Pictured here: KidAdmit Co-Founders, Tejal Shah and Parth Shah, spreading the word about their startup

Every city has problems – safety, transportation, homelessness, etc. Many of these issues seem so large and intractable that it’s unclear how any municipality could tackle them by itself. It is in this climate that a new wave of startups is stepping in to try and address some of our most pressing urban challenges (we call them “urban impact entrepreneurs”).  At Tumml, our job is to find and nurture these entrepreneurs, so we often get asked about trends we see in the space.  Two themes that have come up a lot lately are mobility and small business services.

Startups are building a new suite of tools for small businesses
Small and local businesses play an important role in defining the local character of a community and enhancing the quality of life for its inhabitants (think: restaurants, coffee shops, schools, retail shops, etc). And a new generation of companies is popping up to improve how these small and local firms do business.

Business review site Yelp has put this sector on the map. In addition to providing a useful guide for city-dwellers and visitors, the company provides a valuable resource to small business by helping them communicate with customers and attract new business that might not otherwise know how to find them.

Even newer companies like KidAdmit are now taking up the mantle of small business support. Many preschools in the US operate as small and independent businesses – with differing application processes, admissions standards, programming, etc. KidAdmit provides an easy, efficient way for parents to apply to multiple preschools online and for administrators to manage the preschool admission process. Since launching a year ago, this startup is already serving over 30 percent of San Francisco preschools and now operating in nine Bay Area counties.

Startups are re-imagining public transportation
With growing user bases and tight budgets, many municipalities are having trouble maintaining their transportation infrastructure. As a result, we’ve seen a boom in startups looking to improve the way people get around cities. On-demand ride companies like Uber and Lyft have garnered a lot of attention recently – both because of the regulatory challenges they face in certain parts of the country, and because of their devoted customers.

Many entrepreneurs have been inspired by the success of these innovative mobility companies and are coming up with other creative solutions. Two new services that have recently launched in the Bay Area are Chariot and Hitch.

Chariot is a commuter shuttle service open to the general public that builds better transit routes by learning commuter habits and preferences. Chariot can be two times faster than public transit and four times cheaper than a taxi or on-demand car service. Since launching three months ago, it has already sold over 9,000 tickets – clearly, this startup is addressing a real problem for commuters.

And then there’s Hitch, a real-time, on-demand, true ridesharing solution that matches cars with multiple riders. By using all the seats available in a vehicle, Hitch helps reduce carbon emissions and create a more social and sustainable transit experience.

We still need more urban impact entrepreneurs
Many urban impact entrepreneurs are developing solutions to problems they have experienced firsthand – for example, Tejal Shah, the CEO of KidAdmit, came up with the idea for her company while filling out mountains of paperwork for her son’s preschool applications.  These founders are attuned to the needs of their customers because they often are their customers.  This might explain why many urban impact startups enjoy such passionate and expanding user bases.

At Tumml, we are excited to see the growing movement of entrepreneurs developing solutions to real urban challenges. But while small business support services and transportation are showing some real momentum, there are other untapped verticals that are ripe for some urban innovation. So we would encourage you to reflect on the challenges you face in your city and consider starting an urban impact company of your own!

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From the Editor
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