How It’s Going — Week 364 (7 Years)

Shaun Abrahamson
Third Sphere

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How it started

In 2014, cleantech was a dirty word. Finding founders and investors to upgrade cities to prepare for climate change felt like the Regina King weed gummy skit on SNL.

How it’s going

After seven years, our first fund’s performance is ranked in the top quartile of funds and our second is in the top decile (per angel.co fund data). But what about impact?

We asked our founders.

Onewheel riding through Central Park.

Less driving. More riding.

How it started

In 2014, 450 Kickstarter backers dreamed of owning a hoverboard.

How it’s going

Each month we sell more EVs than most EV manufacturers.

Future Motion

Even smarter thermostats

How it started

We posted a hacked-together solution on Hacker News to compete with Nest.

How it’s going

Sales have quadrupled in multiple countries across all types of HVAC, from minisplits to central air, with great consumer reviews on Amazon and overwhelming demand from utilities.

Flair

The OS for EV charging

How it started

Explaining to anyone who would take my calls what “EV” means.

How it’s going

Just closed a heavily oversubscribed round while watching half a dozen Super Bowl ads for EVs.

ChargeLab

Virtual power plants

How it started

We believed it would be possible to coordinate home energy storage with the grid.

How it’s going

We’ve been commissioned to aggregate about 14,000 solar and battery systems across three states. Utilities get a virtual power plant and consumers get lower cost, reliable backup to pair with their rooftop solar.

Swell Energy

Building performance analysis in Cove Tool

Automagically design out GHG emissions and costs

How it started

We automated the hours of work our consulting company was putting into helping clients design high performance, sustainable buildings.

How it’s going

We run every new design or renovation project through thousands of options to find the lowest cost way to reach energy and carbon targets. With over 10,000 users in 22 different countries, cove.tool has helped save an estimated 5.2 million tons in GHG emissions so far.

Cove Tool

Resilient telecommunications for everyone

How it started

We started by building the most rugged internet connection hardware available.

How it’s going

Millions are connected in Africa due to our software and business model.

BRCK

Climate risk scores

How it started

We created a predictive model to understand potential damage resulting from future earthquakes. We wondered if we could apply this approach to emerging climate risks.

How it’s going

We’re building a planetary-scale resilience software platform working with leading insurers like SOMPO to create risk scores for floods, fires, and earthquakes.

One Concern

A Bowery Farming indoor vertical farm.

Resilient food supply

How it started

Agriculture consumes more resources than any other industry globally, by a wide margin, and we knew there had to be a way to avoid trading quality for quantity or sustainability for scale. But many were skeptical.

How it’s going

Today we are the largest indoor vertical farming company in the world, with four farms built and our fifth on the way, and our produce is available in 680+ grocery stores and via e-commerce platforms serving the tristate and mid-Atlantic region.

Bowery Farming

Protect first responders

How it started

We were concerned that manufacturers would weary of making digital alerting the standard for sending emergency alerts to vehicles.

How it’s going

We have six manufacturers that make us standard and have now processed nearly 1,000,000,000 emergency alerts through our SafetyCloud.

HAAS Alert

Design carbon out of city infrastructure

How it started

Realized dashboards and simulation tools won’t get us to carbon-neutrality fast enough, we built the first generative design software for utilities and energy consultants.

How it’s going

Our SaaS platform is delivering 10x time-reduction in design tasks and 15% more efficient proposals so we can help flatten the curve of carbon emissions.

Urbio

Fast zero emissions logistics

How it started

We looked at cars and trucks stuck in traffic in Seoul and thought, can we skip the traffic jams and have less pollution and more time for everyone?

How it’s going

Today we orchestrate robots and drones through our stations to deliver medicine: no traffic, no pollution, more time!

EVA

Kiwibots featured in the New York Times.

Cheap, zero emissions last mile logistics

How it started

Our first delivery robots in Berkeley were an instant hit. People took selfies with them and dressed up as kiwibots on Halloween.

How it’s going

After 100,000 orders, we are one of the leading robotic platforms offering the most affordable deliveries (on track to under $1/delivery) in partnership with leading restaurant chains, delivery apps, and local governments.

Kiwibot

Zero emissions transit

How it started

Circuit (formerly The Free Ride) started as an ad-supported beach shuttle in the Hamptons.

How it’s going

Since its inception, the business has rebranded, won several last-mile shuttle contracts with cities, generated over $20M in revenue, and provided over 4M rides without charging our riders a dollar or burning an ounce of fuel.

Circuit

Soil is the solution

How it started

Did some math to show we could make 10x improvement on carbon sequestration costs using Biochar

How it’s going

Struggling to manage overwhelming investor demand after great initial results (would love to quantify a bit).

Climate Robotics

Better sharing of public spaces

How it started

We thought dynamic pricing could be used to better allocate increasingly scarce street space.

How it’s going

We’re busy deploying smart loading zones along city curbs across America.

Coord

Human capital for infrastructure

How it started

We first focused on how we could better use machines to speed climate-related construction projects.

How it’s going

We discovered that skilled people are more critical than machines. Today we’re raising our round on Republic to help energy and infrastructure projects source critical talent to complete quality inspections.

Buildstream

Qucit serves some of the largest bikeshare systems in the world.

The OS for shared micro mobility

How it started

We built a predictive API for empty and full stations in a bike share system.

How it’s going

An AI that manages real time field operations of bike share operators in 20 major cities in 5 countries. Currently in pilots for 3 of the top 10 largest systems in the world.

Qucit

Re-imaging city water and green spaces

How it started

3 years of drought and Denver Water’s “Use Only What You Need” campaign that focused on outdoor water use. 2 product founders took it from there and created the category leading smart irrigation controller for homeowners.

How it’s going

600k households later we’ve saved billions of gallons of water, partnered with utilities across the U.S to help shape water demand. Now we’re transitioning urban landscapes from synthetic monoculture to a biodivers permaculture.

Rachio

Shared EVs

How it started

We thought we were crazy to build a fractional car leasing service at Upshift.

How it’s going

More than 3,000 people just invested $715,000 in our equity crowdfinancing campaign.

Upshift

Thrilling featured in The Cut

Rapidly expand the circular economy

How it started

The fashion industry is one of the biggest drivers of climate change, and the secondhand retail industry is 99 percent offline.

How it’s going

Thrilling has 250 secondhand stores across 34 states online, and receives 1,000 new store applications monthly. Consumers have responded positively to shopping vintage online as well; Thrilling’s revenue has grown 30 percent every month for the last 14 months.

Thrilling

Analytics for physical infrastructure

How it started

At ETH Zurich we were trying to automate analysis of hours of video from 2.4 million miles of sewer pipes that run under nearly all roads in every city and are often approaching the end of their useful life.

How it’s going

We help cities around Switzerland and the EU to quickly understand the condition of current infrastructure, which is under more pressure from increased runoff resulting from climate change.

Hades

Reward better mobility choices

How it started

We thought we might be able to change how people move around by offering rewards for all kinds of transportation, from walking to using public transit.

How it’s going

Depending on your favorite metric, we grew between four and eight times larger last year. We gave rewards worth $29M for changes in transportation, including staying at home and riding bikes, and this year we’re looking beyond North America, to launch in Japan, starting with JRE, JAL, and MS&AD.

Miles

Source: Near Space Labs

Down-to-earth pricing for remote sensing

How it started

We had taken the first steps to build a prototype for a high frequency, high quality but low cost remote sensing platform.

How it’s going

We recently had a 20x month for multiple metrics from flights to imagery.

Near Space Labs

The new heat pump

How it started

A plastic heat exchanger burst and sprayed water on an unwitting officemate.

How it’s going:

We’ve burst more plastic heat exchangers, compressors, and heat pumps than any other startup that we know of and are working on catching up to the big guys. Also we’re unveiling our first product later this year.

Treau

Virtual power plants from building portfolios

How it started

Three years ago, Blueprint Power launched in NYC with the aspiration of turning cities into clean, virtual power plants.

How it’s going

Today, Blueprint has partnered with the owners of over 100M square feet in commercial real estate across NYC to deploy more distributed energy resources across their portfolios to generate and sell flexible capacity to multiple marketplaces.

Blueprint Power

Hubbster deployed in Paris.

Getting more from public spaces

How it started

We wondered how we could reconnect locals around play to make our cities more livable and inclusive.

How it’s going

We won the Paris 2024 Olympics special mention for sports innovations, and the demand for Hubbster is bigger than ever due to C19. Stay tuned!

Hubbster

Smart electrical wiring

How it started

We thought, hey, maybe we can clean up the messy technology situation with smart buildings. (a.k.a the Internet of Shit)

How it’s going

We’ve built a solution that disrupts the way we power most of a building’s infrastructure, yielding a smarter, more efficient, healthier building. $300k in revenue last year, over $2MM on the books, and a pipeline over $100MM over the next couple of years.

Domatic

Low emissions building heating

How it started

Living in a crappy apartment with open windows all winter long.

How it’s going

Fully technically certified as the biggest energy savings technology for this building stock, honing in on ~$7mm in revenues in 2021.

Radiator Labs

More productive construction

How it started

We believed we could change sequences of events after witnessing a construction site accident, so we made a napkin sketch of our solution, and built it.

How it’s going

Our Craneview® platform has observed more than 300,000 crane picks to provide unmatched visibility into our customers’ own production rates with zero disruption to existing processes. The result? Increased productivity, efficiency, and safety with the insights needed to manage and bid future projects more competitively.

Versatile

We’ve been sharing updates about Urban Us for 364 weeks now. You can see all our updates on climate, cities, and startups since 2014 or join us on Slack or email.

See all of the companies we work with or consider upgrading cities for climate change and join one of them.

About Urban Us

Urban Us is the leading early stage investor for startups re-imagining cities. Cities will soon be home to 70 percent of the global population, who now face unprecedented risk from climate change. We believe that cities are central to climate actions focused on GHG reduction and resilience and that in the process of taking action to improve the climate we can also make cities more affordable and equitable.

Urban Us is frequently the first institutional startup investor in both debt and equity. Beyond investment funds, the Urban Us platform includes the Urban Us community, a resource for urbantech-focused founders, investors, partners, and customers. URBAN-X, in partnership with MINI, supports early stage teams with company building and fundraising. Affiliates include Perl Street, which helps teams finance hardware, and Urban Gateway, which supports startups developing businesses in Asia.

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Shaun Abrahamson
Third Sphere

VC for climate action at http://thirdsphere.com (fka Urban Us) Onewheel, Bowery Farming, Cove Tool. Dad. Partner to Andrea Nhuch. Voider of warranties.