Early this year the Sustainable Oceans Alliance announced it would be starting its own accelerator with a focus on conservation. The nonprofit has just announced the Ocean Solutions Accelerator’s first wave of startups: a particularly varied and international lineup that’s easy to root for.
You may also remember that the SOA was one of the beneficiaries of the mysterious Pineapple Fund, administered by a mysterious cryptocurrency multimillionaire. No doubt that has helped get the accelerator on its feet in good time.
The startups — which I’m getting to, be patient — will receive an initial investment to cover the cost of relocating to the Bay Area for eight weeks this summer. There they will receive the loving care of the collection of academics, founders, officials and others in or around the Alliance, plus some important “personal development and executive training” intended to keep your company alive long enough to ship a product.
Interestingly, applications were only open to founders 35 years and under, presumably to get that young blood into the conservation game. Here are the five companies selected to take part:
SafetyNet, from London, makes light-emitting devices that attach to fishing nets and can be programmed to attract or discourage certain kinds of fish. This prevents a boat from catching — and subsequently throwing away — thousands of the wrong fish, a huge waste.
CalWave came out of Berkeley a couple of years ago and has been testing and refining its wave-harvesting renewable energy system, and in fact won a big Department of Energy grant just last year. Now presumably the team is looking to go from prototype to product and do some big installs.
Loliware has created seaweed-based straws and cups that are so compostable you can do it yourself — like, in your mouth. The items last for a day in a drink (or with a drink in them) but when you throw it away it’ll totally dissolve in about two months — or you could literally eat it. The New Yorkers were on Shark Tank and I’m guessing they ate one on camera. You can already order them on Amazon and people say they’re actually pretty tasty.
Etac, a Mexican company from Culiacan, has few details on its site, but SOA’s press release says the company “designs and produces functional nanomaterials for energy and environmental applications, such as oil spill and wastewater cleanup.” I believe them.
And because there can’t be an accelerator without a blockchain startup in it, there’s Blockcycle, based in Sydney, which aims to create a marketplace around waste materials that would normally go to the landfill but could also be valuable to recyclers, reusers and so on. (Turns out there was an uptick in blockchain applications after the Pineapple Fund thing.)
All five companies will present their ideas on September 11 at an event (specifically, a gala) timed to coincide with California Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. And then in October they’ll present again in Bali at the Our Ocean Youth Summit.
“These ocean entrepreneurs are a beacon of hope at a time when new, bold approaches are needed to fast-track innovation and sustain the health of our planet,” said SOA founder and CEO Daniela Fernandez. “By supporting these incredible startups, we are encouraging young people to take ownership of the environmental threats facing their communities, bet against consensus and re-invent existing markets to benefit, instead of harm, our climate, and ocean.”
WeWork, the co-working startup that’s valued at ~$20 billion and has some 200,000 members across 200 locations globally plus nearly 6,000 staff of its own, will no long allow employees to expense meat. It will also no longer serve meat at company events. The policy shift is intended to reduce the business’ environmental impact.
The new internal policy was reported on Friday by Bloomberg which obtained a company memo in which co-founder Miguel McKelvey revealed the policy, writing: “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact — even more than switching to a hybrid car.”
So Elon Musk take note.
A WeWork spokeswoman confirmed the new policy to us — which specifically removes red meat, poultry and pork from company menus and expenses policy. Though she emphasized that the company is not prohibiting WeWork staff or members from bringing in meat-based meals they’ve paid for themselves.
Members are also still free to host their own events at WeWork locations and serve meat they’ve paid for themselves. The policy only applies to food purchased (or paid for) by WeWork itself.
The spokeswoman also confirmed that fish is not covered in the meat-free initiative.
The internal memo announcing the meat-free policy is embedded below:
One thing that inspires me most about WeWork is our ability to effect positive change. Our team, united together, has no limit when solving any problem. That’s the Power of We.
In the past few weeks, many teams around the world have already taken action to help us become more environmentally conscious. From plastic-free events in Montreal to recycling initiatives in Hong Kong, we’re excited and humbled by how quickly our teams can make an impact.
But we know we can do more.
We have made a commitment to be a meat-free organization. Moving forward, we will not serve or pay for meat at WeWork events and want to clarify that this includes poultry and pork, as well as red meat.
New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact — even more than switching to a hybrid car. As a company, WeWork can save an estimated 16.7 billion gallons (63.1 billion liters) of water, 445.1 million pounds (201.9 million kg) of CO2 emissions, and over 15 million animals by 2023 by eliminating meat at our events.
One of our most powerful annual events is Summer Camp. Many of you have asked if we will be serving meat this year. In keeping with our commitment, we will not be serving meat at camp. This is a significant first step — and one that will have a meaningful impact. In just the three days we are together, we estimate that we can save more than 10,000 animals. The team has worked hard to create a sustainable, plentiful, and delicious menu. If you require a medical or religious accommodation, please contact our Global Policy Team.
We are energized by this opportunity to leave a better world for future generations and appreciate your partnership as we continue the journey.
For information on changes (from T&E to the Honesty Market), additional reading on the effects a meat-free diet can have on the world, or to get involved, visit our Connect page. You can also reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The changes you are making every day will truly change the world.
Scientists have been warning for years that the meat industry is a massive generator of greenhouses gases — although the topic often gets bypassed in mainstream environmental discussions and overlooked by corporate social responsibility policies, so it’s interesting to see WeWork stepping up to the plate (ha!) and putting its policies where its environmentally conscious soundbites are.
According to Bloomberg, the company will also exclude meat products from the self-serve food and drink kiosk systems that are present in around 400 of WeWork’s co-working buildings.
So its affirmative environmental action to reduce meat consumption will have some impact — albeit likely a smaller one — on its paying members too.
Although Silicon Valley seems to have largely forgotten about cleantech after failures in solar, wind and batteries, there are still major strides being made across new and exciting renewable technologies. However, because these companies can take a decade or more to come to market — a timeline that is anathema to Sand Hill venture capital — media coverage has died down significantly over the last few years. So what’s going on?
It turns out… a lot.
In particular, there are significant developments across the waste-to-fuel and waste-to-product industries, in the form of thermal (pyrolysis, hydrothermal, gasification) and non-thermal technologies.
The driver for this is somewhat simple: The human population is creating more waste every year and there are fewer options for disposal. Incentives around building a “circular economy,” where renewable products are created from that waste, are growing and making more financial sense.
Basically, companies are learning how to turn trash into cash.
Today, entrepreneurs are approaching the space head-on, and there are dozens of cutting-edge companies coming to market and breaking through with major projects and customers. Companies in the space can be divided between the developers like Fulcrum BioEnergy, Red Rock Biofuels, RES Polyflow and Envia, and the technology providers, such as TCG, TRI, Velocys and many others.
These companies are targeting a variety of waste types, including household garbage (plastics and organics), as well as agricultural waste (like wood) and livestock waste (like manure). Waste is then converted into various products, including synthetic crude oil, natural gas, electricity, refined products (from diesel to high-value waxes) and specialty chemicals.
In short, we’re seeing some major tailwinds for bioproduct companies as we near 2020. Here’s why.
As population and urban density grow and environmental concerns mount, there are fewer places to store waste. Just recently, China — which recycles nearly half of the globe’s waste — banned the import of certain plastics, as well as 23 other waste products, leading to overflowing landfills in many countries, including Australia and Great Britain. Landfill permitting is becoming more stringent, while countries can no longer just ship their trash somewhere else to be dealt with. Gate or tipping fees (the cost of disposing waste at a landfill) are also increasing.
So, with more pressure on these systems around the world, waste disposal has increased in value, making waste-to-product facilities and technologies more economically attractive to developers.
The human population is creating more waste every year and there are fewer options for disposal.
These projects have become even more financially sound when paired with government incentives for cleaner fuels and lower emissions. These often come in the form of renewable credits and fuel standards, such as the EPA’s Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) and the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program (LCFS). In many cases, these credits are a significant portion of revenues, and similar government-market support can be seen in Europe and Asia.
RINs, in particular, were enacted about 10 years ago, initially for corn ethanol projects. In the last few years, however, the advanced biofuels RINs requirements have started to come in to force and generate a new market. For companies that can sell their product in California and take advantage of the LCFS, these policies, in tandem, can support more than 50 percent of the revenues of some plants, making them economically possible. The effects of these mechanisms are hard to overstate.
What’s most surprising, though, is that the science behind many of these companies and technologies is not actually new. In fact, some of the science was developed in the early 20th century in Germany, primarily used to convert coal into oil during World War II to overcome small domestic oil reserves. Later, in the 1970s, the idea of peak oil and price shocks around OPEC’s formation pushed major oil producers, like Exxon, to look for alternatives, refining and advancing these processes and creating fuels and products (once again primarily from coal).
However, oil producers focused on massive-scale projects because the goal was to supplant a portion of oil production. So they were looking at $5-10 billion facilities, which were not feasible for waste-to-fuel and waste-to-product processes. Trying to feed such huge facilities with sufficient waste day in, day out would be a logistical impossibility. Moreover, once cheap oil returned, there was no longer an economic rationale for alternative fuels, and much of the technology was shelved.
Today, rather than building $10 billion refineries, developers like Fulcrum BioEnergy or Red Rock Biofuels are looking at $100 million to $500 million in capital expenditure projects — still large sums for a startup. They are taking these systems initially developed for coal processing and using them for all kinds of waste, from household trash to wood to manure. These are smaller-scale systems that fit more specific needs for specific customers and geographies. However, this shift toward smaller scale has presented a new set of engineering challenges that many companies are just now beginning to overcome.
Luckily, developers today are using their experience building and financing similar facilities in the ethanol market and applying it to these new waste-to-fuel projects. High oil prices and ethanol subsidies in the late 2000s led to a resurgence of interest in renewable energies, and the last decade has seen engineering techniques applied to waste-to-fuel for the first time, such as small-scale, temperature-regulated Fischer-Tropsch, small-scale gasification and supercritical water pyrolysis. These big investments into engineering, as well as logistics, have been instrumental in bringing together technologists, developers and customers.
For these new projects and technologies to be successful, developers need to secure a reliable source of waste to feed the facility, as well as “offtake partners” — customers who commit to purchase the fuel or product before they can finance and build a large facility. Increasingly, companies are stepping up to the plate. The necessity and value of environmental and carbon credits, as well as growing concerns around sustainability, are pushing corporations to become more involved.
Partnerships have made securing sufficient feedstock possible. This includes waste disposal companies like Waste Management that want to preserve landfill space and reduce methane emissions, forestry companies looking for new forms of lumber byproducts and livestock companies looking to dispose of manure.
Companies are learning how to turn trash into cash.
In addition, some companies are becoming investors or buyers of the end product. For example, airlines (United, Cathay, JetBlue, Southwest, Qantas, British Airlines, Canada Air) are investing in and buying biofuels because of international policy requirements. Grocers (Whole Foods, Tyson) and food and beverage companies (Coca-Cola) are also looking for sustainable waste disposal, packaging and reduction of their environmental footprint.
These projects are highly susceptible to market changes, so company commitments to longer-term agreements for purchasing products like fuel — particularly ones that include price-floors in exchange for decreased upfront cost — can help bridge price gaps and mitigate project risk for lenders. Luckily, we’re seeing more of this happen.
It’s not all rosy, though. The most challenging aspect of scaling up these bioproduct operations are the significant capital requirements and funding. The process toward economic feasibility has not been an easy one, and unfortunately is littered with stories of failure — but these are high-risk ventures, and failures, are how the market navigates new technologies and learns from mistakes.
Indeed, we’ve seen a few green shoots over the last few years that have served as a boon for companies looking to hit scale.
Tax-exempt bonds and government funding have served as an alternative to traditional loans from risk-averse banks. Solid-waste processing facilities are allowed under the IRS rules for tax-exempt private activity bonds that can be issued by states. This financial mechanism isn’t new, but the use of it by renewable energy developers has helped project financials by lowering the interest rate on the debt that the project has to pay. However, the pot for tax-exempt bonds is also limited by state and federal governments, so developers have to fight to be given an allocation with other projects, which has limited availability of this kind of financing.
In addition, guaranteed performance of these facilities has been a significant weakness in the field. One response to this has been the creation of insurance and warranty products that guarantee reliability of new facilities, thereby reducing the risk for lenders, leading to better financing terms from banks and bond investors, and increasing customer adoption.
Lastly, nearly all of waste-to-product companies today rely on credits to make their projects financially sound. In many cases these are a significant portion of revenue. As mentioned above, RINs and LCFS have been key drivers for domestic projects.
However, not all sectors are treated the same way by these support systems. One of the major drivers in wind, solar and fuel cells has been investment tax credits, which do not apply to waste facilities. Moreover, oversupply of RINs is possible, which could lead to a market price collapse. Of course, the market is also susceptible to political squabbles. So far, the RINs market has survived the EPA transition under Scott Pruitt — they are prized by the farm lobby after all — and it seems increasingly likely the market will remain in place. In fact, the EPA just released its proposed 2019 biofuel requirements and continues to increase the number of available RINs beyond prior levels.
Support and demand for these technologies and processes are accelerating as stakeholders from across the marketplace align to bring these projects to life. Moreover, because of the local and regional nature of these projects, it is unlikely for global forces to derail progress, like China aggressively entering the market and undercutting prices as they did with solar a decade ago.
However, a number of factors still pose a threat, including volatility within the market for renewable credits, as well as government support structures, or risks around commercial and technological viability that scare financiers away from backing these new projects. Only the most robust projects that address a variety of risks and shore up their commercial and technological viability will succeed over the long-term.
Overall, though, given renewed corporate interest in biofuels, new sources of financing and new feedstock and regional focuses, we may soon see a quiet boom in renewable biofuels and products.
Aclima, a San Francisco-based company which builds Internet-connected air quality sensors and runs a software platform to analyze the extracted intel, has closed a $24 million Series A to grow the business including by expanding its headcount and securing more fleet partnerships to build out the reach and depth of its pollution maps.
The Series A is led by Social Capital which is joining the board. Also participating in the round: The Schmidt Family Foundation, Emerson Collective, Radicle Impact, Rethink Impact, Plum Alley, Kapor Capital and First Philippine Holdings.
Though it has actually been working on the core problem of environmental sensing and intelligence for about a decade at this point, according to co-founder Davida Herzl.
“What we’ve really been doing over the course of the last few years is solving the really difficult technical challenges in generating this kind of data. Which is a revolution of air quality and climate change emissions data that hasn’t existed before,” she tells TechCrunch.
“Last year we announced the results of our state-wide demonstration project in California where we mapped the Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles. And really demonstrated the power of the data to drive new science, decision making across the private and public sector.”
Also last year it published a study in collaboration with the University of Texas showing that pollution is hyperlocal — thereby supporting its thesis that effective air quality mapping requires dense networks of sensors if you’re going to truly reflect the variable reality on the ground.
“You can have the best air quality and the worst air quality on the same street,” says Herzl. “And that really gives us a new view — a new understanding of emissions but actually demonstrated the need for hyperlocal measurement to protect human health but also to manage those emissions.
“That data set has been applied across a variety of scientific research including studies that really showed the linkages between hyperlocal data and cardiovascular risk. In LA our black carbon data was used to support increased filtration in schools to protect school children.”
“Our technology is really a proof point for emerging and new legislation in California that’s going to require community based monitoring across the entire state,” she adds. “So all of that work in California has really demonstrated the power of our platform — and that has really set us up to scale, and the funding round is going to enable us to take this to a lot more cities and regions and users.”
Asked about potential international expansion — given the presence of strategic investors from southeast Asia backing the round — Herzl says Aclima has had a “global view” for the business from the beginning, even while much of its early work has focused on California, adding: “We definitely have global ambitions and we will be making more announcements about that soon.”
Its strategy for growing the reach and depth of its air quality maps is focused on increasing its partnerships with fleets — so there’s a slight irony there given the vehicles being repurposed as air quality sensing nodes might themselves be contributing to the problem (Herzl sidestepped a question of whether Uber might be an interesting fleet partner for it, given the company’s current attempts to reinvent itself as a socially responsible corporate — including encouraging its drivers to go electric).
“Our mapping capabilities are amplified through our partnerships with fleets,” she says, pointing to Google’s StreetView cars as one current example (though this is not an exclusive partnership arrangement; a London air quality mapping project involving StreetView cars which was announced earlier this month is using hardware from a rival UK air quality sensor company, called Air Monitors, for example).
But flush with fresh Series A funding Aclima will be working on getting its kit on board more fleets — relying on third parties to build out the utility of its software platform for policymakers and communities.
“There’s a number of fleets that we are going to be speaking about our partnerships with but our platform can be integrated with any fleet type and we believe that is an incredible advantage and position for the company in really achieving our vision of creating a global platform for environmental intelligence to help cities and entire countries really manage climate risk at a scale that really hasn’t been possible before,” she adds.
“Our technology provides 100,000x greater spacial resolution than existing approaches and we do it at 100-1,000x cost reduction so our vision is to be the GPS of the environment — a new layer of environmental awareness and intelligence that really informs day-to-day decisions.
“We’re really excited because it’s taken really years of work. I incorporated Aclima 10 years ago and started really working on the technology around 2010. So this has taken… a tremendous amount of technical development and scientific rigor with partners… to really have the technology at a place where it’s really set up to scale.”
It finances (or part finances) the deployment of its sensors on the vehicles of fleet partners — with Aclima’s business model focused on monetizing the interpretation of the data provided by its SaaS platform. So a chunk of the Series A will be going to help pay for more sensor rollouts.
In terms of what fleet partners get back from agreeing for their vehicles to become mobile air quality sensing nodes, Herzl says it’s dependent on the partner. And Aclima’s isn’t naming any additional names on that front yet.
“It’s specific to each fleet. But I can say that in the case of Google we’re working with Google Earth outreach and the team at StreetView… to really reflect their commitment to sustainability but also to expand access to this kind of information,” she says of the perks for fleets, adding: “We’ll be talking more about that as we make announcement about our other partners.”
The Series A financing will also go on funding continued product development, with Aclima hoping to keep adding to the tally of pollutants it can identify and map — building on a list which includes the likes of CO2, methane and particulate matter.
“We have a very ambitious roadmap. And our roadmap is expansive — ultimately our vision is to make the invisible visible, across all of the pollutants and factors in the invisible layer of air that supports life. We want to make all of that visible — that’s our long term vision,” she says.
“Today we’re measuring all of the core gaseous pollutants that are regulated as well as the core climate change gases… We are not only deploying and expanding our platform’s availability but in our R&D efforts investing in next generation sensing technologies, whether it’s the tiniest PM2.5 sensor in the world to on our roadmap really having the ability to speciate COC [chlorinated organic compounds].
“We can’t do that today but are working on it and that is an area that is really important for specific communities but for industry and for policy makers as well.”
A key part of its ongoing engineering work is focused on shrinking certain sensing technologies — both in size and cost. As that’s the key to the sought for ubiquity, says Herzl.
“There’s a lot of hard work happening there to shrink [sensors],” she notes. “We’re talking about sensors that are the size of a thumb tack. Traditional technologies for this are very large, very difficult to deploy… so it’s not that capabilities don’t exist today but we’re working on shrinking those capabilities down into really, really tiny components so that we can achieve ubiquity… You have to shrink down the size but also reduce the cost so that you can deploy thousands, millions of these things.”
Commenting on the funding round in a supporting statement, Jay Zaveri, partner at Social Capital, added: “Aclima has successfully opened up an entirely new market domain with their innovative approach, tackling one of the biggest global challenges of our time. With a proven ability to quantify emissions and human exposure to pollution at global resolutions previously impossible, Aclima creates enormous opportunities for industry, cities and society.”
It’s been hard to miss the scooter startup wars opening fresh, techno-fueled rifts in Valley society in recent months. Another flavor of ride-sharing steed which sprouted seemingly overnight to clutter up sidewalks — drawing rapid-fire ire from city regulators apparently far more forgiving of traffic congestion if it’s delivered in the traditional, car-shaped capsule.
Even in their best, most-groomed PR shots, the dockless carelessness of these slimline electrified scooters hums with an air of insouciance and privilege. As if to say: Why yes, we turned a kids’ toy into a battery-powered kidult transporter — what u gonna do about it?
An earlier batch of electric scooter sharing startups — offering full-fat, on-road mopeds that most definitely do need a license to ride (and, unless you’re crazy, a helmet for your head) — just can’t compete with that. Last mile does not haul.
But a short-walk replacement tool that’s so seamlessly manhandled is also of course easily vandalized. Or misappropriated. Or both. And there have been a plethora of scooter dismemberment/kidnap horror stories coming out of California, judging by reports from the scooter wars front line. Hanging scooters in trees is presumably a protest thing.
Scooter brand Lime struck an especially tone-deaf tech note trying to fix this problem after an update added a security alarm that bellowed robotic threats to call the cops on anyone who fumbled to unlock them. Safe to say, littering abusive scooters in public spaces isn’t a way to win friends and influence people.
Even when functioning ‘correctly’, i.e. as intended, scooter rides can ooze a kind of brash entitlement. The sweatless convenience looks like it might be mostly enabling another advance in tech-fueled douche behavior as a t-shirt wearing alpha nerd zips past barking into AirPods and inhaling a takeaway latte while cutting up the patience of pedestrians.
None of this fast-seeded societal friction has put the brakes on e-scooter startup momentum, though. Au contraire. They’ve been raising massive amounts of investment on rapidly inflating valuations ($2BN is the latest valuation for Bird).
But buying lots of e-scooters and leaving them at the mercy of human whim is an expensive business to try scaling. Hence big funding rounds are necessary if you’re going to replace all the canal-dunked duds and keep scooting fast enough for the competition.
At the same time, there isn’t a great deal to differentiate one e-scooter experience over another — beyond price and proximity. Branding might do it but then you have to scramble even harder and faster to create a slick experience and inflate a brand that sticks. (And it goes without saying that a scooter sticky with fecal-matter is absolutely not that.)
The still fledgling startups are certainly scrambling to scale, with some also already pushing into international markets. Lime just scattered ~200 e-scooters in Paris, for example. It’s also been testing the waters more quietly in Zurich. While Bird has its beady eye on European territory too.
The idea underpinning some very obese valuations for these fledgling startups is that scooters will be a key piece of a reworked, multi-modal transport mix for urban mobility, fueled by app-based convenience and city buy-in to greener transport options with emissions-free benefits. (Albeit scooters’ greenness depends on what they’re displacing; Great if it’s gas-guzzling cars, less compelling if it’s people walking or peddling.)
And while investors are buying in to the vision that lots of city dwellers are going to be scooting the last mile in future, and betting big on sizable value being captured by a few plucky scooter startups — more than half a billion dollars has been funneled into just two of these slimline scooter brands, Bird and Lime, since February — there are skeptical notes being sounded too.
Asking whether the scooter model really justifies such huge raises and heady valuations. Wondering if it isn’t a bit crazy for a fledgling Bird to be 2x a unicorn already.
The bear case for these slimline e-scooters says they’re really only fixing a pretty limited urban mobility problem. Too spindly and unsafe to go the distance, too sedate of pace (and challenged for sidewalk space) to feel worthwhile if you don’t have far to go anyway. And of course you’re not going to be able to cart your kids and/or much baggage on a stand-up two wheeler. So they’re useless for families.
Meanwhile scooter invasions are illegal in some places and, where they are possible, are fast inviting public and regulatory frisson and friction — by contributing to congestion and peril on already crowded pavements.
After taking one of Lime’s just-landed e-scooters for a spin in Paris this week, Willy Braun, VC at early stage European fund Daphni, came away unimpressed. “I didn’t feel I was really saving time in a short distance, since there is always many people in our narrow sidewalks,” he tells us. “And it isn’t comfortable enough for me to imagine a longer distance. Also it’s quite expensive ($1 per use and $.15/min).
“Lastly: Before renting it I read two news media that told me I had to use it only on the sidewalks and they tell us that we should only use it on the road during the onboarding — and that wearing an helmet is mandatory without providing it). As a comparison, I’d rather use e-bikes (or emoto-bikes) for longer journey without hesitation.”
“Give us Jump instead of Lime!” he adds, namechecking the electric bike startup that’s been lodged under Uber’s umbrella since April, adding a greener string to its urban mobility bow — and which is also heading over to Europe as part of the ride-hailing giant’s ongoing efforts to revitalize its regionally battered brand.
“Uber stands ready to help address some of the biggest challenges facing German cities: tackling air pollution, reducing congestion and increasing access to cleaner transportation solutions,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wheeling a bright red Jump bike on stage at the Noah conference in Berlin earlier this month. Uber’s Jump e-bikes will launch in Germany this summer.
E-bikes do seem to offer more urban mobility versatility than e-scooters. Though a scooter is arguably a more accessible type of wheeled steed vs a bike, given you can just stand on it and be moved.
But in Europe’s dense and dynamic urban environments — which, unlike the US, tend to be replete with public transit options (typically at a spectrum of price-points) — individual transport choices tend to be based firstly on economics. After which it’s essentially a matter of personal taste and/or the weather.
Urban transport horses for courses — depending on your risk, convenience and comfort thresholds, thanks to a publicly funded luxury of choice. So scooters have loads of already embedded competition.
TechCrunch’s resident Parisien, Romain Dillet — a regular user of on-demand bike services in the city (of which there are many), and prior to that the city’s own dock-based bike rental scheme — also went for a test spin on a Lime scooter this week. And also came away feeling underwhelmed.
“This is bad,” he said after his ride. “It’s slow and you need to brake constantly. BUT the worst part is that it feels waaaaaay more dangerous than a bike. Basically you can’t brake abruptly because you’re just standing there.”
Index Venture’s Martin Mignot was also in Paris this week and he took the chance to take a Lime scooter for a spin too — checking out the competition in his case, given the European VC firm is a Bird backer. So what did he think?
“The experience is pretty cool. It’s slightly faster than a bike, there’s no sweating. The weather was just amazing and very hot in Paris so it was pretty amazing in terms of speed and lack of effort,” he says, rolling out the positively spun, vested view on scooter sharing. “Especially going up hill to go to Gare du Nord.
“And the lack of friction — just to get on board and get started. So in general I think it’s a great experience and I think it feels a really interesting niche between walking and on-demand bikes… In Paris you’ve also got the mopeds. So that kind of ‘in between offering’. I think there’s a big market there. I think it’s going to work pretty well in Paris.”
Mignot is a tad disparaging about the quality of Lime’s scooters vs the model being deployed by Bird — a scooter model he also personally owns. But again, as you’d expect given his vested interests.
“Obviously I’m biased but I would say that the Xiaomi scooter/Ninebot scooter is higher quality than the one that Lime are using,” he tells us. “I thought that the Lime one, the handlebar is a little bit too high. The braking is a little bit too soft. Maybe it was the one I used, I don’t know.”
Talking generally about scooter startups, he says investors’ excitement boils down to trip frequency — thanks exactly to journeys being these itty-bitty last mile links.
But it’s also then about the potential for all that last mile hopping to be a shortcut for winning a prized slot on smartphone users’ homescreens — and thus the underlying game being played looks like a jockeying for prime position in the urban mobility race.
Lime, for example, started out with bike rentals before jumping into scooters and going multi-modal. So scooter sharing starts to look like a strategy for mobility startups to scoot to the top of the attention foodchain — where they’re then positioned to offer a full mix and capture more value.
So really scooters might mostly be a tool for catching people’s app attention. Think of that next time you see one lying on a sidewalk.
“What’s very interesting if you look at the trip distribution, most of the trips are short. So the vast majority of trips if you’re walking, obviously, are less than three miles. So that’s actually where the bulk of the mobility happens. And scooters play really well in that field. So in terms of sheer number of trips I think it’s going to dwarf any other type of transportation. And especially ride-hailing,” says Mignot.
“If you look at how often do people use Uber or Lyft or Taxify… it’s going to be much less frequent than the scooter users. And I think that’s what makes it such an interesting asset… The frequency will be much higher — and so the apps that power the scooters will tend to be on the homescreen. And kind of on top of the foodchain, so to speak. So I think that’s what makes it super interesting.”
Scooters also get a big investor tick on merit of the lack of friction standing in the way of riding vs other available urban options such as bikes (or, well, non-electric scooters, skateboards, roller blades, public transport, and so on and on) — in both onboarding (getting going) and propulsion (i.e. the lack of sweat required to ride) terms.
“That’s what’s so brilliant with these devices, you just snap the QR code and off you go,” he says. “The difference with bikes is that you don’t have to produce any effort. I think there are cases where obviously bikes are better. But I think there are a lot of cases where people will want something where you don’t sweat.
“Where you don’t wrinkle your clothes. Which goes a little bit faster. Without going all the way to the moped experience where you need to put the helmet, which is a bit more dangerous, which a lot of people, especially women, are not super familiar with. So I think what’s exciting with scooters as a form factor is it’s actually very mainstream.
“Anyone can ride them. It’s very simple to manoeuvre. It’s not super fast, it’s not too dangerous. It doesn’t require any muscular effort — so for older people or for people who just don’t want to sweat because they’re going to a meeting or something. It’s just a fantastic option.”
Index has also invested in an e-bike startup (Cowboy) and the firm is fully signed up to the notion that urban mobility will be multimodal. So if e-scooters valuations are a bit overcooked Index is not going to be too concerned. People in cities are clearly going to be riding something. And backing a mix is a smart way to hedge the risk of any one option ending up more passing fad than staple urban steed.
Mostly Index is betting that people will keep on riding robotic horses for urban courses. And whatever they ride it’s a fairly safe bet that an app is going to be involved in the process of finding (docklessness is therefore another attention play) or unlocking (scan that QR code!) the mobility device — opening up the possibility that a single app could house multiple mobility options and thus capture more overall value.
“It’s not a one-size fits all. They’re all complementing each other,” says Mignot of the urban mobility options in play. “I would say e-bikes are probably a little bit more great for little bit longer trips because you’re sitting down. But again it takes a little bit longer, because you have to adjust the saddle, you need to start peddling. There’s a bit more friction both on the onboading and on the riding. But they’re a bit better for slightly longer distances. I would say for shorter distances there’s nothing better than the scooter.”
He also points out that scooters are both cheaper and less bulky than e-bikes. And because they take up less street space they can — at least in theory — be more densely stacked, thereby generating the claimed convenience by having them sitting near enough to convince someone not to bother walking 10 minutes to the café or gym — and just scoot instead. So scooters’ slimline physique is also especially exciting to investors. (Even if, ironically, it’s being deployed to urge people to walk less.)
“I think we will end up with more density of scooters. Which is super important,” he continues. “People will, in the end, tend to take the vehicle that they can find where they are. And I think it’s more likely, eventually, that they will get a scooter than an e-bike. Just simply because they take less space and they are less expensive.”
But why wouldn’t people who do get won over to the sweatless perks of last mile scooting just buy and own their own ride — rather than shelling out on an ongoing basis to share?
Unlike bikes, scooters are mobile enough to be picked up and moved around fairly easily. Which means they can go with you into your home, office, even a restaurant — disruptively reducing theft risk. Whereas talk to any bike owner and they’ll almost invariably have at least one tale of theft woe, which is a key part of what makes bike sharing so attractive: It erases theft worry.
Add to that, you can find e-scooters on sale in European electronics shops for as little as €140. So if you’re going to be a regular scooterer, the purely economic argument to just own your own looks pretty compelling.
And people zipping around on e-scooters is a pretty common sight in another dense European city, Barcelona, which has very scooter-friendly weather but no scooter startups (yet). But unless it’s a tourist weaving along the seafront most of these riders are not shared: People just popped into their local electronics shop and walked out with a scooter in a box.
So the rides aren’t generating repeat revenue for anyone except the electricity companies.
Asked why people who do want to scoot won’t just buy, rather than rent Mignot talks up the hassle of ownership — undermined slightly by the fact he is also a scooter owner (despite the claimed faff from problems such as frequent flat tires and the chore of the nightly charge).
“The thing you notice very rapidly: There are two things, one is the maintenance,” he says. “The models that exist today are not super robust. Maybe in a very flat, very smooth roads, maybe Santa Monica, maybe it’s a little bit less true but I would say in Europe the maintenance that is required is fairly high… I have to do something on mine every week.
“The other thing is it takes a little bit of space. If you have to bring it to a restaurant or whatever type of crowded place, a movie theatre or wherever you’re going, to an office, to a meeting room, it’s a little bit on the heavy side, and it’s a little bit inconvenient. So certainly some people will buy them… But I also think that there are a lot of cases where you’d rather have it just on-demand.”
Unlike Mignot and Index, Tom Bradley, of UK focused VC firm Oxford Capital, is not so convinced by the on-demand scooter craze.
The firm has not made any e-scooter investments itself, though mobility is a “core theme”, with the portfolio including an on-demand coach travel startup (Sn-ap), and technology plays such as Morpheus Labs (machine learning for driverless cars) and UltraSoc (complex circuits for automotive parts, which sells to the likes of Tesla).
But it’s just not been sold on scooter startups. Bradley describes it as an “open question” whether scooters end up being “an important part of how people move around the cities of the future”. He also points to theft problems with dockless bike share schemes that have not played out well in the UK.
“We’re not convinced that this is a fundamental part of the picture,” he says of scooter sharing. “It may be a part of the picture but I personally am not yet convinced that it’s as big a part of the picture that people seem to be prepared to pay for.”
“I keep thinking of the Segway example,” he adds. “It’s an absolutely delightful product. It’s brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant. In a way that these electric scooters are not. But obviously it was much more expensive. And it made people feel a bit weird. But it was supposed to be the answer — and it’s not the answer. Before its time, perhaps.”
Of course he also accepts that capital is “being used as a weapon”, as he puts it, to scoot full-pelt towards a future where shared electric scooters are the norm on city streets by waging a “marketing war” to get there.
“Venture capital valuations are what someone is prepared to pay. And in this case people are valuing potential rather than valuing the business… so the valuations [of Bird and Lime] are being driven more than anything by the amount of money being raised,” he says. “So you decide a rule of thumb about what is acceptable dilution, and if you’re going to raise $400M or whatever then the valuation’s got to be somewhere between $1.6BN and $2BN to make that sort of raise make sense — and leave enough equity for the previous investors and founders. So there’s an element of this where the valuations are being driven by the amount of capital being raised.”
Oxford Capital’s bearish view on scooter sharing is also bounded by the fund only investing in UK-based startups. And while Bradley says it sees lots of local mobility strengths — especially in the automotive market — he admits it’s more of a mental leap to imagine a world leading scooter startup sprouting from the country’s green and pleasant lands. Not least because it’s not legal to use them on UK public roads or pavements.
“If you look at places like Amsterdam, Berlin, they’re sort of built for bikes. London’s getting towards being built for bikes… Cycling’s been one of the big success stories in London. Is [scooter sharing] going to replace cycling? I don’t know. Not so convinced… It’s obviously easy for anyone to get on and off these things, young and old. So that’s good, it’s inclusive. But it feels a little bit like a solution looking for a problem, the sorts of journeys people talk about for these things — on campus, short urban journeys. A lot of these are walkable or cycle journeys in a lot of cities. So is there a mass need?
“Is this Segway 2 or is this bike hire 2… it’s hard to tell. And we’re coming down on the former. We’re not convinced this is going to be a fundamental part of the transport space. It will be a feature but not a huge part.”
But for Mignot the early days of the urban mobility attention wars mean there’s much to play for — and much that can be favorably reshaped to fit scooters into the mix.
“The whole thing, even on-demand bikes, it’s a two year old phenomenon really,” he says. “So I think everyone is just trying to learn and figure out and adapt to this new reality, whether it’s users or companies or cities. I think it’s very similar to when cars were first introduced. There were no parking spaces at the time and there were no rules on the road. And fast forward 100 years and it looks very different.
“If you look at the amount of infrastructure and effort and spend that has been put into making — and I would argue way more than should have — into making a city car-friendly, if you only do a 100th of the same amount of effort and spend into making some space for bicycles and light two-wheel vehicles I think we’ll be fine.
“That’s the beauty of this model. If you compare the space of the tech and if you look at the efficiency of moving people around vs the space, the scooters are simply the most efficient because their footprint on the ground is just so small.”
He even makes the case for scooters working well in London — arguing the sprawl of the city amps up the utility because there are so many tedious last mile trips that people have to make.
Even more so than in denser European cities like Paris, where he admits that hopping on a scooter might just be more of a “nice to have”, given shorter distances and all the other available options. So, really, where urban mobility is concerned, it can actually be courses for horses.
Yet, the reality is London is off-limits to the likes of Bird and Lime for now — thanks to UK laws barring this type of unlicensed personal electric vehicle from public roads and spaces.
You can buy e-scooters for use on private land in the UK but any scooter startups that tried their usual playbook in London would be scooting straight for legal hot water.
It’s not just the British weather that’s inclement.
“I’m really hoping that TfL [Transport for London] and the Department for Transport are going to make it possible,” says Mignot on that. “I think any city should welcome this with open arms. Some cities are, by the way. And I think over time once they see the success stories in other parts of the world I think they all will. But I wish London was one of those cutting edge cities that would welcome new innovation with open arms. I think right now, unfortunately, it’s not there.
“There’s a lot of talk about air quality, and so on, but actually, when push comes to shove… you have a lot of resistance and a lot of pushback… So it’s a little bit disappointing. But, you know, we’ll get there eventually.”
From next month two Google StreetView cars will be driving around London’s streets fitted with sensors that take air quality readings every 30 meters to map and monitor air quality in the UK capital.
There will also be 100 fixed sensors fitted to lampposts and buildings in pollution blackspots and sensitive locations in the city — creating a new air quality monitoring network that Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, is billing as “the most sophisticated in the world”.
The goal with the year-long project is to generate hyperlocal data to help feed policy responses. Khan has made tackling air pollution one of his priorities.
It’s not the first time StreetView cars have been used as a vehicle for pollution monitoring. Three years ago sensors made by San Francisco startup Aclima were fitted to the cars to map air quality in the Bay Area.
The London project is using sensors made by UK company Air Monitors.
The air quality monitoring project is a partnership between the Greater London Authority and C40 Cities network — a coalition of major cities around the world which is focused on tackling climate change and increasing health and well-being.
The project is being led by the charity Environmental Defense Fund Europe, in partnership with Air Monitors, Google Earth Outreach, Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants, University of Cambridge, National Physical Laboratory, and the Environmental Defense Fund team in the United States.
King’s College London will also be undertaking a linked study focused on schools.
Results will be shared with members of the C40 Cities network — with the ambition of developing policy responses that help improve air quality for hundreds of millions of city dwellers around the world.
For many of us, clean, drinkable water comes right out of the tap. But for billions it’s not that simple, and all over the world researchers are looking into ways to fix that. Today brings work from Berkeley, where a team is working on a water-harvesting apparatus that requires no power and can produce water even in the dry air of the desert. Hey, if a cactus can do it, why can’t we?
While there are numerous methods for collecting water from the air, many require power or parts that need to be replaced; what professor Omar Yaghi has developed needs neither.
The secret isn’t some clever solar concentrator or low-friction fan — it’s all about the materials. Yaghi is a chemist, and has created what’s called a metal-organic framework, or MOF, that’s eager both to absorb and release water.
It’s essentially a powder made of tiny crystals in which water molecules get caught as the temperature decreases. Then, when the temperature increases again, the water is released into the air again.
Yaghi demonstrated the process on a small scale last year, but now he and his team have published the results of a larger field test producing real-world amounts of water.
They put together a box about two feet per side with a layer of MOF on top that sits exposed to the air. Every night the temperature drops and the humidity rises, and water is trapped inside the MOF; in the morning, the sun’s heat drives the water from the powder, and it condenses on the box’s sides, kept cool by a sort of hat. The result of a night’s work: 3 ounces of water per pound of MOF used.
That’s not much more than a few sips, but improvements are already on the way. Currently the MOF uses zicronium, but an aluminum-based MOF, already being tested in the lab, will cost 99 percent less and produce twice as much water.
With the new powder and a handful of boxes, a person’s drinking needs are met without using any power or consumable material. Add a mechanism that harvests and stores the water and you’ve got yourself an off-grid potable water solution.
“There is nothing like this,” Yaghi explained in a Berkeley news release. “It operates at ambient temperature with ambient sunlight, and with no additional energy input you can collect water in the desert. The aluminum MOF is making this practical for water production, because it is cheap.”
He says there are already commercial products in development. More tests, with mechanical improvements and including the new MOF, are planned for the hottest months of the summer.
Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!
The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.
What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.
We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:
Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital
Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp
Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures
Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures
Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel
George McDonaugh, KR1
Candice Lo, Blossom Capital
Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners
Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel
Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker
We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.
Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.
That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.
So you can grab tickets here.
Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!
Awards by category:
The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.
Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.
Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.
• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers
• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network
• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage
• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics
• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking
• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters
• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking
• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene
• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!
That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…
Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard joined key execs from Apple and industrial manufacturers Alcoa and Rio Tinto to announce a new process for smelting aluminum that removes greenhouse gases from the equation.
Alcoa and Rio Tinto are creating a joint venture in based in Montreal called Elysis, to help mainstream the process, with plans to make it commercially available by 2024. Along with swapping carbon for oxygen as a byproduct of the production process, the technology is also expected to reduce costs by around 15 percent.
It’s easy to see why Apple jumped at investing into tech here, pumping $13 million CAD ($10 million USD) into the venture. The company has been making a big push over the past couple of years to reduce its carbon footprint across the board. This time last month, Apple announced that it had moved to 100-percent clean energy for its global facilitates.
“Apple is committed to advancing technologies that are good for the planet and help protect it for generations to come,” Tim Cook said in a release tied to today’s news. “We are proud to be part of this ambitious new project, and look forward to one day being able to use aluminum produced without direct greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing of our products.”
Those companies, along with the Governments of Canada and Quebec have combined to invest a full $188 million CAD in the forward looking tech. While the new business will be headquartered in Montreal, U.S. manufacturing will also get a piece of the pie. Alcoa has been smelting metal through the process at a smaller scale in a plant outside of Pittsburgh since 2009.
Google has joined Apple in a growing chorus of tech giants coming out in support of the Clean Power Plan. The company filed a statement with the Environmental Protection Agency, which it has since shared with TechCrunch, supporting the Obama-era legislation.
The legislation, which sought to curb power plant emissions by more than 30 percent by 2030, is expected to be repealed by the Trump administration. As with Apple’s earlier filing, Google cites both environmental and economic fallout, should the policy be repealed.
“Wind and solar deployment—as well as the associated supply chains—have been among the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy in recent years,” the company writes in the letter dated April 25, “with job growth rates significantly exceeding the growth rate of the overall labor force.”
The company also notes its own personal interest in supporting the policy, citing its work to shift toward renewable energy, along with the CPP’s potential to drive job growth. “The Clean Power Plan can continue to drive innovation and job growth,” Google adds, “while spurring the modernization of the American electricity system and reducing carbon dioxide emissions and helping to mitigate the threat of global climate change.
Under embattled head Scott Pruitt, the EPA has suggested that the CPP was an illegal extension of the agency’s authority. Late last month, Trump signed an executive order mandating a review of the policy, a move most observers have interpreted as the first steps toward its eventual repeal.