On November 10th we brought together several thought-leaders in the field of Urban Mobility and Sustainability through the UNITE event, the 4th of a series of events organised by the University Network for Innovation, Technology and Engineering. The idea was to share insights, inspiration and information for EU startups working in this area with the perspective of universities, investors, cities and startups.
Venture capitalist and investment Manager at EIT Urban Mobility; Pablo Garrido got straight into the subject on every startup founder’s mind: funding. He’s responsible for choosing and nurturing the most promising concepts in sustainable mobility.
Garrido took the audience through the EIT Urban Mobility approach – from screening to investment – and explained how the entity provides financial, legal and operational support.
“We’re not only an investor, but also as a partner and advisor,” he said. “We don’t ask for board seats, but we do take a hands-on approach to execution, with a special focus on growth and internationalization. In the past 20 months, we have invested in 21 portfolio companies involved in different areas of mobility.”
EIT Urban Mobility works with startups in the EU, Israel and Turkey, targeting companies with strong capabilities in data aggregation and analysis. Some 10-12 investments are made each year, with a target holding period of five to seven years. Investments are typically between EUR 50K and 150K, but can be as high as EUR 5 million.
Why startups should not be ignoring sustainability.
Head of Sustainable Solutions at Aalto University, Jussi Impiö gave a dark reality check: “If the whole world would live a similar lifestyle to us Finns, we would need almost four planets for energy and raw materials. Some countries would require even more planets,” said Impiö.
“Sustainability is about finding human wellbeing within our planetary boundaries. Startups are here to accelerate innovations that we can implement in different societal functions,” he said.
Impiö recommended that startups build business strategies from the point of view of societal sustainability strategies, such as Finland’s aim to become climate neutral by 2035.
“Tomorrow’s market environment is defined by anticipated regulation. Capital smells that and pushes innovation in the right direction,” he said.
How the cities and startups are working in sustainability
Juho Kostiainen coordinates Helsinki’s mobility testbed activities through the Jätkäsaari Mobility Lab. The lab is located in one of the most rapidly-developing suburbs in the city. Jätkäsaari is also home to one of Europe’s largest ferry terminals, so the daily passenger flows provide an ideal backdrop for the team’s activities.
Through the lab, mobility startups can meet experts from both the public and private sectors, with Helsinki residents themselves as test users. It’s the perfect environment for agile piloting, gathering feedback and learning lessons. Working with the lab also gives startups visibility and is a great reference that can result in sales.
The lab’s current projects include an autonomous street sweeper, a sensor-based solution for measuring the condition of bike paths, traffic monitoring with LIDAR, and near-miss detection at pedestrian crossings.
Bercman Technologies is one of the startup success stories in the mobility arena. The company develops a range of sensing solutions that make mobility safer and easier. Bercman had an IPO on the First North exchange earlier this year.
CEO Mart Suurkask explained the benefits of developing his company’s solutions within the Helsinki ecosystem.
“There was a massive opportunity for us in the feedback and lessons we learnt in Helsinki,” said Suurkask. “We found out that the product we brought here wasn’t actually market ready, even though I had hoped it was. So we re-designed it in a more effective manner and decreased the cost by five times.”
“Finland was also our first export market, so we learned that you need to be ready to both install and maintain the product abroad,” he said. “We also realized that our business model wasn’t viable. We had thought we could go directly to municipalities, but we saw that it’s better to go through distributors as they have a deeper understanding of the market.”
“I’m a big fan of prototyping. Whenever you can test your product in real life, you should do so. I would really recommend doing it in Helsinki,” says Suurkask.
UNITE is a University Network for Innovation, Technology and Engineering. It comprises Aalto Startup Center in Finland, TechLabs in Finland, Barcelona’s Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
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