Urban-X, a hardware-focused accelerator program for companies “shaping the future of cities through technology,” is moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn. It’ll launch its second cohort this fall at A/D/O, a design-focused center opening in Greenpoint. It’s another notch in Brooklyn’s manufacturing belt.
The program is a joint venture between the automotive brand Mini and SOSV, a venture capital firm based in Cork, Ireland, that runs a series of accelerator programs in Ireland, China, Taiwan and the U.S.
Applications for the program are now open. They’re due on September 6. Participating companies will receive $60,000 each in exchange for a 7 percent equity stake, which will be split equally between Mini and SOSV.
The program is especially suited to companies developing hardware products, managing director Micah Kotch told Technical.ly, as the cohort will get the opportunity to build prototypes with engineers and designers from BMW, but software-focused companies are welcome as well. Above all, he said, Urban-X is looking for “people solving really hard problems,” in areas such as transportation, public safety, energy and food supply.
Urban-X will accept between eight and 12 participants for the upcoming fall cohort. The program will run for 14 weeks. The dates are tentatively scheduled as October 24 to February 10, though those could change, depending on the progress of construction at A/D/O, Kotch said.
The program also includes weeklong trips to Munich, where manufacturing for Mini’s parent company, BMW, is based, and Shenzhen, China, where SOSV’s hardware-focused accelerator, HAX, is located.
Kotch told Technical.ly that there’s a strategic purpose for moving Urban-X to Brooklyn this time around. For one, the accelerator will have its own dedicated space. It previously shared space with the real-estate-focused Area accelerator at 55 Broad Street in Manhattan.
But also: Greenpoint, with its industrial roots, is an especially good fit, Kotch said.
“It’s remarkable to see small-scale manufacturing alive here,” he said. “There’s a rich legacy that we’re seeking to build off of.”
(Urban-X isn’t the only one who’s seeking to build off that history and the borough’s burgeoning hardware scene will likely be helpful for Urban-X’s forthcoming class.)
Kotch did admit, however, that helping its participants develop strong revenue models remains a challenge.
“There’s a lot of buzz around smart cities, but the space is still emerging,” he said. “Some of the business models are still in flux.”
In many cases, for instance, the paying customer for a product might not be the end user. And companies that sell to government agencies often face long sales cycles, which have to be factored into their strategy.
Still, the first cohort of Urban-X has yielded some intriguing companies. Kotch pointed out two. There’s Brooklynness, which last month completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for its connected bike helmets that display turn signals, reveal blind spots and offer route mapping. Another Urban-X graduate is Red Hook-based Industrial/Organic, which is developing an efficient composting system for cities and has recently gotten funding from Brooklyn Bridge Ventures.
The program has drawn applicants from across the U.S. and around the world. Nearly half of the first cohort was international.
“Innovation comes from unlikely sources,” Kotch said. “We have seen really interesting teams from St. Louis and St. Petersburg.”
Kotch, for his part, is quite familiar with the Brooklyn startup scene. A Park Slope native and current resident of Windsor Terrace, he previously served as NYU Tandon School of Engineering‘s director of innovation and entrepreneurship before joining Urban-X. He pointed to the borough’s surplus of creative talent, which is particularly useful for the design-driven companies Urban-X seeks to attract. After the program ends, participants won’t be obligated to remain in Brooklyn, but they’ll be referred to local spaces such as newly-opened Navy Yard manufacturing coworking space New Lab.
“We think there’s a real strength here,” he said. “We want them to continue to grow in Brooklyn.”
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