Excerpts from the Urbantech Investor Playbook.

What is urbantech?

Urbantech describes startup technology companies that directly improve city life and cities’ sustainability. Unlike smart city technologies, urbantech does not primarily sell to city governments, but rather consumers and businesses.

Sectors of urbantech

When Urban Us first created The Urbantech Radar in 2014, the main sectors included:

  1. Civic & Administration

At the time, notable startups included Airware (now shut down), Lyft (LYFT), Nest (acquired by Alphabet), Opengov, Opower (acquired by Oracle), Uber, and Waze (acquired by Google). This list’s M&A and public offering activity shows how viable the then-nascent category has become.

Since 2014, the…

Many of our startups use artificial intelligence (AI) to fight climate change by improving city life from solutions to promote electrification to reducing negative consequences of urban density like traffic and public health. We’re increasingly seeing opportunities to invest in AI startups for public safety, but these bring unique challenges including data bias, privacy concerns, potential political abuse(11) and more. We’d love to see more opportunities to invest in increasing public safety and other city sectors(1) with startups(2) building AI-based(3) solutions and we think we can help overcome many of the challenges.

Public safety is an increasingly complex sector as…

Forward thinking investors increasingly prioritize investing in underserved sectors of the economy and in startups with what some call ‘unfair advantages’ — such as an exceptionally-positioned founding team, product insight, or early start in-market.

Urbanization and climate action have created a unique opportunity to combine top tier financial return goals with outsized public benefits. But the best opportunities often exist across multiple traditional sectors.

Fleshing out an investable strategy prompts multiple questions. If you’re investing in the electrification of transportation, do you focus on the energy sector, automotive, or even real estate? …

When discussing the effects that robots have had and will continue to have on cities, you mostly hear about self-driving cars, delivery robots, and drones. The most frequent question we are asked is: “Will more people move to the suburbs?” The main assumption behind this question is that, with self-driving cars, people will use commuting time for leisure and work because they won’t have to worry about driving, making their commutes much less painful.

But there are other kinds of robots that will impact cities. Over the last few years we’ve been looking at robots that silently re-organize your living…

This is our third year building and teaching the “Entrepreneurship: Urban Opportunities and Solutions” course at the University of Chicago Booth School and the results keep getting better. You can learn more about the course and our motivations in a recent edition of the Chicago Booth Magazine.

This workshop course is 10 weeks of research, design, prototyping and startup building to address urban challenges. As with the last two years, the student teams built solutions based on a thoughtful understanding of the problem sets and shaped for business viability, impact and ability to build a software prototype (we used Bubble.is

Elon Musk, while not the most polished speaker, delivers some of the most powerful product announcements. Some of the impact from his presentations can be attributed to the audaciousness of the projects he announces. However, most of the impact is in how he delivers the message. His presentations are good enough to mask the informal nature of his speaking style. Most audiences are left wanting to buy, join or criticize whatever Musk is building. None are left without being impacted.

Here I summarize and deconstruct Elon’s most recent announcement of the Space-X BFR (Big Falcon Rocket aka Big F****** Rocket)…

H/T to my Magic Virtual Assistant for preparing the first version of these notes.

Video link: https://youtu.be/S5V7R_se1Xc

PART I. Explanation on why being a multi-planet species is a great idea.

Elon Musk explains how it’ll affect our future as a species by appealing to the audience’s imagination.

● Escape from problems now such as overpopulation, eventual scarcity of resources

● Forward looking, but stays grounded/it relates to our problems

● Made the audience realize that the capacity of human beings in terms of scientific progress has reached the point that what we saw as science fiction in the past is…

The survey is still underway but we already have a meaningful enough sampling of responses and are sharing our preliminary takeaways. Feel free to comment or make suggestions.

Hometown Advantage

  • 2/3rds of respondents started with their hometown (or home state) as a first customer.


  • 75% of respondents self funded and/or raised money from friends and family before raising venture funding.

Rather than a partner memo on a specific startup, which we circulate privately, we’re sharing a broad exploration of the landscape of startup solutions to the housing supply challenges in major US cities. New regulations and new technology are encouraging founders to start companies that solve very old problems. Our question remains whether to pursue a full stack solution (where primary business model includes building new housing supply from the ground up and getting it occupied) or continue to invest in solutions that become a core part of the new housing stack. First, we’re going to explore full stack approaches.

YC’s Winter 2017 batch increased the number of teams working on core city problems like transportation, housing, food and connectivity. Out of 106 companies, YCW17 had 16 teams focused on urbantech (tech solutions that could make city life better while reducing our impact on the environment).

We caught up with a few of these teams over the last few days at YC Demo Day, so rather than do a few startup intros, we thought we’d share what we learned.


It is critical that we continue to move towards sustainable transportation. Air quality and quality of life are both immensely…

Stonly Baptiste

Co-Founder and Partner @UrbanUsCo - helping startups reimagine city life

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