Mayors is the result of a merger between the two biggest city coalitions. The new group represents more than 7,100 cities and over 600 million citizens, and it aims to coordinate climate actions. More from The Guardian.

[Insights] 7 U.S. Cities’ Approach to Mobility: It’s tough to plan when so much is in flux, but here are seven different visions for the future of mobility in U.S. cities. (HT Dave Zipper)

The are no flying cars or passenger drones or delivery drones. Why not? They now seem just as likely as the autonomous cars that show up in a bunch of the mobility plans. It’s a really hard time to be planner.

[Insights] “Let’s Upgrade Bill Gates’ Reading List” is a challenge to the idea that climate action requires us to wait for new solutions instead of finding better ways to work with what  we already have. Take a look and add your thoughts.  (HT Sameer Rashid)

[Insights] C40’s Food Network: C40’s executive director explains the connection between cities, climate and food. Watch here.

[Insights] “What Civictech can learn from social movements” is the subtitle of Omidyar Network’s report. Explore the data and findings.

[Insights] Digital Communities Special Report from GovTech Magazine maps out the core components of local digital government from broadband to analytics. Read the full report.

[Insights] GV VC Market Analysis: “The best investors that we know don’t try to time the market, and neither do the best entrepreneurs. We have to keep at it.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Here is the complete GV analysis.

[Opportunity] The Urban Future Competition is a new Smart Cities and Smart Grid competition in NYC. The deadline is July 15. Apply here.

[Opportunity] The Tumml Urban Clean Energy Prize offers a $15K grant and mentorships from Tumml’s mentorship board. Apply by July 1.

[Opportunity] SXSW Eco Startup Showcase: Alongside firms like SJF and KPCB, we’re helping pick the winners. Apply by June 26. (Email startupshowcase@sxsweco.com to waive the application fee).

[Community Shoutouts] Congratulations to our friends at the New Lab on their official ribbon cutting. We think this is going to be one of the most important spaces for hardware companies in the coming years.

And congratulations to Leif Abraham on the successful launch of AND CO, which is the best way for freelancers to get accounting done.

[Startup Update] Rachio is the first narwhal (i.e., water unicorn) we know of. They’ve helped save 1 billion gallons of water!

[Startup Update] Skycatch explains how new FAA rules will improve economics and encourage more adoption of commercial drones. More from Skycatch.  

[Urban.Us Update] Events: In case you missed them, here are a few pics and takeaways from our recent events in NYC, Miami, Santa Clara, and San Francisco.

[Urban.Us Update] Welcome Sonam: Stonly had the pleasure of meeting Sonam Jindal at the University of Chicago earlier this year. She’s now our first ever Urbantech Research Fellow, helping us with the next version of the Urbantech Radar.

Fall applications are now open for our Urbantech Research Fellowship.

Best,
Shaun, Stonly, Anthony, and Mark

P.S. “How Wolves Change Rivers” is a terrific reminder about how small changes can have significant effects on complex ecosystems. Watch now.

P.P.S. Bruce, the mechanical shark in Jaws, didn’t work very well, but Bruce’s failure probably helped the film succeed. Here’s how.

Special thanks to Urban-X by Mini and HAX, New York City Economic Development Corporation, Amazon, IBM Watson, Chicago Booth, and Autonomy.Paris for working with us to make the Urbantech ecosystem better.

Need more Urban.Us? Find Us on SlackAngel.co and Twitter. Catch up on past updates here.

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