Urban.Us 2014

Since we started 4 months ago, I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and interest, so first, thank you. There is no way to make Urban.Us work without your support. Hopefully the best thanks will be scaling our impact in 2014. So here is what you can expect in the coming weeks and months.

Organizing Our Work Together. Over the last 2 months, we connected 60 people working together online from more than 10 cities. This number is going to continue to grow to 150+ in the coming months, so we’re creating some basic analytics tools to understand how we’re allocating time to founders and urban.us issues. Its inline with tools used by Mozilla, Jovoto and Wikipedia to understand contributions (and thank and help people). While we’re not aspiring to be a community of 1,000’s (yet), we think we can enjoy similar benefits from quantifying our work together.

Supporting Urban.Us Startups. We’re testing a few different approaches. The most obvious is “The Yenta”, wherein we set up founders on blind dates with potential advisors. Its worked in the past, but it needs improvement. And we’re testing the best way to get benefits from sharing status updates and asks across a growing group of diverse expertise. Dash went first and resulted in a bunch of Urban.Us folks connecting at CES (the BRCK team will be there too). We know we can get more value from these without becoming a tax on founders who already have enough to do.

Finding New Promising Startup Teams. What happens if you can gather diverse opinions on the future prospect of a startup? On average it will take us 7+ years to know the answer (this is the average time to “exit” for most startups). However we used this process to select BRCK and Seamlessdocs and the discussions were very helpful. Choosing great startups may be as important as how we support them, so when seasoned early stage investors like Doug Chertok share their enthusiasm for the process, I feel like we’re heading in the right direction.

From Cloudspace to Meetspace While we’re very focused on building the online tools and processes to make Urban.Us work, we’re exploring ways to get together IRL, too. We’ll shortly be sending out invitations to the fist Urban.Us Smart City Startups Event on April 24/25 in Miami. We’re also going to find ways to get together at events like CES, SXSW, A+ Awards and Citymart LLGA Summit.

Understanding The Challenges. Urban.Us is different from most accelerators in that we don’t have classes and want to provide support until firms reach series A, where they are begin to focus on scaling. But the most important differences is that we’re focused on a double impact – we’re focused on financial returns to make Urban.Us sustainable and we’re focused on urban challenges to make our way of life sustainable. To that end, we’re constantly trying to understand what efforts might yield the most impact.

Our own Smart City Startup research is featured alongside GigaOm’s 2014 Tech Trends. Knight Foundation Published an excellent overview startup activity in the Civic Tech space. Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia was published in October 2013, provides a great breakdown of the scale and scope of the challenges we face and contrasts bottom up big tech approaches with grass roots approach ranging from startups to civic hacking.

Becoming Findable. Right now, we spend a lot of time reaching out to folks to let them know about Urban.Us. On the plus side, we get to be very selective and there isnt too much inbound noise. But its a hard way to scale, so in the coming weeks, we’ll be working with a few urban.us advisors to draft a communication strategy that we hope will enable us to be more findable by the folks we’d like to work with. We’ll share more in the coming weeks.

Reviewing Our Goals. We’ve been noodling on the math about our potential to quickly test and discover the most promising smart city approaches in the coming year. They might be from startups or civic hackers or global IT firms. They could be procurement hacks or policy changes. We think its possible to test 5,000 ideas in the next 5 years. And we want to commit to 10% of that, so Urban.Us will support 500 promising startups in 5 years. Is the math crazy?

Fast Ways You Can Help Right Now. Its the new year. And you already have too much to do (and you have read this far, so thanks again). Here are a few quick things you can do:

  • please consider following us on Angel.co and/or Twitter
  • think of one person who you’d like to see as part of the community (founder, investor, Mike Bloomberg, whoever). First person you think of, please let me know.

Happy and healthy 2014.