As the electric scooters whizz past and an autonomous shuttle’s scissor doors swing open, the words ring out from the keynote stage: “I think we’re all working towards the same goal.”
That goal – a future of a connected, autonomous, shared and electric mobility – seems more realistic than ever. With a crowd of over 5,000 in London last week, the rapid growth of the MOVE conference is testament to the influx of talent and investment mobility has seen over the past two years.
The goal is an aspirational one all round. But it’s the labyrinth of competing priorities, laddering up to that goal, which warrants more discussion and poses very real challenges for the industry today. From ride-sharing hitting the parking purse-strings of local councils, to standards wars over vehicle charging infrastructure, conversations at the event gravitated back to collaboration. Is it really happening? Is it just talk? Is it leading to commercially viable growth, or just another logo in another pitch deck?
Let’s have a look at the data. In a previous post I drew a comparison between EdTech and FinTech, as two sectors re-bundling services underpinned by rising funding volumes. An even clearer link can be seen, though, between mobility and FinTech. The two sectors are so longstanding and entrenched in status quo that selling to, or selling with, incumbents is a fundamental route to success for newcomers – and transformation is now underway with a sense of urgency.
As the Pitchbook data below shows, corporate involvement in financial services funding has grown steadily over the past few years.
As for mobility? That’s right, a similar story – with corporate venture involvement not only rising, but considerably more so than other industries.
Is this a positive sign? The answer isn’t binary, though it does indicate an industry in transition. For mobility startups and scale-ups seeking funding or a faster route to market, it can work – but with strings attached. Remember that any successful partnership with public sector or, in particular, industry leaders will end in a ‘build or buy’ decision for the larger player. If you’re in the market for a useful, if somewhat bleak, outlook on how to avoid these dangers, Software-Defined Networking inventor and Nicira founder Martin Casado’s insights are a good starting point.
What about the other side of the table? When an industry incumbent cites plans for “trillions” to be spent on “re-plumbing and rewiring the world’s energy system”, suddenly a €10m ticket to a Series B round feels like a relatively low-risk path to relevance and future-proofing; it’s a low-cost form of collaboration in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps in this instance, talk may be cheap, but it can still yield results for astute industry leaders.
On top of corporate backing, we’ll see a higher-than-usual proportion of new ventures partnering with non-competing startups and scale-ups. As our understanding of clean and connected mobility improves, clarity on its complexity will spur on openness and flexibility. Ambitious startups will bundle together clusters of services and build more interoperable layers for the new mobility stack – from autonomy to the drivetrain, to the grid and back.
Of course, most critical of all is the role of government and public sector as the lynchpin in mobility collaboration. We must keep supporting pilots and incubation efforts like DG Cities and the Smart Mobility Living Lab, and push for public sector leadership on secure collection and aggregation of mobility data. We can all do more to encourage knowledge-sharing too, championing pre-competitive collaboration that helps paint a clearer picture of the future of mobility. We’re proud to have worked with automotive power leader Cummins, for example, on a recent whitepaper mapping out the journey to electrification adoption – with input from innovators like Nuvve, Arrival and mVentures.
For the pioneers carving a path through innovation fatigue, they’ll stand a chance if they have a compelling narrative, enough backing, regulation on their side and equal measures of invention and credibility. Solving the partnership paradox might just be the last piece in the puzzle.
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For mobility startups and scale-ups seeking funding or a faster route to market, it can work – but with strings attached. Remember that any successful partnership with public sector or, in particular, industry leaders will end in a ‘build or buy’ decision for the larger player.