Why did we build an accelerator for water, waste and food startups? In short, if you are building a startup in these areas, you need specific types of support. If you don’t mind reading a bit more, here’s a more detailed answer –
A few years into Urban Us, we noticed something. Even with help from existing accelerators, urbantech startups still seem to struggle on basic things like investor updates and fundraising strategy.
This issue is visible in Crunchbase fundraising data. Today’s best generalist accelerator program is YC. Their companies have raised, on average, a bit over $18m* each. Techstars companies raise just over $7M* on average, and the majority of accelerator programs graduate teams that raise much less.
Urban Us portfolio companies average raise is $12m* and we’re only 5 years in. So we felt we’d have something to offer pre-seed companies. This is what we’ve learned in our first 12 months building an accelerator with BMW/MINI.
Focus on helping a few companies. Historically, about 10-15% of startups begin working on urbantech related problems each year. Over the last year, we’ve received 820 pre-seed applications. We’ve so far accepted a total of 14 companies (or 1.7%).
Offer sector-specific value. Even for teams with more than $1m in funding, money often can’t buy sector knowledge. Working in regulated industries or selling to customers in sectors like utilities, real estate, and local governments takes time and a specialized network.
Invest in experts in residence. Our EIRs have helped startups build spaceships (literally) and in just a few days have cut $1m and shaved 6 months worth of work from one startup’s product development timeline. They’ve dramatically simplified branding and communications for all of the URBAN-X teams. Having full time, on site resources, who build alongside companies instead of just acting as consultants, is a commitment that very few programs can claim.
Know the difference between program partners and mentors. We will never ask mentors to be responsible for the overall success of the URBAN-X companies. Rather, we’ve asked mentors to help with very specific issues like understanding how to set up pilots with cities or how to select an ad agency. The core URBAN-X partners own the overall success of the teams – we are not junior people hired to manage a program curriculum. We’re investment partners who understand the investors who teams will be pitching in a few months.
Tap multiple geographies. We’re in NYC, LA, SF & Munich but we’re recruiting teams from everywhere in the world. One of our teams commented that all of their investors after graduating from the program, came from SF. That’s not a surprise to us – SF remains the capital of venture investing. But NYC gives companies access to some of the best customers, across a range of categories and Munich has provided an important B2B access point into EU customers, beyond mobility into city services.
Over 70% of our teams from our last cohort are closing rounds – that means they’re much closer to making city life better. We hope you’ll consider applying.