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New URBAN-X Cohort Looks to Cycling and Electrified Transportation

In choosing its 14th cohort of seven companies, the New York-based urban tech accelerator is focused on advancing the use of electrified mobility, and two-wheeled transportation.

A man in a city rides an electric bicycle on a sunny day.
As cities invest more in biking infrastructure and electric bicycles grow in popularity and affordability, e-bikes will take a more prominent role in transportation, particularly in deliveries, Johan Schwind, managing director at URBAN-X, told Government Technology.

URBAN-X, an urban tech accelerator based in New York, has named its newest cohort of early stage companies, a group unique for its focus on advancing the use of electrified mobility and two-wheeled transportation. It considered 79 applicants and will offer expertise and resources to companies in the cohort.

“Generally we see this as a very positive trend that can address both space-use and emissions-related challenges for cities,” Schwind said via e-mail, referring to e-bikes’ growing prominence. “Unfortunately there are also downsides, namely in the increased fatalities in cyclists, which increasingly involve e-bikes.”

These kinds of concerns helped guide selection of the seven startups for the 14th cohort, announced March 11. Velo AI is developing a bike safety platform known as Copilot to watch the road behind the cyclist for approaching vehicles, giving the biker more real-time insights into the streetscape around him or her. PopWheels, another cohort company, is focused on growing its e-bike battery-swapping operation, seen as a must for high-use cycling in the goods delivery sector.

Most e-bike batteries power a bike for four to five hours, David Hammer, president and co-founder of PopWheels, told GT. So, if delivery workers want to work a full day, uninterrupted, they need two batteries — which can be expensive as well as cumbersome because the cyclists then need a place to store and charge the spare.

“On top of all this, their batteries are often low-quality, used beyond their designed cycle life, and/or charged improperly, serving as major drivers of the fire crisis engulfing New York City,” Hammer said.

PopWheels was founded in New York City and has piloted its battery swapping work in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with plans to further expand that area this year.

“We do believe that battery-swapping is a critical part of urban infrastructure for many cities in the future and we’re excited to be a part of that as well,” Hammer said, adding that e-bike-share operations also need to charge and/or swap out batteries: “We believe battery-swapping can be a major part of this industry going forward.”

E-bikes are particularly well suited for business-to-business (B2B) operations, Schwind said.

“For commuters, e-bikes make a difference in that they make longer commutes feasible, but factors like whether or how pleasant the route is are also important,” he said. “For people using bikes professionally, those factors are less important, and e-bikes allow them to be more productive and earn more income. We‘re bullish on e-bikes for B2B, and part of that is reflected in us accepting PopWheels into our latest cohort.”

Two other cohort companies are exploring needs around electric vehicles. Lectrium helps to make the home charging infrastructure installation process easier by connecting EV owners to electricians and product suppliers and by offering guidance on the process. The Chargely app helps drivers identify car-charging locations.

The three other cohort firms focus on other areas of technology. Vertify Analytics uses drones to aid in building inspections. Virtus Solis is exploring the idea of developing space-based solar clean energy and getting it down to Earth. And Rego has developed a waste management app.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.