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Scrum Ventures Partners with Toyota Ventures to Host Future of Cities Event

Last month, we hosted an in-person event alongside Toyota Ventures with a panel discussion on the Future of Cities. The panel featured key players in the smart city space including innovation officers from L.A., San Jose, and San Diego. The event was held at the beautiful Culinary Artistas studio in San Francisco’s Ghiradelli Square. Participants and attendees mingled over food and drinks while enjoying a great view.

The panel discussion revolved around major issues that cities are dealing with — climate change, mobility, equity, etc. — and how innovation is helping drive change. Moderated by Scrum Ventures Managing Director Michael Proman, the panel included Kirby Brady, Chief Innovation Officer, City of San Diego, Miguel Sangalang, Executive Director, City of Los Angeles, Jordan Sun Chief Innovation Officer, City of San Jose, Jim Adler, Toyota Ventures Founding Managing Director.

The event was held in conjunction with the launch of the second year of Scrum Studio Inc’s SmartCityX 2021, an immersive year-long startup program aimed at helping seed- to growth-stage companies advance smart city product and business development through in-depth collaboration with leading corporations, technology experts and investors from Japan and around the world.

SmartCityX 2021 will support startups looking to transform the way we live, learn, and work — particularly in the fields of Consumer Products and Services, Mobility, Smart Buildings, and Connectivity. In addition, recognizing the critical role technology plays in helping cities reach net zero emissions by 2050, this year’s program seeks cutting-edge innovations in the areas of Sustainability and Climate Change.

Highlights of the Future of Smart Cities Panel

Following are some snippets of the panel discussion.

On What Investors are Looking for In the Smart City Space…

From Jim Adler, Toyota Ventures:

We always look at startups and we ask them, are you pursuing a big, broken market that is open to disruption? And if those three things aren’t true, we’re generally not interested anyway. But if they are, the question is okay, how are you going to make that change happen? How are you going to access that market? At scale, that means everyone on this panel is going to have a voice in that change. And we see that across our mobility investments or energy investments. There’s a new platform emerging and that platform is technology. The cities actually are now a layer in that stack and you need to manage it that way.

On the biggest challenges out there today…

From Jim Adler, Toyota Ventures:

We are rebuilding the supply chain plane. We were flying the plane and suddenly we flew right into a hurricane, aka the pandemic, which created a huge supply-demand mismatch. We are going through this upheaval, pushing supply chains to the edge. It used to be that we moved pallets around, now packages move around more than pallets. Pallets do move around in shipyards, but then get broken apart upstream where packages move across the landscape through the last-mile delivery system. So you have to solve like 20 problems at once and that’s going to take time.

From Kirby Brady, City of San Diego:

We are in a challenging position where we recognize that we want to continue to provide effective technology for people to improve their lives. But during the pandemic, it was very clear that a very large segment of people do not have access to those tools. In San Diego, we’ve been working with philanthropic organizations to help bridge that gap. Existing things like libraries are great for providing broadband access. We also are subsidizing low-income households with communications mediations such as paying people’s bills for cable and for broadband access. In addition, organizations are gifting refurbished laptops, etc.

That said, if someone does not have a smartphone in their pocket, does that mean that they’re going to be cut off from gaining access to all information? I think even without technology you would recognize a couple of things during a pandemic — like vaccination drives for example. Sometimes the best way to meet people is physically where they’re at. It’s not technology; it’s picking up the phone, it’s going out in the community. And so something that we’ve been thinking about and are in the process of doing, is putting people on the street to talk with residents, asking them about their preferred communication methods, and making reports on behalf of residents.

On the future of mobility…

From Jordan Sun, City of San Jose:

“I think it’s less about who’s driving on the ground and more what’s going up in the air.”

I really do see a few big companies as being distinct players in this space. Particularly when it comes to bringing best-in-class industry partners and best-in-class investors to the table, we want to ensure emerging mobility technologies create equitable outcomes, especially when it comes to vertical construction, and how that redefines interaction within our city and between different neighborhoods. If it goes to Santana Row, that’s great. But what about other places? And how does that influence other cities near us? Whether it’s Los Gatos, or you know, Santa Cruz, or somewhere tucked away in the hills, it’s really important for us to plan ahead. But at the same time, we need to start from somewhere. Starting from somewhere means bringing all the parties to the table and seeking to understand and be understood.”

On how alternative energy solutions can help protect health and safety…

From Jim Adler, Toyota Ventures:

I think our health is often determined by the stresses on the systems: food systems, energy systems, mobility systems, etc. . I think where the world is going, it makes sense to move toward local food, local energy, and micro-mobility that scales.

If you have enough energy and if you can produce that energy locally, there’s a whole raft of new nuclear designs. Nuclear has been a bad word but there are many options to make it safe so it can’t be weaponized. There are no waste nuclear designs that are small, 50 megawatts vs 500 megawatts, that can power neighborhoods with no reliance on the grid. So your medications or whatever medical devices that need to run 24/7 will be guaranteed to run without worrying about big transmission lines. I think that’s in our future. I think local food, including food grown in urban environments, farms on rooftops, and other spaces that are not being utilized, is in the future.

Regarding city planning and DEI…

From Miguel Sangalang, City of Los Angeles:

“At some point, we are all first responders. Recently I was deployed to help with homeless shelters during the pandemic. There is a need for us to be in neighborhoods, where people can reach out for help. Going forward I expect more of a hybrid model (in-person and online) because there are a lot of variables and we need to be responsive. I think it’s very good for us to be flexible, especially to address the health and safety needs of our citizens.”

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Scrum Ventures

Scrum Ventures

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We are an early stage venture firm. With experience and networks in both Silicon Valley and Japan, we help our portfolio companies achieve global opportunities.