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Urban Innovation Fund Closes First Fund with $22.5M, Seeks to Double Its Portfolio

The fund has already made 14 investments. It wants 25-30 total.

The Urban Innovation Fund has officially closed its first fund with $22.5 million in hand.

UIF has, in fact, been operating for a couple years and made 14 investments already. That means the firm’s first fund is about halfway full — according to managing partner Julie Lein, she and her fellow managing partner Clara Brenner want to invest in 25-30 companies total.

Lein and Brenner also run the nonprofit startup accelerator Tumml, and UIF is similar in the kinds of companies it’s interested in.

“We’re still looking for startups that are changing the future of cities,” Lein said.

More specifically, the pair have identified nine verticals they’re interested in. They’re not all government-focused — government and civic tech is one vertical, alongside arts and recreation, transportation, education and others.

In the government space, UIF has invested in Dropcountr, which provides data analytics for water utilities and their customers with the goal of saving water; Voatz, which recently completed the first test of blockchain-based mobile voting in a federal election in the U.S.; and Valor Water Analytics, which also served up data analytics solutions to water utilities with an eye on conservation. Valor is the fund’s sole exit so far — Xylem acquired Valor in February.

The firm writes initial checks between $100,000 and $500,000 for pre-seed and seed-stage startups. That means the maximum amount for those early-stage investments would be $15 million, with at least $7.5 million left over for follow-on investment.

Brenner said she and Lein seek to provide more than just money to their portfolio companies. They pride themselves on providing expertise for companies that are in areas either highly regulated or highly politicized. Voatz, for example, falls into both categories.

“From day one, we sit down and talk with them about who do you need to talk to, what relationships do you need to deal with?” she said.

They bring their own experience to the table, but UIF also maintains a network of company executives, lobbyists and people who have worked in government to give advice and perspective to the portfolio. For example, the fund recently signed on Maury Blackman, who led the gov tech company Accela for more than 15 years, as a limited partner.

The majority of their funding, however, comes from large institutional investors like Prudential Financial. These backers, Lein said, are “impact-curious” — used to making a profit in more traditional ways, but interested in exploring work with more tangible social benefits.

The fund also emphasizes diversity in its investments. According to a press release, 71 percent of its portfolio companies have founders who are either women or people of color.

Going forward, Lein said the fund doesn’t have any specific goals as to where it wants to invest. Some of its target verticals are better represented in the portfolio than others, but they’re going to take whatever the best opportunities are when they come by.

“We’re really opportunistic, we see a lot of opportunities across the verticals,” Lein said.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.