Aug 26, 2020 - Technology

A new startup program puts the focus on urban issues

Illustration of a smart city wired up with lights
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

As 2020 began, Scrum Ventures was already considering a new startup program focusing on tech for cities and the urban environment. Then the spring brought the coronavirus pandemic and a wave of protests following the killing of George Floyd, sealing the deal.

Driving the news: Scrum Ventures, in partnership with former NBA all-star player and investor Baron Davis, is debuting SmartCityX, a program aimed at helping startups connect with potential advisers and business partners.

“The initial discussions were really around ‘how can we leverage the power of things like mobility and sustainability,’” Mike Proman, managing director of Scrum Ventures' studio program, tells Axios.

  • “Over the course of February and early March, as things deteriorated in the U.S., we saw this as an opportunity to find technologies that would be part of the solution.”
  • SmartCityX, which is Scrum Ventures' second program after one focused on sports last year, will culminate in some form of demo day next spring (though the format is unclear given the pandemic).
  • It will feature 100–150 startups, which will ideally fall into any of six categories: consumer products, mobility and transportation, smart buildings, sustainability and resources, infrastructure and connectivity, and social innovation.
  • Unlike traditional accelerator programs, SmartCityX does not make an equity investment in the startups, though Scrum Ventures may separately invest down the line.

The big picture: Davis tells Axios the program aims to "take an international view on education and living and start to provide tools to the right thought leaders where we can foster and champion a better and more sustainable lifestyle."

  • While Scrum Ventures has strong links to Japan and Japanese companies, Proman says that the SmartCityX program’s advisers will be diverse in expertise and geographical location.
  • In addition to Davis, advisers to the startups will include executives from Qualcomm, the city of San Diego, the city of San Jose, Adidas, and the San Francisco 49ers.

What’s next: Startups can apply until the end of November, and SmartCityX will make its selections for the program by January.

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