Cities have complicated challenges, which get more complex as they grow. So Urban.Us thinks cities need to get more creative with how they solve those problems.
The investment fund, which focuses on early stage companies, is about much more than just money. It’s a network of people with varying skills, all working together to build out promising startups. When Urban.Us invests in a company, it’s providing money, business know-how and relationships with cities geared toward innovation and specialized expertise.
Behind the effort is founder Shaun Abrahamson and principal Stonly Baptiste. Starting in 2013, the pair launched two funds focusing on four kinds of challenges cities face: mobility and logistics, the built environment, utilities, and service delivery. The portfolio involves some heavy-hitters: SeamlessDocs, which digitizes government forms, has raised nearly $17 million; and Rachio, which sells smart water technology, has racked up more than $10 million in capital, including an investment from Amazon’s Alexa Fund.
Since Urban.Us focuses on “urban tech,” its investments swing between consumer, business-to-business and government sales. But a few focus directly on government: Citymart offers a problem-based procurement platform to help cities find creative solutions to specific problems. LiveStories is all about making sense of government data. And Mark43 is a cloud-based records and information management system for law enforcement.
For their part, Baptiste and Abrahamson are focused on making solutions happen — investment just happened to be the path they chose toward that goal.
“We actually didn’t start with the intention of being venture capitalists,” Baptiste said at a Government Technology event in San Francisco last October. “Shaun will say this himself, his least favorite thing in the world is telling people that he’s an investor. He’s an engineer by trade, a company builder. And we were more interested in finding other founders who wanted to solve these urban challenges, and supporting them. But being founders ourselves, we also knew that one of the main needs that these types of founders have is funding.”