Investing in New Urban Information Systems
At 1776, we invest in entrepreneurs who are transforming critical industries like transportation, energy, health and smart cities. These markets are enormous and riddled with inefficiencies as they undergo rapid technological change. They offer ample opportunities for innovative startups to scale while improving countless lives around the world. As investors, that excites us.
Our latest investment is in Washington, D.C.-based TransitScreen, a startup that produces real-time, way-finding displays. Cities in both rich and poor countries are growing rapidly, and transportation modes like bicycling and ridesharing are gaining popularity. As cities expand and transit options evolve, urban residents and visitors face information overloads when deciding how to get from point A to point B.
Is Uber surging now? Where is the nearest bike share station that has a bike available? Is the metro delayed? Without guidance to answer these transit questions, urbanites can feel overwhelmed as they choose how to travel. When that happens, as transportation guru Sam Schwartz has noted, many default to the mode that seems to give the most independence — but also leads directly to congestion, pollution and a higher likelihood of injury. They drive.
TransitScreen can mitigate that urge. The company’s product is deceptively simple software that gives travelers in specific locations directions and wait-time information for all transportation modes available.
Imagine leaving a building unsure of the best way to get to your next meeting. A TransitScreen in the lobby can guide you to the nearest bike share dock with a bike available or point you toward the closest bus station where the B3 bus will arrive in 3 minutes — or alert you that UberX is charging a surge price right now. And that is just an example.
Each TransitScreen is customizable, incorporating data from whatever public or private transportation modes are most appropriate for each locale. TransitScreen’s interface can also be projected on the ground or on the side of a building — especially helpful when large crowds are simultaneously leaving venues like sports stadiums.
TransitScreen’s clients span various sectors, but all of them are trying to empower travelers to make better transportation decisions. Customers include urban real estate developers who install TransitScreens in their buildings to nudge residents away from driving, especially in cities that have enforced parking maximums on new developments. TransitScreen also sells to government agencies that view promotion of active lifestyles as part of their public missions, such as Montgomery County, Maryland’s deployment of screens near metro stations in order to encourage residents to walk, bike and ride public transit.
I have followed TransitScreen’s rapid evolution closely since the team became 1776 members two years ago. Its screen has become a fixture in 1776’s Washington, D.C. campus, where I regularly point it out to transportation officials and mayors who visit.
Earlier this year, 1776 hosted a startup roundtable with Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly, who immediately recognized TransitScreen from the public-private partnership that introduced the screens across Seattle last year (fun fact: after a screen was installed in a Seattle hospital, a nearby coffee shop saw a 35-percent increase in sales as visitors realized they had enough time to grab coffee before buses arrived). TransitScreens are now deployed in dozens of cities around the world, including Vancouver, Paris, Boston, Dallas and London.
At 1776, we believe that a smart city is a responsive and personalized city — one in which a citizen gets accurate information needed to make decisions quickly and reliably. Urban residents constantly choose from multiple transportation modes — often multiple times per day — and we are proud to support TransitScreen’s efforts to make those decisions a little easier and a little wiser.