7 Startups Unveil Plans to Answer Urban Challenges

The San Francisco-based Tumml civic tech accelerator debuts its third cohort of community-minded entrepreneurs.

by / September 18, 2014
Founder of the startup Letsmake, a workspace provider for local manufacturers, Tobias Dickmeis explains how he intends to support artists, hobbyists and small-scale manufacturers through his peer-to-peer sharing app. Jason Shueh

Seven startups, freshly funded with $20,000 from this summer’s Tumml civic tech accelerator, gathered on Sept. 15 in San Francisco to exhibit offerings and outline plans to improve citizen services for cities.

The seven are the latest in a rising breed of startups that attempt to assist governments and citizens via their entrepreneurial ventures, what Tumml Co-founders Clara Brenner and Julie Lein call “urban impact entrepreneurs.” The presentation, held in the offices of SPUR (the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association), was the culmination of Tumml’s four-month accelerator that started June 9 and aided startups with mentorship and funding in exchange for 5 percent equity in the ventures.

“This is now our third cohort, and to date we’ve supported 50 entrepreneurs from 17 startups who’ve raised millions of follow-up funding and created dozens of community jobs,” Lein said. “We’re really excited to welcome our new group of urban innovators who are at the forefront of making a community impact in our cities.”

San Francisco District 3 Supervisor David Chiu, speaking at the event, said today’s civic tech companies — in the cohort and in general — have achieved what dot-com era companies and previous generations of technologists could not. Tech entrepreneurs, he said, have learned to be socially conscious and create business models that answer civic challenges.

“Our city, the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, we are now thinking about how technology can be used as a force for good,” Chiu said.

Among startups a range was presented from those that were actively engaged and expanding revenues to those still relatively new and testing themselves against the tech market.

Chariot, a company hoping to decrease congestion and improve transit, was well along its entrepreneurial path. The startup outprices taxi cab services and peer-to-peer transit companies like Lyft and Uber by offering an app that dispatches shuttles across San Francisco. With prices at or below $4 per ride, Founder and CEO Ali Vahabzadeh said the company is expanding its set of routes and drivers with ridership numbers growing 10 percent week after week.

“We’ve sold over 20,000 tickets … and that equates to a six-digit revenue number in under five months,” Vahabzadeh said.

He emphasized the Chariot did not use city bus stops and is compliant with state and municipal regulations — a considerable feat considering San Francisco’s previous contentions around peer-to-peer transit companies.

Letsmake, a startup that takes the concept of Airbnb’s home sharing service and applies it to local manufacturing, was also notable. The company is an online platform that lets local craftsmen find spaces for their activities. As part of the larger Maker Movement in the city — an initiative promoting community hobbyists, artisans and small-scale manufacturers — Letsmake hopes to connect people with creative spaces to work.

“There are 135 million Americans who are makers, people who employ their creative skills to create clothing, jewelry, baking goods and other works of crafts and art,” said Founder Tobias Dickmeis.

Nationally, he said these American makers are channeling $30 billion into the economy each year. And in San Francisco, the Maker Movement supports a manufacturing industry that employs 3,000 residents and contributes to the city’s $1 billion-plus industry. As a startup, Dickmeis said it was a logical move to support such growth.

“There is a maker economy thriving all around the world,” he said.

Other startups presenting included: Akimbo, a career platform for blue-collar employment; PopUpsters, a space and event connector for local vendors; Valor Water Analytics, which offers data tools for water management; Volo, a peer-to-peer mobile platform for urban parking; and Weeleo, a startup that helps travelers exchange currency through peer-to-peer transactions.

More details on all the startups can be found in the Tumml Portfolio.

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.