Pictured here: Tumml’s Julie Lein (President, Co-Founder) and Clara Brenner (CEO, Co-Founder)

In case you haven’t taken a moment to appreciate your city today, please join me in doing so. While we all love our cities and the experiences they have to offer like community, culture, the arts, the outdoors, and so on, each city has their share of urban challenges, and so let’s also take another moment to ask “who’s behind solving these kind of urban issues“? Urban social problems are anything related to managing a city’s rapid growth, environmental landscape, changes in social and political structures of a region, and so on. So, when I heard the term urban innovation, thanks to the team at Tumml, I immediately wanted to learn more.

According to Tumml, “81 percent of Americans now live in and around cities, and that number is going to keep on growing”, but what you may not realize is this means more urban challenges that need addressing. This is where the San Francisco lady-duo, Julie Lein and Clara Brenner, fill the gap. Together, they launched Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator that provides urban impact startups the resources and training they need to solve urban problems. Tumml affords them a way, with partners like AirBnb and Yelp, to take their solutions and scale its impact to enhance quality of life in cities everywhere.  Thanks to these groups, we get to enjoy our cities!

We are also excited to announce that Tumml will be launching a column here on consciousmagazine.co to share about the trends in urban innovation. For now,  discover more how you can get involved in supporting urban innovation in your community in this interview with Julie and Clara of Tumml.

Q | Tell us about you. What is your background leading up to becoming CEO / Co-Founder of Tumml Clara: My background is in commercial real estate and sustainability – I’ve always been interested in developing solutions to community problems. During business school, my friend Julie and I became very interested in social enterprises that were able to scale their impact to communities around the US (like Revolution Foods and Fundrise). We wanted to know why, if they were so impactful and effective, there weren’t more of these types of companies out there. So Julie and I spent a lot of time studying these types of companies and, upon graduating in 2012, decided to start an organization to address some of the challenges we believed were holding back these urban impact startups.

Q | Tell us about Tumml and how you came to launch the mission empowering entrepreneurs to solve urban problems? Tumml is an urban ventures accelerator with the mission of empowering entrepreneurs to solve community problems in cities.  A nonprofit, Tumml works with urban innovators, such as KidAdmit (a common application platform for preschools) and HandUp (a crowdfunding platform for the homeless and other neighbors in need). Through a four-month program, Tumml invites early stage companies from around the country into its office space to receive hands-on support, seed funding, and services to help grow their businesses and make a significant impact on their communities.

Q | We know Tumml is located in San Francisco, can you identify some of the urban problems you are trying to solve? Although we are physically located in San Francisco, two thirds of our applicants come from outside of the Bay Area. We look for startups that may be developing solutions to problems they are experiencing in their own communities, but who can then scale that solution to help communities all across the US and potentially beyond. Tumml companies look to tackle issues like homelessness (HandUp), transportation (Chariot), and workforce development (Akimbo).

Q | How is Tumml filling the gap when it comes to urban innovation? Tumml is filling the gap through a structured program specifically designed to meet the needs of urban impact entrepreneurs. In addition to providing our companies with seed funding, we connect them with a mentor network of civic and government leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors – folks like the Director of Sales at Yelp and the Director of Public Policy at Airbnb who know a ton about scaling urban impact ventures. And we think it’s working! In 2013, Tumml was named “The Next Urban Innovation” by Dr. Michael Porter’s Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, and The San Francisco Business Times recently named Tumml “Best Startup” at its Tech & Innovation Awards.

Q | What are some of the challenges social entrepreneurs face being in this space? Entrepreneurs start companies that are nimble and scalable – and we believe that there should be more of them tackling urban problems. But these urban impact entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges. First, they often need a great deal of help from civic and government leaders to navigate regulatory grey areas, get permits, etc. Just think about all of the regulatory hurdles that ride sharing companies like Lyft and Uber are dealing with right now! Second, they have trouble securing seed funding. Many urban impact entrepreneurs are working on physical products and services – which can be harder to raise money for. And they are also often working in a new economy space or working to tackle an issue facing an underserved community – which makes some institutional investors hesitant (they want to see a lot of traction before they will take a risk on a company like this). These two challenges (mentorship and funding) are what we work to help startups with at Tumml.  Our goal is to build a pipeline of companies supporting innovation in US cities by targeting urban impact sectors like transportation and education and providing them with the resources to grow rapidly and succeed.

Q | As an urban ventures accelerator, what do you look for in an organization? As an urban ventures accelerator, we look for early-stage startups developing consumer or business-facing products and services that solve urban problems. We look for scrappy companies that are trying to solve a real problem that effects a large community within a city – not just the one percent.

Q | Tell us how Blackstone Charitable Foundation played a part in launching Tumml The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is Tumml’s earliest supporter. Julie and I went to them when we had just launched Tumml – before we had any money or staff or companies to work with – and pitched them our idea and showed them our research documenting the challenges facing urban impact entrepreneurs. And they got it right away. Amy Stursberg and Tony Tolentino of Blackstone helped us shape the vision for our organization from the very beginning and we are so incredibly grateful for their ongoing support.

Q | What are 5 things we should all know about Urban Innovation and what can we do to help? 81 percent of Americans now live in and around cities, and that number is going to keep on growing.  So there are (and will continue to be) no shortage of urban challenges that need addressing. So if you are interested in supporting urban innovation in your community, there are a number of things you can do:

  • Research the new urban impact startups in your community and try them out. These companies are looking for early adopters who can provide them with feedback that will help them create better and more effective products (you can check out the Tumml website for a list of awesome new urban impact companies).
  • If there is an urban impact company that you care about in your community or that you would like to see come to your community (think: Airbnb, Uber, etc), you need to let your representatives know it. Many of these companies are facing regulatory hurdles and pushback from bigger companies and your representatives may be reticent to embrace these new innovations unless you speak up.
  • If you are an angel investor, consider supporting an urban impact startup. These companies can be highly scalable, and they need early supporters who embrace their vision and want to help them grow.
  • Start an urban impact company yourself! Many of the best ideas we come across are from first-time entrepreneurs who are looking to solve problems they have experienced first-hand in their own communities.
  • And, of course, if you have an urban impact startup or know of one, encourage them to apply to Tumml. We are here to be helpful!

Photo courtesy of Tumml

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