STL Civic Tech Startup CTY Joins Inaugural Class of NY Accelerator URBAN-X

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MINI and HAX, a division of venture capital firm SOSV, announced the names of its first cohort of the URBAN-X startup accelerator program–and St. Louis’ CTY was on the list. Led by CEO Tara Pham and CTO Martin McGreal, the “analytics for places” company is the maker of a plug-and-play urban analytics sensor called Numina.

Over the course of three months, the nine companies in the inaugural cohort will refine their visions and build/launch their products and services, which will positively impact urban life and shape the fabric of future cities.

“We’re taking the hardware side of our product from functional prototype to scalable, manufacturable design,” says Pham. “The accelerator experience is also helping us zoom back out to the most ambitious, big vision for our company. It’s been a really positive experience talking to early adopters and investors who know the city tech space. We’re also able to access a lot more pilot opportunities and data-driven municipal and civic organizations in the New York area.”

The program kicked off March 21. The program will culminate at an invite only Demo Day on June 7.

CTY's CEO Tara Pham and CTO Martin McGreal
CTY’s CEO Tara Pham and CTO Martin McGreal

The other eight companies participating in the inaugural cohort include Brooklyness, which “makes cycling in the city safer,” Buzzware, “supercharging network for commercial drones,” Farmshelf, “easy-to-use hydroponic urban farms for schools, apartment buildings and underutilized city spaces,” MindRider, “mapping mental experiences to find the best places,” nello, “the virtual doorman for your home,” Industrial/Organic, “sustainable solutions for a changing world,” SAMOCAT, “the lightest and the most compact automated public transportation system,” and stae, “modern civil engineering.”

“It’s great to work with SOSV and MINI BMW because they are extremely hands-on and product-driven,” says Pham. “Their network and resources for designing, building, and deploying is global and amazing.”

Pham says that CTY has turned down accelerator opportunities in the past. “We’re really glad we held out for an opportunity like this one,” she says, citing a few factors influencing their choice to join URBAN-X, including SOSV’s multi-disciplinary and hands-on approach. “At the same time, there’s no mandated curriculum, so we get to stay heads down on our company.”

“In St. Louis, we were encouraged to think critically about our product and, in a lot of ways, dial back in order to maintain focus,” Pham says. “It was critical to our incubation and getting to a solid proof of concept. A benefit of working with URBAN-X now is that they encourage us to reconnect with the biggest, most ambitious vision for our company.”

HAX, a program of SOSV, is the world’s first and most prolific accelerator for hardware and connected devices, with over 100 companies launched in the past three years and combined revenues and investments of over $200M. SOSV as a whole has funded over 400 startups through its accelerators focused on key areas of hardware and connected devices (HAX), synthetic biology (IndieBio), software (Chinaccelerator) and food business (Food-X). Techcrunch acknowledged in an article today that SOSV leads the way in investing VC dollars in women-led startups.

HAX specifically assists the participating companies with designing and launching products and services that improve life in cities, and addresses the challenges of increasingly dense urban areas.

“We are in a unique space (civic technology and city as a service), and the early adopters and global influencers are here,” says Pham. “This group has created an unprecedented framework for supporting startups in this space.”

Pham points to another benefit of the accelerator, one whose value goes beyond the numbers. “BMW treats MINI as more than just an automotive brand; [it treats it] as an urban brand. None of the companies in our cohort are focused on cars, in fact. We get to work with BMW engineers everyday, and they are pushing forward our product development incredibly fast. It’s not just ‘mentoring’ or advice on technical development; engineers are actually helping build our product. It would be difficult for us to put a number to their value. It’s been a great experience for us to work so closely with a company with the influence and resources of BMW.”

Six weeks into the program, Pham reflects on the experience so far. “I think picking up and moving in a matter of days was stressful but thrilling—and made it feel real. There’s something to drastically changing environments that helps you re-evaluate everything you’ve done so far on your company. You gain empathy for potential users and use cases outside the bubble in which you initially incubated. We’re experiencing a lot of paradigm shifts about our own product that I credit to being embedded in a totally new group of founders, investors and even different neighborhoods. After all, cities are the inspiration for our company, and being part of a new one helps us reconsider how our product can work better for everyone.”

URBAN-X is also now accepting applications for the next cohort, which will be held in August 2016 at A/D/O, a new 23,000 square foot space at 29 Norman Avenue in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood set to open this summer. The deadline for submitting applications is June 24.