With more than 75% of Europeans living in cities and a pressing need for the transport sector to decarbonise and modernise, the mobility sector stands as the perfect playing field for innovation. At SLUSH, an annual landmark event for the start-up ecosystem, hosted in Helsinki from 30 November to 1 December ; EIT Urban Mobility hosted a side-event featuring mobility industry experts on the perception of start-ups and venture capitalists (VCs) regarding the sector’s current and future trends.
The panel included Fredrik Hanell, Director of Impact Venture for EIT Urban Mobility; Dr Terhi Vapola, Managing Partner & Founder of Greencode Ventures; and Johan Høgåsen-Hallesby, Co-founder of Beta Mobility. The discussion, moderated by Cate Lawrence, a senior writer at Tech.EU, covered key aspects such as the challenges, opportunities, pitfalls, and trajectory of the sector in the coming years. The session concluded with start-ups in the audience presenting their solutions, and an open discussion on impact investments and on closing the pre-seed/seed funding gap.
Investments and evaluating impact of a start-up in the mobility sector.
The panellists emphasised the importance of understanding the complexity and distinctiveness of the mobility sector. Johan Høgåsen-Hallesby highlighted the necessity of comprehending regulations and city dynamics before scaling to new markets. Terhi Vapola stressed the wide scope of the mobility sector, emphasizing the need to adopt suitable models for every start-up entering this field. She stressed that as a VC, she is assessing solutions in relation to local needs, contemplating the adaptability to different city contexts. The panellists also looked into the significance of comprehending the investment strategy of start-ups and their alignment with the urban environment’s growth trajectory. Fredrik Hanell highlighted that mobility start-ups tend to have a higher survival rate due to their market-by-market (city-by-city) approach.
The discussion further explored the impact of regulations on mobility start-ups, acknowledging that while regulations may introduce instability, they establish a positive framework for start-ups, as seen in the case of scooter companies. The conversation also touched on ethical considerations in the mobility sector, where safety and social impact must be deeply ingrained in every new solution. The panellists acknowledged the importance of measuring success beyond financial metrics, considering environmental and social transitions. They emphasised the need for profound ethical thinking in an industry where lives are at stake.
ZOOM on the Upright Net Impact Model : In order to measure a company’s net impact, and deliver a transparent view across specific categories, EIT Urban Mobility and Greencode Ventures employ the Upright Net Impact Model, a quantification model that is based on a neural network summarising more than 250 million scientific articles, public statistical databases and a proprietary taxonomy of over 150,000 product and service categories. Although start-ups do not have to do their own assessment both investors agreed that they will look at similar criteria before deciding to invest. According to this model, EIT Urban Mobility’s portfolio scores a 48% positive net impact score, significantly higher than the 40% of the control group of the Upright Benchmark. The start-up companies in the portfolio score especially high on the environmental dimension, +217% compared to benchmark.
Scaling and financing software or hardware start-up.
The conversation at SLUSH explored the challenges of scaling, with a focus on business models and with the recognition that some solutions might take longer to scale due to their hardware nature. While hardware companies presently face greater funding challenges compared to their software counterparts, the conversation encouraged start-ups to explore alternative capital sources beyond traditional venture capital. Notably, experts advised aspiring entrepreneurs in the hardware sector to prioritise establishing partnerships within the industry, securing patents, and initiating operations on a smaller scale in a single city before pursuing global expansion. Drawing parallels to historical patterns where investment preferences have transitioned between software and hardware, Fredrik Hanell expressed optimism that the current preference for software investments amongst the VC would shift.
Rapidly evolving trends and impactful disruptors are reshaping the landscape of the industry, setting the stage for the future.
As seen over the past several years, changes could occur more quickly and at greater scale than many are prepared for, especially in densely populated areas. The future of mobility looks like a complex ecosystem with actors of various sizes and influence offering different mobility solutions to consumers. The panellists identified capacity issues, electrification, and the enabling aspects of electrification as evident trends in the mobility sector. They also highlighted the impact of new mobility services, data and connectivity, and autonomous vehicles.
The discussion also touched on the new needs that will emerge from the Global South, emphasising the need for speed and innovative ideas to scale solutions. While Europe boasts an advanced public transport network, novel markets present opportunities for scaling up developed mobility innovations significantly. Against this backdrop, the panellists concluded by advocating continued participation in industry events, acknowledging the difficulties in fundraising over the past year. The message of hope centred on building solutions that align with personal beliefs and have the power to drive meaningful change in the industry.