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, we 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.
We believe the startups benefit from syndicates of investors, so we will work with you to identify a range of funding options, usually starting with VC, but increasingly including non-equity finance options like working capital or revenue-based finance. We also encourage our startups to make use of grant funding and well as equity crowdfunding, especially where there is an opportunity for customers to become shareholders.
Can I contact you directly, or do I need an introduction?
No, you don’t need an introduction.
Since 2013, 80% of the startups we have met came through introductions. However, some of the most valuable companies in our portfolio we met directly via events or social media platforms.
Importantly, of our most recent investments, about 33% applied for funding directly.
Introductions can be helpful because we can gather some additional information from the person who introduces us and this saves us some time.
If you can clearly convey that you’re working on a large, interesting urban problem, with a unique approach, you’ll get our attention.
The best place to start working with us is here.
How does Urban Us select startups?
We are very focused on specific types of impact outcomes such as reduced GHG emissions or increased resilience. We’re also interested in ways to reduce the negative consequences of higher density living like traffic congestion or public health problems.
A detailed overview of our selection process is here.
Will you work with startups working on the same idea?
We’ve tried to avoid this in the past, but it’s difficult. Multiple startups often pick similar problems, and it’s frequently the case that they’ll pivot to new solutions.
We assume that there is a chance that startups might work on the same idea, and we organize ourselves to avoid sharing what we learn from each team.
I don’t need funding right now. Should I still engage?
Yes. Consider applying to join the Urban Us Network. The Urban Us network is a community for people working with startups focused on cities and climate change. The network has over 2,000 people including startup founders, angel investors, VC, LPs, corporate investors, policymakers, and customers from industries including real estate, transportation, construction, infrastructure, water and energy. Our robust community is on Slack. We also send a regular newsletter out that aggregates resources from the urbantech ecosystem.
Can you give me feedback on an idea?
No. We prefer to respond to more than ideas. We will ask you to share materials (like a presentation or your research) that anticipate the questions we would 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 up to one third of our companies to sell to government, and many of those will sell to government and businesses simultaneously.
We’ve noticed some interesting trends among customers and distribution channels like startups who 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. More and more of our startups are located all over the world in cities like Toronto, Tel Aviv, Zurich, Medellin, Bordeaux and Nairobi.
However, we strongly prefer to invest in US legal entities, mainly because this simplifies fundraising from US investors. Outside of China, this is still, by far, the largest VC ecosystem. For non-equity investments, there can be some limitations on the physical location of assets, mainly because of prevailing laws related to lending.
We are very comfortable with distributed teams – that’s how we’ve been organized since 2015.
When do applications open?
We accept deals and applications on an ongoing basis. Start by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What startups has Urban Us invested in?
We’ve listed most of them on our portfolio page.
In a few cases, startups 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. If you can make a case for how you can help, we’d love to talk with you.
Apply to Join
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 few weeks. They cover startup updates and introductions as well as news, research and opportunities for funding, education or business development.
- 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 ecosystem 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.
What is URBAN-X?
URBAN-X is built by BMW/MINI and Urban Us to support founders working to make city life better.
URBAN-X is specifically for early-stage founders who might not have paying customers or even a finished product.
URBAN-X makes investments in cohorts, where each team receives $150,000. 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 is our home, but we make trips to Boston, Munich, San Francisco, and other urban tech startup hubs.
Does the world need another accelerator program?
There are many great accelerator programs. However, we’ve identified some specific challenges for urban tech 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 urban tech sectors as well as founders, who can share experiences building some of the leading urban tech firms. Our experience over the last four years suggests that sector specific experience can increase urban tech 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 the Bay Area and Munich. Organized around weekly office 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||At least $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. We like investing earlier in a company’s life, 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 (including Mark, Liz and MINI) will provide additional 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.
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 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 civic tech, gov tech and urban tech.
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.