6 Years of Urban Innovation – Environmental Impact

Welcome back to our in-depth series on early stage startup acceleration. If you missed our previous series you can find them on our Medium.

MINI and URBAN-X bring together their expertise in cities and innovation to support entrepreneurs in developing, bringing to market, and scaling solutions across these challenges — whether that be mobility, energy, food, public safety, and more. Many founders credit their success in advancing innovative solutions to their participation in URBAN-X. Something we are most proud of is the environmental impact our startups and their solutions are creating each day.

Climate change, transition, and adaptation are the challenges that are top of mind for many founders worldwide. The climate crisis requires cities to reduce resource consumption and better manage energy, water, and waste. Cities also need to be more resilient to natural disasters that are increasing in frequency and severity and must mitigate their effects. Addressing these challenges will especially require an intentional effort to reverse the disproportionately negative effects climate change has had on low-income and minority populations.

URBAN-X startups are addressing these challenges by reducing environmental impacts and waste as well as optimizing the use of energy and fossil fuels. We’ll break down the tangible impacts of three URBAN-X startups soon but first let’s take a look at the benefits we are already seeing today, and what we are expecting for tomorrow.

Though many URBAN-X startups are in the early stages of company building, environmental benefits are already visible today. 109K metric tons of C02 emissions were avoided by five URBAN-X startups in 2022.

Alumni’s positive impact on the environment will continue to grow as they scale. HR&A Advisors estimates 1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions will be avoided by five URBAN-X startups in 2027.

Now let’s take a look at three URBAN-X startups and break down their unique impact:

Farmshelf creates smart, indoor, bookshelf-like farms that allow anyone to grow their own food. Growing food where it is consumed allows for more nutritious, higher-quality food while also decreasing carbon emissions in the process, supporting more efficient, cheaper, and sustainable diets. Farmshelf joined URBAN-X with two employees and no funding, and today has 23 employees and raised over $14M.

Farmshelf’s hydroponic urban farms cut down on the pre- and post-production processes that generate food waste, nutrient loss, and carbon emissions. By growing food on-site — in restaurants, businesses, cafeterias, and schools across the United States — Farmshelf eliminates supply chain-related emissions and plastic packaging. One Farmshelf unit grows food 2–3 times faster than conventional farming and uses 90% less water.

Furthermore, Farmshelf works with K-12 schools to provide a hands-on approach and curriculum for students to learn the basics of plant biology and care, plant life cycle, closed ecosystems, and life science principles, as well as innovation and sustainability. In school cafeterias, Farmshelf provides healthy, local, and nutritious produce.

Gradient is an in-home, residential cooling and heating system that is easy to install and lowers carbon emissions. Gradient modernizes urban cooling by replacing conventional window air conditioner units with a product that is affordable, quieter, sleeker, and allows for window use. Gradient entered URBAN-X with eight employees and $2M raised and has grown to 32 employees and raised $11M.

Gradient uses an efficient, next-generation refrigerant with a lower environmental impact. Gradient’s product optimizes energy use, creating energy savings for customers. The units enable old and new buildings to integrate heating and cooling technologies cost-effectively — providing a more aesthetically pleasing system that reduces noise pollution while also supporting building decarbonization.

Additionally, the startup recognizes that residents of low-income neighborhoods endure higher temperatures than residents in wealthier areas. Gradient is exploring opportunities to help solve this problem and is conducting a pilot with the State of California to provide Gradient units to low- and medium-income households on a pay-as-you-go model.

Limeloop is a pioneer in smart, reusable, and simplified packaging and seeks to end waste by replacing single-use with reusable packaging. E-commerce customers package their consumer goods in LimeLoop’s easy-to-use fabric mailers, which are then easily returned by the consumer by mail.

For every 150 shipments, LimeLoop’s packages save 13,000 gallons of water, one tree, and three gallons of oil. As U.S. cities are ending their recycling programs because of cost, LimeLoop is also saving cities money by reducing single-use packaging that would otherwise be recycled or put in landfills.

Each mailer can be used over 200 times and includes hardware sensors that track packages, allowing customers to see the savings and environmental impact made from switching to reusable packaging. LimeLoop generates savings for customers and businesses through predictive analytics and by streamlining operations processes for out- and inbound parcels.

When URBAN-X started in 2016, our focus was on what we now call “urbantech” — technology that improves cities. Sustainability was one of the dimensions we were hoping to improve, but over the last six years, making cities sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change has become the core of what we do. This impact study has shown that startups, no matter how early stage can introduce viable solutions to tough problems and have a measurable, positive impact on climate. Our commitment for the future is to continue to find and support the best startups at the intersection of climate and cities — but to also measure their impact more frequently and in greater detail to help founders, investors and customers assess what works and what’s worth scaling.

Data collection, evaluation, projections, and figures by HR&A Advisors and Autocase. Text by Emily Ehle. Graphic Design by Zihao Wang. Photography by Zack DeZon.