What we do
Urban Us is the venture fund for startups that make cities better.
We’re usually one of the first investors, investing up to $250,000 alongside other funds or angels.
Once we invest, we connect startups with our specialized network of founders, investors, companies, cities, and advisors.
Beyond fundraising support, we help founders benefit from our specialized network to develop their first products, find their customers, and develop their first channels.
We work mostly online, so founders can continue working wherever they are and we can continue to add the most relevant people to the network no matter where they live.
We work together until startups reach their growth stage (sometimes signaled by their series A funding). After that, founder don’t leave. They usually become the most sought after advisors for earlier stage startups.
Cities are humanity’s greatest creation. They’re unparalleled sources of opportunity and creativity. Today, there are more people living in cities than at any other time in human history.
But city life has come at a cost. Cities account for approximately 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. With urban populations set to double by 2050, we’ll have to re-imagine cities if we’re to continue to grow opportunities and also limit and adapt to climate change.
We believe that startups will play a central role in re-imagining cities. We’re specifically concerned with sectors that have an outsized impact on city life:
Mobility & Logistics—A large portion of city life involves moving people and things within and between cities.
Built Environment—Cities are also defined by their built environment, including real estate and physical infrastructure from roads to stormwater systems.
Resources—Food, water, energy, waste, air, capital, and Internet connectivity are essential to city life.
Local Government—Local governments are increasingly challenged with the need to provide more services more efficiently, with fewer resources.
While we believe that healthcare, education, and economic development are all important to cities, we’re not currently looking at opportunities in these areas.
Startups fail for many reasons. Once we choose to invest, we work to reduce the chances of failure by connecting startups with people who can help them fund their ideas, develop their products, find talent and acquire customers.
Leading investors—We work continuously to identify angels and seed stage funds who are interested in city themes as well as hardware and government. Beyond angels and traditional funds, we’re also gaining experience with corporate venture funds, which are increasingly interested in early stage investment.
Relevant companies—Business development can often result in wasted time for startups. So we’ve identified firms that have demonstrated that they know how to work with startups on everything from distribution deals to pilots.
Innovative city governments—While many investors experience deep FOG (fear of government), we’re fortunate to work with some leading city organizations that can help founders with everything from procurement and policy to connecting with key local stakeholders in areas like real estate, energy, and insurance.
Domain experts—Most experts focus on distribution, or, more specifically, on channels, customer relationships, revenue models or customer segments. We’re finding that even for consumer or enterprise distribution, knowledge of specific customer groups, channels, and incumbents can be useful.
We’ve organized Urban.Us online, so a startup team in Denver can easily benefit from brand and channel experience in Seattle and NYC or energy experts in NYC and Houston can offer feedback to a startup in Boston.
Every day we’re available via messaging, voice, or video.
Every two weeks we send out an update to nearly 900 people in the Urban.Us Network. These updates include introductions to new startup candidates, as well as relevant research, news, opportunities, and portfolio company updates.
Every month we ask founders to share updates, which enables us to identify critical needs and come up with appropriate, usable introductions. In some cases, these result in one hour sessions that help founders think about problems in new ways. In other cases, they lead to ongoing advisory relationships. In still others, they result in partnerships or investment.
In real life you’re most likely to find us in the Bay Area or NYC, but we also organize trip and meetups in other cities. Our annual event, City Startups, is an opportunity to celebrate startups and cities and explore some of the key challenges facing startups that work on city problems.
Shaun Abrahamson, Co-Founder, Managing Member
Shaun is a member of the investment committee, and he leads investment selection and communications with portfolio companies, members of the Network, and limited partners in Fund II.
Before founding Fund I, Shaun was an active angel investor, investing in more than 20 firms between 2007 and 2013 in his personal capacity. Early-stage investing and advising is informed by his experiences building MediaSentry (acquired by SafeNet in 2005), Starmedia Network (acquired by France Telecom) and Oculus Technologies (MIT CADLab spin-out).
In 1999, he was an early employee at govWorks, one of the earliest startups focused on serving local government. govWorks was ahead of the market and failed during the dot com bust, becoming the subject of the documentary Startup.com in 2001.
Shaun has written for organizations such as The Economist Intelligence Unit, The Huffington Post, and CNNMoney. Crowdstorm, published by Wiley, was his first book and is a guide to working with large online crowds to find and evaluate ideas. The book is a based on Shaun’s experience working with Starbucks, Omnicom Group, $300 House, and Life Edited.
Shaun has an MSc from MIT; an MBA from the Berlin School of Creative Leadership; and a BSc from the University of Cape Town. He is papai to his children, Max and Oli, and the number-one fan of his partner, artist Andrea Nhuch. When he is not at work or with his family, you will most likely find him swimming, Onewheeling, or voiding a warranty.
Stonly Baptiste, Co-Founder, Principal
Stonly leads investment research, community management and technology platform development.
Stonly has worked with the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to help create an MBA class on how Entrepreneurship is being used to solve urban challenges. He was recently recognized as one of CNN Money’s 2015 Upstart 30: a list of game-changing companies, entrepreneurs and investors under the age of 40.
Stonly previously founded Veddio Cloud Solutions, an enterprise software company, which was acquired after a year of self-funded growth. He has spent the last 10 years as a serial entrepreneur, building five ventures spanning different sectors from technology to real estate and international markets, including Brazil and Canada.
Stonly enjoys reading, swimming, learning the guitar and speaking at events.
Anthony Millin, Venture Partner
Anthony serves on the investment committee and leads legal affairs.
Anthony is an experienced serial entrepreneur who has co-founded multiple institutionally funded companies. Anthony also has a corporate and securities law practice, focusing on start-up and emerging growth companies. Anthony co-founded Cortiva Institute (acquired by Steiner Leisure), a for-profit Title IV funded education company which grew from a concept to 10 schools, and 13 campuses in 7 states. Anthony oversaw the integration of the campuses into a single system, and as President ran day-to-day operations. Anthony also co-founded China Horizon, an investment and business development company focused on retail/distribution in China.
Anthony is a member of Pedley & Millin, PLLC; a Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of BioDatomics, LLC, the first Hadoop-based big data analytics company in the life sciences vertical; has partnered with Poalim Asia Direct, a China-based investment bank bringing direct foreign investment from Chinese VC and PE firms and strategic investors to US companies; is a current Board Member and former Board Chair of Bethesda Green, a green technology incubator located in Bethesda, MD; a Member of the Board of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and a Member of the Advisory Board of the Maryland Clean Energy Center.
Anthony is originally from South Africa, and he enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, swimming and playing tennis.
Mark Paris, Venture Partner
Before Urban.Us, Mark Paris was a Managing Director at Citi’s Municipal Markets Division and led Citi’s Urban Innovation Initiative. The Initiative focused on strategic investments and partnerships with emerging growth companies and organizations that address urban pain points. Investments included Revolution Foods, View Glass, SentinelOne, WaterSmart Software and Lunera Lighting.
Mark has led several other businesses within municipal markets, including the higher education practice and the derivative products origination business. During his career, he has worked with over 300 cities, hospitals and universities throughout the US and abroad.
Mark serves on several not-for-profit boards, including Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, Muhlenberg College, Gill St. Bernard’s School, Solaris Health System and the United Methodist Church in New Jersey. Mark received his Master in Public Policy from Harvard University and has undergraduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Muhlenberg College.
Sonam Jindal, Urbantech Research Fellow
Sonam Jindal is a rising fourth year at the University of Chicago, studying Economics and Sociology. On campus, she has held leadership positions in multiple student organizations including Edge and Midway Ventures, through which she helps support early stage and student entrepreneurs at UChicago and throughout the Midwest. She is also a Venture Capital Associate for UChicago’s Innovation Fund which focuses on helping commercialize early stage innovations. She has been a student fellow for Chicago Ventures and is working at CB Insights this summer.