hand holding a cell phone with an apartment listing site
May 2, 2019

The Most Promising New Start-ups That Will Shape City Living

The new wave of urban tech start-ups might put the whole (changing) world in your hands. Image courtesy of Recharge.The new wave of urban tech start-ups might put the whole (changing) world in your hands. Image courtesy of Recharge.

By 2030, we could see as many as two-thirds of the global population living in cities. While that can be great for strengthening vibrant communities, decreasing miles driven, and sharing resources, it also comes with a heavy burden on those concentrated areas. (The UN reports that the global need for energy will likely rise by 40% by that same 2030 milestone.) That’s why the best, brightest, and boldest are behind today’s smartest start-ups, tackling the hard issues of clean energy and public transportation, as well as adding to the lighter side of social media and travel.

The industry is also welcoming a new wave of venture capitalists, some of which specifically support those ready to improve city life, whether through urban architecture, sustainable housing, public transit, or more.

Take Urban.Us, which has backed companies creating everything from more efficient radiator heaters to a ridiculously convenient (and possibly congestion-relieving) valet service. Or Good Company Ventures, a non-profit that provides entrepreneurial coaching to companies “modeled on the conviction that global challenges are the raw material for transformative solutions.” And then there’s Startupbootcamp, which opens its doors to a select group of start-ups working in the Smart City & Living space, which includes Smart Building, Smart Mobility, Smart Grid, and more.

What could this mean for the future of your city? Let’s take a look at some of these solutions.


As the population grows, many corporations and academics are taking on the growing challenge of global food production. (Others are tackling food waste, but that’s another story.) However, farms are, well, kind of old-fashioned in today’s digital age.

This paves the way for a tech start-up: Agroptima. The program allows farmers to manage their crops, machinery, and workers, all in an easy, paperless program, much of which works offline—useful when they’re actually out on the farm. And they can use the data to improve future processes, ideally leading to stronger harvests and less waste. Agroptima is among those presenting at this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt SF, where it’ll vie for more support.


Anyone who has ever had an office job knows the soul-crushing pain that is the conference call. Getting multiple people on the line can be a snafu of its own, but the awkward silences, accidental interruptions, and lack of visuals that follow are a whole other level of challenging.

Thankfully, Highfive promises to finally solve our woes and “turn conference rooms into get sh*t done rooms.” High five to that. Cameras capture the entire room, not an awkward close-up, and crystal-clear audio eliminates any muffled voices. Control the system and wirelessly project images or presentations right from your personal device, not from a complicated web of cables. Not only has Highfive raised millions, it was named one of the most hopeful startups of 2016 by Business Insider. We’re on board; the more we can improve telecommuting, the less we have to rely on actual commuting.


Did you realize that 30% of traffic is people circling for parking? ValetAnywhere, based in New York, saves drivers from the endless hours spent seeking parking in the crowded streets of Manhattan. Plus, with only a paltry six gas stations south of 96th Street, it’s not easy to fuel up—so ValetAnywhere will do it for you. The company is backed by Urban.Us, and if the tough driving landscape in NYC stays at its current challenge, this start-up has a bright future ahead. If you do want to drive, Waze Carpool is working to increase ride-sharing—but instead of putting new drivers on the road with the sole purpose of driving others, it aims to fill up more seats in cars that are already making the trip.

Swipe right for your new roommate? Go for it, says Roomi. (Apartment not included.) Image courtesy of Roomi.Swipe right for your new roommate? Go for it, says Roomi. (Apartment not included.) Image courtesy of Roomi.


If you’re looking to stay put—and you’ve been in the market for a new apartment or a new roommate—there’s likely one place you’ve done it: Craigslist. (Sigh.) How is it that the barebones interface from 1995 is still the primary site for something as big as housing?

Hopefully, it won’t be for long. Oliver is a New-York-based start-up that makes finding no-fee apartment listings as easy as swiping in an app. The program pulls openings from landlords and property management companies so you don’t have to scour the internet for listings and then email prospects one at a time. While it’s currently only in New York, if anything can make it in NYC real estate, signs are positive for the future. Just need a roommate? Roomi brings the app-matchmaking craze to roommate pairing.

For property management, keeping track of all those buildings can be a big task. The complexities of routine checks and regular maintenance across several aspects of numerous buildings led the way to LogCheck. The simple reporting for workers and easy monitoring for managers works to build a more efficient and reliable system for all, not to mention a happier tenant experience. Buildings from universities, to apartment towers, to hospitals benefit, especially with the focus on preventative maintenance, which can eliminate waste and lofty repairs down the road 


Speaking of buildings, retrofitting them to meet today’s energy standards doesn’t come cheap, but it pays off in time. For smaller, inner-city entities, like non-profits and buildings of worship, it can be difficult to get the funding necessary to update systems. Fortunately, the smart model behind BlocPower addresses the issue by combining several buildings into a “bloc,” which is then less of a financial risk for investors. After initial costs are in, the investors are paid back in their savings generated by lower energy bills. Plus, the program actively hires from under-employed communities and connects new employees with a rigorous certification in green jobs training.

Once you’re all moved in, you might find an old-school heating system of a radiator. Typically, these buildings (wildly common on the East Coast) run a boiler that heats until the top-floor rooms hit a comfortable temp—leaving the first and second floors sweltering. It leads to an estimated 30% wasted steam heat, and some very unhappy tenants. Radiator Labs set out to solve this $7-billion problem with a simple radiator cover that allows for individual control of the heat by smartphone or computer. Not only has the company won several awards and received funding from Good Company Ventures, but a two-year analysis at Columbia University found that the device lowered space heating costs by 34%, even while keeping dorm rooms at a reasonable 73°F. 


So you’re out and about in the city, when you suddenly get an invitation to dinner—in an hour. Or you just got off a red-eye flight and want a shower and a power nap. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a HotelTonight for…right now? You’ll love Recharge, which rents out luxury hotel rooms by the minute. Whether for sleep, getting ready, or an hour of simple peace and quiet (and room service), it’s the new and easy way to get a quick rest.

When you’re going someplace new, you rely on GPS navigation. But what about once you’re indoors? Ever been in a huge shopping mall, concert venue, or convention center, constantly looking for a map to show you where to find the dang bathroom? The brains behind indoo.rs know your struggles. Inspired by a long airport layover, the two founders created an indoor navigation system. “You Are Here” is right. 

Tame chaotic group chats with the do-it-all features of Vurb. Image courtesy of Vurb.Tame chaotic group chats with the do-it-all features of Vurb. Image courtesy of Vurb.


In 2014, social media app Vurb won the coveted Start-up Battlefield at TechCrunch’s Disrupt NY. Now, it’s being acquired by Snapchat. What could emerge from the collaboration? All the multi-person activity of finding and making plans with friends, combined with the well-known community of Snapchat. Vurb combines the functions of Rotten Tomatoes, Yelp, text messages, and more, so you’ll never have to do the cycle of pitch new idea, individually Google it, yay or nay, rinse, and repeat.

Every day on your commute, you probably pass by new construction, a vacant lot, or a closed building. You might have an opinion on how that space is used—and coUrbanize wants your voice to be heard. The collaborative group brings together the needs and ideas of the public in a way that can inform government decisions. You know, “of the people, for the people, by the people,” not just the few city officials and real estate developers. For instance, the city of Boston is currently sharing plans and collecting insight on the conversion of a 2-acre parking lot to a community-centric, multi-use building, with everything from affordable apartments to a clubhouse with a teaching kitchen.

PublicStuff has an app for use by both city governments and residents. Officials can monitor request activity to gain insight and make more informed decisions about employees and maintenance schedules. Residents can report city issues simply by taking a photo and posting it, or commenting on an existing thread. This streamlined communication can close the hefty gap that sometimes exists between local government and citizens.

Ready to start something game-changing of your own? Take your business plans to a social-enterprise-focused crowdfunding platform, like StartSomeGood. Who knows? You might just change your city, or even the world.

Learn more about Zipcar for Business.