Electric Mobility Scores Big at Alpbach

Bridges vol. 41, October 2014 / Startup Corner

By Robin Tim Weis

Back in 2000, the trendy C1 BMW motorcycle set the benchmark for curve-leaning technologies, offering congested-city commuters a safe and agile motorcycle with which to navigate the streets. 

Since then, the need for agile, safe, and fuel-efficient modes of urban transportation has been increasing exponentially while the world moves inexorably toward a 2050 population of 9.7 billion, as projected in a study by the French Institute of Demographic Studies. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault Group, believes that 2.9 billion cars will be in use in that rapidly approaching world of 9.7 billion people.

The Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit) and AustriaTech decided to address these challenges by tapping into Austria’s growing startup field to give new, innovative, technological solutions the necessary push towards market maturity. As a result, the Urban Innovators Challenge was born. Interested Austrian startups were offered the opportunity to submit their smart-city solutions in the categories of mobility, energy, housing, and information/ communications technologies.

After months of evaluation, three shortlisted startups were given extensive training in preparation for their final pitch event at the Alpbach forum. Sektor 5, a Vienna-based incubator, provided them with an accelerator program centered on pitch training, market evaluation, and business plan writing.

"We Taxi," a cab-sharing app, went up against "MIJU Community," an app that seeks to help the elderly overcome their immobility by offering community-centered transportation. The third startup in the race was the "Urban LifeCycle Project," a hybrid-driven transportation bike seeking to redefine mobility in the smart city of tomorrow.

The final pitch round was held at the annual European Forum Alpbach, a renowned interdisciplinary platform for science, politics, business, and culture, whose summer 2014 meeting focused on the need for sustainable transportation. This year’s announced motto, “Europe is a great idea,” attracted over 4000 visitors from more than 64 nations to the idyllic Austrian town of Alpbach. The forum's discussions frequently dealt with the ubiquitous issue of smart cities and their mobility problems.

After months and years of development, the stage was set at the European Forum Alpbach, as the three startups went head-to-head in a pitch showdown. The jury consisted of Prof. Anton Falkeis from the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Dr. Tom Kirschbaum, CFO of Door2Door GmbH, and OSTA Washington’s Director Philipp Marxgut.

After passionate entrepreneurial pleas, the Urban LifeCycle Project walked away with the grand prize, a one-month paid incubator stay in the US. As the winner of the Urban Innovators Challenge, the Austrian startup team will be joining the illustrious startup crowd at 1776, a successful business incubator in Washington, DC.

During its US stay, the young Austrian startup plans to pitch its idea as well as its prototype to businesses, hoping to scale up its urban life cycle idea. The team believes it has found the perfect balance between payload, delivery costs, sustainability, and maneuverability when it comes to bike/motorcycle delivery.

Overall, the Urban LifeCycle Project will seek to emulate the success enjoyed at 1776 by other mobility-centered startups such as RideScout, a mobile app that helps you get from point A to point B faster and smarter. The 1776-accelerated startup was recently acquired by Daimler, after having expanded its service to an additional 69 cities in North America.

While the C1 BMW motorcycle might be mobility history, the Urban LifeCycle Project fully intends to revamp and project curve-leaning technology into the 21st century. 

Robin Tim Weis serves as a project manager for OSTA in Washington, DC. He previously served as a policy analyst at the International Narcotics Control Board within the United Nations. As a former Europe correspondent for FrumForum.com and foreign commercial assistant for the US Embassy in Brussels, he has been an avid proponent of bolstering transatlantic relations.