Rail mobility offers tremendous opportunities for businesses, travel safety and above all sustainability. While Europe is a global leader in the rail sector, the potential for further innovation remains tremendous. That is why the European Commission has announced 2021 as the European Year of Rail.
That is why we, in the European Startup Prize for Mobility, recognise our responsibility and this great opportunity to bring the voices of startups in the rail sector to decision-makers at the highest level.
Startups are the engine of innovation but they rarely have a place around the table where decisions about innovation are made by policy-makers or even corporations. This is especially true in the field of rail where the incumbent are often state-owned monopolies. We’re here to change that.
What do startups need from the EU in order to be more disruptive, innovative, and creative in the rail sector? We’re about to find out!
Introducing: EUSP CrowdTank
Apart from serving as a ‘ranking agency’ on European mobility startups, an acceleration programme for the best startups, and a matchmaker between investors and startups, we have decided to also create the first Think Tank of mobility startups; or CrowdTank as we like to call it, since we always develop our proposals in a large-scale collaborative manner.
Last year, we asked mobility startups what they needed from the EU; we got +400 entrepreneurs to join our co-creation of the first European Mobility Startup Manifesto and we jointly presented the results to the EU institutions in a public event.
This year, we’re a bit more focused. We’d like to find out how the EU and rail companies can better collaborate with startups specifically in the field of railtech. We are therefore rolling up our sleeves one more time; over the next weeks and months we will crowdsource our startup community, co-creating the European Startup Manifesto on Rail.
How do we ensure the Manifesto represents our rail startup community?
Excellent question! By using a very robust design-thinking methodology and a collaborative stakeholder approach taking place between April and June 2021.
Together with our partners*, we will conduct dozens of interviews with rail entrepreneurs and startups in order to research their needs, priorities, and suggestions. Based on our preliminary findings, we will launch an online survey, inviting startups from across Europe to participate. The findings from this knowledge-crowdsourcing phase will be condensed in a synthesis process over several weeks. Finally, we will organise workshops in order to refine and fine-tune the results with our partners and contributors. The final version will then be available online for other startups to sign and endorse.
We are very proud to be an official partner and event of the European Commission’s Year of Rail. This will allow us to present the results of this exercise in June to the highest level of the EU institutions, to our partner organisations, and to some of Europe’s largest rail companies.
This will ensure that decision-makers at the highest levels, take onboard the unique perspective and needs of railtech startups. This perspective is critical! Only by joining forces among policy-makers, rail companies and railtech startups – can we ensure a smarter, more sustainable and inclusive railway system!
The time is now!
The success of this exercise depends on YOU. No one knows better than you do what you need in order for your startup to succeed. Stay tuned (on our social media and newsletter) for our upcoming online survey. Meanwhile, if you’d like to get involved, feel free to drop us a line and we’ll get you on board.
This train of innovation is just about to leave the station. Hop on and join us in shaping shaping Europe’s railtech for the years to come!
Selected among 550+ candidate startups, 12 European sustainable mobility startups pitched their concept and development projects last night in front of a VIP jury of the European Union and innovation sector during the 3rd Final Ceremony of the European Startup Prize for mobility.
“These four brilliant European startups convinced the jury of the Prize on the basis of criteria of innovation, sustainability, inclusion and market traction. It is clear to our European experts and to the public that they are mobility operators that will build future of mobility in the years to come. ” said Karima Delli, Chairwoman of the Transport Committee in the European Parliament and President of the European Startup Prize for mobility.
The Ceremony has already been viewed 270,000 times and received 10,000 votes from the public. Public interest in green innovation has never been higher. Watch REPLAY.
The “Manifesto” is team play at its best: 400 mobility startups contributing on line, hours of co-creation worships and interviews. And now endorsement by hundreds of them, among others Bestmile, Bird Rides, Cityscoot, DUCKT, Donkey Republic, Dott, Heetch, Humanising Autonomy, KNOT, MOTIONTAG, Shotl, Skipr, Surve Mobility, Pony, Smovengo, Transition-One, Zoov, etc.
The EU Startup Prize -in collaboration with The Morph Company and the Yellow Design Foundation- are happy to present the result of this unique initiative and the list of its first 100 signatories, which together aim to provide EU decision makers with 22 concise recommendations to boost sustainable and smart mobility in Europe.
Spread the startups’s ideas and solutions: – Read the Manifesto; – Replay our presentation to the European Commission.
Hello Jean-Francois and welcome to our blog, this time not (only) as one of the EUSP co-founders but also as a founder and CEO of a new startup. Tell us about the decision to go back to your entrepreneurial life particularly now in the midst of a global crisis.
Thanks! Well you know, I was an entrepreneur when I joined ViaID 5 years ago and during these five years, I felt like an entrepreneur because I had the chance to create and contribute to many impactful initiatives, like co-founding the EUSUP with Karima Delli, founding the Moovelab at StationF in Paris or creating the Mobility Club by ViaID. During the first lookdown, I realised that it was time for me to go back to my roots.
In fact, a crisis offers many opportunity for entrepreneurs, a lot of successful companies were created during past crises, like Uber, Whatsapp, Slack to name a few…
What is AZFALTE offering companies and employees and how does your service compare (and compete) with others in France and other European countries?
AZFALTE is offering corporate bikes (mostly e-bikes), as a new service that helps companies attract and develop employee loyalty, simply by offering them new means of transport.
This market is already strong in Germany and Belgium but rather new in France. Covid has accelerated the development of this opportunity; reconsigning it is a historical moment, I’ve decided to act on it.
We are starting in France which is a huge market but also quite a unique one: you cannot only rely on bike retail shop because they are not so many compared to countries like Germany.
We therefore developed strong partnerships, especially with ALD Automotive, a European leader of long term vehicle leasing.
We’ve seen many cities transforming their urban planning as a result of the crisis, with bikes lanes suddenly in the limelight, even in countries where there was traditionally lower use of micro-mobility. Do you expect that ‘Bike is the new normal’ would continue in the coming years after the crisis? Or is there a risk that we return to our old habits?
“Bike is the new normal” is the baseline of AZFALTE! And yes, we do believe that we have reached a shifting point! The current Covid crisis has a strong impact which I expect to last over time, we are in winter time now and we still have a lot of bikes on the road, this new world is here!
You’ve been mentoring and advising startups for many years (through EUSP and other accelerators) but was there anything you’ve learned from the EUSP startups that you’ve seen that you’ll want to apply at AZFALTE?
Oh yes, I’ve done this job, and sometime I still do this job, because it also gives me energy, and I learn from every entrepreneur, every team.
What I have definitely leaned is that it’s rarely the best idea that wins. It is rather usually the best team, so I spend my time to build the strongest team!
What are the next main objectives and milestones that AZFALTE is aiming at?
We aim at leading the French market through exponential growth by next year. As soon as this is done, we’ll look at other market; I maintain the EUSP moto: “Europe is my playground”!
All that’s left is to wish you best of luck in our European playground!
Hi Mario, thanks for this blog interview and congratulations for your special distinction at this year’s edition! Can you tell us about your participation in the EUSP?
We are thrilled to be among the best European start-ups according to the European Start-up Prize for sustainable mobility of its 2020 edition. This year GRDF awarded its special distinction to Hygen and we hope to obtain a bit more media exposure and maybe it will help us to secure the next round of funding we require.
Let’s start by better understanding what it is that you do at Hygen. Can you give us your short pitch?
Hygen is an ambitious innovative Latvian SME, dedicated to the development and commercialisation of proprietary refuelling technology for the G-Mobility market, a gaseous fuel vehicle fuelled by compressed natural gas or biomethane and hydrogen in the future. To enable refuelling natural gas-powered vehicles from the existing gas grid, a compressor/charger system is required. Existing state-of-the-art systems, based on mechanical compression technology, can be costly, require frequent servicing and could be unreliable is the system is not maintained correctly.
Hygen’s patented liquid piston compression technology, the only solution of this type in the world, allows a dramatic reduction in the number of moving parts needed for gas compression. It is therefore significantly reduces the total cost of ownership by lowering scheduled and unscheduled service and increasing reliability.
The technology can be applied for different gases such as Hydrogen or Synthetic Gas and for different application from small home appliance size up to large, high capacity mobile refuelling systems.
unique technology you have developed and the huge demand for low-carbon energy,
hy is it so hard for you to find investors?
It’s well known that in general there are much less investment sources
in Europe than in the US. The start-up ecosystem is not very mature and varies
from country to country.
To begin discussions with a VC about series A funding, you must have a fully developed product that’s on the market and selling well.
Selling well means you have annual revenue of at least 1M EUR. However, it’s very difficult for a hardware start-up to obtain revenue growth while still developing and improving its product, establishing production and a distribution channel.
The leap over the “Death Valley” is therefore almost impossible for many European hardware start-ups. Even the most fortunate ones land with broken limbs. With a success rate of 2%-3% in the EU SME funding programmes itfeels like winning the lottery. Startups therefore turn to all other funding sources like self-funding, friends and family help, Angel investors, start-up accelerators, partnering with manufacturers or customers, yet,with varying degrees of success.
Unfortunately, there are no good B2B crowdfunding platforms in the EU like
StartEngine, so that is not an option we can explore.
We are currently looking to secure half a million euro for a successful market rollout. Our technology is also well suited for the upcoming necessary hydrogen infrastructure. However, in order to proceed the development of our technology towards this new solution, it will take even more support and investment.
How do you see the lack of funding impacting the
Every start-up is first looking for the customer’s
pain point in order to find a suitable cost-effective solution. Innovation
increases productivity and thereby increasing the profitability of a company. Strat-ups
provide much of the innovation necessary for modernisation and growth. Can you
imagine what a world without start-ups would look like? What products and
services would disappear?
If we think about it,
innovation brought the world to its present state of affairs; it is also necessary
to help us get out of this mess.
Before we conclude, let’s mention the big elephant
in the room; the role of gas in the energy transition. I’m sure you have strong
opinion about it…
Thanks to our current investors, Innoegergy and Spanish gas company
ENAGAS, we are able to continue establishing many new demonstration pilot
projects. However, it’s very difficult to move against political and hyped up trends.
For whatever reason, biomethane is still not considered as a carbon neutral
mobility solution, everything is focused on electromobility. and who knows if it’s right. Biomethane
is a renewable energy source with very low carbon footprint; when applied as a
fuel, it allows gas vehicles to run not only carbon neutral but also carbon
negative if the biomethane is produced from waste. In spite of many different prizes and awards
we are still struggling to build the bridge to our own sustainability. We
remain confident however that once the right funding arrives, our technology
can disrupt the current energy market and provide tremendous contribution to
the energy transition.
Thank you very much, congrats again, and best of
luck in the future!
Many of us know about the work of the EIB but how is your institution reacting to the current crisis in its investment strategy?
The Covid-19 crisis had a massive and abrupt negative impact on the
European economy. As the bank of the European Union, the EIB plays a key role
in supporting it with a particular focus on innovation, climate, smaller and
medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and infrastructure. The Bank quickly reacted to
the crisis and in March adopted an immediate response package of up to EUR 28bn
in support of SMEs. It then developed the Pan-European Guarantee Fund (“EGF”),
which was endorsed by the European Council. The EGF is a EUR 25bn guarantee
fund that will enable the EIB Group to scale up its support for mainly small
and medium-sized European companies, providing up to EUR 200 billion of
additional financing. On top of these extraordinary measures, as the largest
multilateral lender worldwide, we keep financing projects and companies in line
with the existing mandates and policy objectives of the European Union.
Now let’s talk a bit about our community. How do you engage with startups in general and with the EUSP startups in particular?
The EIB is also the climate bank of the EU, and as such developed various programs to finance the energy transition. Start-ups play a key role in the development of new ideas, technologies and business models to tackle this issue. We designed last year together with the European Commission a dedicated envelope for smarter, safer and cleaner transport, the Future Mobility facility. This facility is particularly well suited, both in terms of eligibility and risk appetite, for new mobility startups at growth stage. Our objective is to support companies with decarbonising solutions in their expansion and to provide them with “dry powder” through tailor-made financing instruments. We have a number of tools in the Future Mobility box including subordinated loans to quasi-equity financings.
We act as a silent investor and our presence as financial partner has a signaling effect that can help catalyse further financing. This often proves to be very beneficial for eligible mobility startups.
This explains indeed the nature of the mutual interest between the EIB and the EUSP. This week, we are taking our partnership to another level by holding a joint pitching day between EIB experts and some of of the EUSP winning startups. Maybe you can tell us what drew your interest at the particular startups which were invited*?
We are looking for promising and innovative companies at commercialization or deployment stage, with a sound business model, strong shareholders and a clear solution to decarbonise transport in the EU. This covers for instance car sharing, mobility as a service, deployment of electric vehicle charging stations as well as many other activities. We expect companies we invited to pitch to check our eligibility criteria and we are looking forward to meeting them. However, during our screening, we came across plenty of very interesting start-ups that unfortunately do not fit our requirements yet and thus cannot receive our support, but we hope to hear from them as soon as they are ready (details of the Future Mobility program can be found here).
Finally, what advice can you give to these start-ups and to all clean mobility startups who are struggling to find financing during this crisis?
Start-ups had to react very quickly during this crisis, both on the operational side and to be able to attract financing to keep the boat afloat and navigate the storm. In these uncertain times, it is even more important for them to be able to show the potential of their markets and the resilience of their business models.
It is also paramount to wisely choose their investors and industrial partners, because trustworthy partners are invaluable assets when facing adversity. Through the European Investment Fund the EIB Group enables a wide range of partners to provide access to finance for start-ups and smaller businesses. You can find these partners and further financing options here: https://www.eif.org/EIF_for/sme_finance/index.htm.
*In order to respect the confidentiality of the process, we cannot disclose the names of the participating startups at this point.