Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Urban Us Ventures

How does Urban Us work with startups?

When we decide to invest, we usually work backwards from your next milestone to figure out what needs to get done and what might put the milestone at risk.

Then identify the people in the Urban Us Network who might be able to help with the milestone–investors, customers, partners, and domain experts in areas ranging from procurement to machine learning.

Our goal is to work with teams until they get to series A.

Can I contact you directly, or do I need an introduction?

No, you don’t need an introduction, but about 80% of the investments we’ve made have come to us via people in the Urban Us Network.

Introductions can be helpful because we can gather some additional information from the person who introduces us.

If you can clearly convey that you’re working on an large, interesting urban problem, with a unique approach, you’ll get our attention.

How does Urban Us select startups?

We will share our diligence checklist here and explain our thought process.

Will you work with startups working on the same idea?

We’ve tried to avoid this in the past, but it’s difficult. Teams often pick similar problems, and it’s frequently the case that they’ll pivot to new solutions.

So we assume that there is a chance that teams might work on the same idea, and we organize ourselves to avoid sharing what we learn from each team.

How do I apply for funding?

Apply to join the Urban Us Network.

I don’t need funding right now. Should I still apply?

Yes. It’s helpful for us to learn about what you’re doing, how you’re doing and who you are. It makes it much easier to make an investment decision if you later do decide to raise money.

We can still be helpful and we’re certain that someone in the Urban Us Network will be helpful.

Can you give me feedback on an idea?

No. We prefer to respond to more than ideas. So we’ll ask you to share materials (like a presentation or your research) that anticipates the questions we ask before we invest.

Do Urban Us companies sell to city governments?

Some do. Most of the startups we’ve invested in, sell to businesses or consumers. Over time, we expect about up to one third of our companies to sell to government, and many of those will sell to governments and businesses simultaneously.

We’ve noticed some interesting trends in customers and distribution channels. We’ve seen teams begin selling to consumers and then go on to sell to local governments. We’ve also seen others that begin selling to city governments and then work with businesses.

We’re focused on problems first. Then we worry about customers and distribution channels.

Does Urban Us invest outside the United States?

Yes. We’ve done a few investments in the EU, China and Africa. However, we have a strong preference to invest in US legal entities, mainly because this simplifies fundraising from US investors, who make up the majority of our co-investors.

We’re very comfortable with distributed teams – that’s how we’re organized too.

When do applications open?

We accept ongoing applications, so there is no start or end date. Sometimes, we’ll announce that we’re looking at a specific problem area, but even then, we won’t have a close date.

What startups has Urban Us invested in?

We’ve listed most of them on our homepage. In a few cases, teams will ask us not to disclose our investment, but this data covers at least 90% of the portfolio. You can see more details are on the Urban Us Crunchbase profile.

Who co-invests with Urban Us?

You’ll probably recognize the names of the best performing angel investors, VCs, and corporate VCs. It’s a very diverse group because we focus on problems sets that cut across a lot of traditional VC segments. Check out the Crunchbase data on Urban Us co-investors.

Urban Us Network

Who can join Urban Us Network?

We welcome anyone who can help startups to re-imagine cities. This usually means startup founders, investors, and people representing companies, universities, foundations, and city governments. But if you can make a case for how you can help, we’d love to talk with you.

How do you work with the Urban Us Network?

Our primary goal for the network is to connect people. We work to create connects in a few different ways.

Network Updates – we send this out every 2 weeks. They cover startup updates and introductions as well as news, research and opportunities for funding, education or business development. You can see past update here.

Slack Channels – we have channels covering the same topics as the network update.

Events – we regularly participate in events and we organize a few of our own. As the urbantech ecosysem has grown, we’ve tended to convene around more specific topics like mobility, hardware or policy.

Directory – everyone in the network has a profile and it’s easy to search by roles such as investors or city governments.

I’d like to sell services to startups. Can I join the Urban Us Network?

Yes. We’re always looking for people who have valuable services. However, we don’t have a way to advertise, and we discourage people from promoting their own services in Slack channels. Referrals from investors or founders tend to work best.

URBAN-X

What is URBAN-X?

URBAN-X was created by BMW/MINI to support founders working to make city life better. If this sounds a lot like what Urban Us does, it is. But there are some important differences.

URBAN-X is specifically for founders who might not have paying customers or even a finished product.

URBAN-X makes investments in cohorts, where each team receives $100,000. The curriculum for each cohort, will build on two years of work we’ve been doing with The University of Chicago Booth School. A/D/O in Brooklyn will be our home, but we’ll make trips to Munich, San Francisco, and other urbantech startup hubs.

Mark will join Micah Kotch to lead URBAN-X. Micah previously ran the leading cleantech accelerator, ACRE.  Additional BMW and MINI team members will also support founders in design, communications, and engineering.

Does the world need another accelerator program?

There are many great accelerator programs. However, we’ve identified some specific challenges for urbantech startups. These startups operate in specific sectors like government, real estate, construction, logistics, transportation or utilities. These sectors build and operate core city services and as a result, they’re regulated and tend to approach emerging technologies cautiously.

For this reason, we’ve organized a specialized network with representatives from urbantech sectors as well as founders, who have can share experiences building some of the leading urbantech firms. Our experience over the last four years suggests that sector specific experience can increase urbantech startup success rates.

How is URBAN-X different from Urban Us?

The table below highlights the key differences between the programs.  

 

URBAN-X Urban Us Venture Capital
Stage Evidence that a real problem has been identified. Prototype solution. Traction with a few early customers.
Program A/D/O in Brooklyn with trips to SF and Munich. Organized around weekly offices hours and stage-specific content. Primarily online with periodic meetings in NYC and SF. Organized around monthly updates and priority-specific content.
Network Over 1,500 investors, founders and customers. Full time support from the MINI team and other on-site experts in areas such as design, hardware, software and communications. Over 1,500 investors, founders and customers.
Milestone Get to the best position to demonstrate high potential for impact and raise a seed round. Get to the best position to growth capital to increase the rate and scale of impact (i.e. series A).
Investment $100,000. Up to $250,000.
Valuations Up to $5m pre-money. $5m to $10m pre money.


Why are we doing this?

At our 2017 Investor Summit, we shared observations and challenges after four years of investing in 26 urbantech startups. One thing we’d like to do is invest earlier, and this requires a few things.

First, it’s less dependent on larger amounts of funding and more dependent on access to expertise, customers, and partners. But if we meet teams earlier we can help them explore more options to understand stakeholders and customers.

Investing earlier also requires a significant time investment that was impossible with just two full-time people (Shaun & Stonly). Mentors and advisors are helpful, but they don’t own the process of guiding teams. The URBAN-X team will have at least 3x our capacity.

Finally, we’ve met great teams from all over the world, but we’ve lacked the ability to support organizations beyond the US. URBAN-X is designed to support teams from around the world in large part because of the extensive network and international brand experience of BMW and MINI.

Why BMW and MINI?

From our first conversations three years ago, it was clear we had very similar goals. We even worked together on naming (ok, not really). Back then we wondered, as we suspect you may be doing, what do BMW and MINI want from this?

Over the last three years, they’ve dramatically ramped up smart investments via BMW iVentures, and they’re working on a variety of exciting initiatives beyond EVs and autonomous. Perhaps most importantly they meet the most important thing we look for in founders we work with – they care a great deal about the future of the planet and humanity.

Will Urban Us build more accelerators?

We’re not in the business of selling accelerator services. We’re partnering because we see that with MINI, we can provide a lot more to urbantech founders and improve investment outcomes. If there are other organizations interested in urbantech startups, we’d rather find a way to build URBAN-X together instead of creating multiple program factions.

Capital

How does Urban Us Capital work with startups?

Startups usually focus on raising equity finance. There are some exceptions like venture debt, but this is really just an extension of the equity fundraising process.

Some startups can benefit from access to debt, so they can pursue different business models. Rather than sell hardware like equipment, vehicles, devices, customers increasingly prefer to access them, just as they’ve done with software as a services (SaaS).

This isn’t a new idea, but it’s new for startups. Urban Us Capital works with various types of investors and clients to figure out how to move from hardware purchases to services. The goal is always to speed adoption of emerging tech from urbantech startups.

How can I learn more about Urban Us Capital?

You can join the Urban Us Network. If you’re already a member, reach us at hello@urban.us.

About Us

How does Urban Us make money?

Urban Us Ventures receives management fees and carried interest. This helps to fund the Urban Us Network.  

Urban Us Capital is similar to Urban Us Ventures but also earns fees for advisory work. It also helps to fund Urban Us Network.

Urban Us Network produces research, events or content and from time to time we work with sponsors or clients who are interested in supporting this work. For example, the Knight Foundation was an early supporter to help us promote civictech, govtech and urbantech.

We work with the Chicago Booth School to produce the first MBA class for entrepreneurs who want to work on city problems. We’ve also worked with organizations like NYC Economic Development Corporation.

Why is Urban Us a Public Benefit Corporation?

We structure our efforts to align with multiple stakeholder interests, like people who live in cities everyone on the planet. Though we are a for profit venture (and our investors want us to be among the best VCs) we’ve committed to focus on public benefits and the Public Benefit corporate structure is way to make sure this goal is formalized in our legal organization too.