In 2012, Julie Lein and Clara Brenner started Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator with a mission to empower entrepreneurs to solve urban problems. Through their experience with Tumml, Julie and Clara saw how investors can overlook certain types of entrepreneurs, mostly women and people of color. Building on their experience, Lein and Brenner founded Urban Innovation Fund (UIF) as first-time fund managers in 2016 with a focus on providing capital to overlooked entrepreneurs and connecting them to the knowledge, tools, and networks they need to scale their impact.
UIF Fund I is a $24.5MM venture capital impact investment fund targeting high-growth companies with high-impact products and services that address pressing urban challenges across a wide range of industry sectors. These sectors include civic participation, commerce, education, food, health, human services, labor markets, safety, transport, and water. Within each of these industries, UIF’s investments aim to increase the efficiency, effectiveness, quality and/or access to products and services. Since the launch of the first fund, they have since raised for a second and third fund to expand their work.
“Startups are emerging every day to tackle massive city problems.”, said Brenner. “These are the kinds of problems that mayor’s offices around the country are prioritizing, but unable to tackle on their own. Think education, small business growth, electrification…. These startups are enhancing the livability, sustainability, and economic vitality of our cities. The Urban Innovation Fund team is proud to invest in them at the earliest stages.”
While the market coverage of UIF is broad, the technologies in which UIF invests are relatively narrow in focus, including mobile platforms, data analytics, web-based marketplaces, and social media technologies. These technologies create opportunities for new business models that did not previously exist. UIF is focused on the subset of these innovations that can have impact across broad urban populations.
Since the launch of UIF in June 2016, they have invested in 48 portfolio companies across its three funds. Living Cities made an investment in UIF’s first fund through its Blended Catalyst Fund.
One portfolio company, codeSpark, which teaches kids to code was acquired by edtech company, BEGiN, and another, Electriphi, which builds software for electric vehicles was acquired by Ford. Additionally, Ethic, a tech-driven asset management platform for sustainable investments, has reached over $2B in assets under management.
These startups are enhancing the livability, sustainability, and economic vitality of our cities.
In addition to these results, UIF has achieved the following impact metrics with its portfolio:
- Geographic diversity: headquarters in 23 cities, 10 U.S. states, and 5 countries
- Founder Diversity: 79% woman/person of color on founding team; 56% immigrant on founding team
- Board Diversity: 75% woman/person of color on board
- Financial Performance: $4.5B enterprise value created; $849M capital raised
- Job Creation: 1,166 full-time jobs & 3,204 part-time/ contractor jobs
- Sustainable Development Goals: mapped investments to 15 of the 17 SDGs
Lein and Brenner often cite Living Cities’ value as a true evangelist for their work. There is a shared mission to enhance cities’ ability to benefit all residents, and the Living Cities team looks forward to continuing to work alongside UIF to help people of color and women raise the funds they need to scale and grow their businesses.