Mobility includes technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely.
Since launching Techstars Mobility in December 2014, the No. 1 question I get asked is: What does mobility mean? And the follow up: How does this relate to the automotive industry?
To be honest, when we launched the program, I didn’t have a great way to answer this question. Thankfully, I had some friends that had a better sense than me. Fontinalis Partners, a venture capital firm co-founded by Bill Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., along with Ford and Magna all shared their perspectives with me. And it became clear: their definitions were different and changing frequently to address the rapidly expanding market. As with any new, emerging market, it’ll take time and experience to offer a clear and consistent definition.
Since launching the program, I’ve talked with and read over applications from more than 1,000 startups in the mobility space. From the applications to our 2015 and 2016 programs, to general outreach, I’ve seen companies far and wide. And not just companies in the United States, but all over the world.
Mobility means so many different things from a global perspective.
How I Define Mobility
After 18 months and reading nearly 1,000 Techstars Mobility applications, I arrived at this succinct definition for mobility: Technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely.
Simple and elegant. The key things to take away are:
- No mention of automotive
- Keywords: services and goods
- Slightly vague but specific enough without being verbose
Why this Definition
The world is changing incredibly fast. How people get from point A to point B is changing, too.
- Urbanization: More than half the world’s population lives in towns and cities. By 2040, two in three people are expected to live in urban environments.
- Sharing economy: We’re transiting from an ownership-centric society to one of a sharing economy. Sharing a ride, sharing a home, and sharing an office is becoming the norm.
- On demand: Postmates delivering local restaurant food and Instacart, which delivers groceries within one hour.
- Mobile technology: The mobile boom of the last decade has given everyone a supercomputer in their pocket. Embed these in objects around them, and boom, the emergence of the Internet of things, connecting trillions of things.
The Underlying Automotive Change
When you combine all those factors, a perfect storm of change emerges to disrupt existing business models, especially in the automotive and transportation sector.
Automotive + New Technologies + New Services = New Business Models
Automotive is now too narrow of a term. A new term needs to be used to include all of these new technologies and services. And what better word than mobility.
What the Automotive Executives Think
Bill Ford was years ahead of the industry. He introduced his “Blueprint for Mobility” back in early 2012. He talked about a future beyond traffic gridlock in 2011. And in 2009 he started Fontinalis Partners to invest in this emerging sector. He said:
“We become a piece of the mobility ecosystem. In this new world, we need to figure out what we have to own and what we don’t, and to be a great integrator of technologies and services. We need to figure out who are friends, who are foes, and how do we turn our foes into friends.”
Fast forward to today and we’re seeing the automotive companies turning this vision into a reality. Looking at two of the Big Three, we see just that.
“As we’re thinking about the company, we’re thinking about ourselves not only as car, utility and truck company, but also as a mobility company,” says Mark Fields, CEO of Ford.
“Some might find this massive change to be daunting, but we look at it and see the opportunity to be a disruptor. We believe our decades of leadership in vehicle connectivity is fundamental to our quest to redefine the future of personal mobility,” says Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO of GM.
The 2016 Automotive Shifts into Mobility
So what does an automotive company in transition to a mobility company, look like?
At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit 2016, we saw a huge transformation in the perception of Ford.
Take a look at Ford’s booth compared to others:
Ford at the 2016 Detroit North American International Auto Show
2016 Detroit North American International Auto Show
To me, it was quite clear Ford felt more like a tech company than an auto company at the auto show.
But Ford is doing even more:
- Last year, Ford jumped into the car sharing business with a pilot launch in London.
- This year, they are turning F-150s into drone launch pads
- Launched an on-demand bus sharing service with startup Bridj
- Started a pilot to allow lease-sharing service with friends in Austin
- Spun out Ford Smart Mobility as a separate entity to “do more faster”
And GM is moving faster with bigger headline grabs:
- Launched its car sharing service Maven after acquiring Sidecar
- Invested $500 million into another car sharing service Lyft
- Bought Cruise for nearly $1 billion
Expanding our Definition
And that’s why I’m so excited that Techstars Mobility has partnered with Ford and others. We’re defining mobility for a whole new range of startups — and impacting the entire industry at the same time.
Taking our definition, here are the areas of most interest to us.
- Autonomous vehicles
- Big data and analytics
- V2V, V2I, V2V
- Flexible ownership
- Security and safety
- Trip planning and routing
- Customer experience
Key Interest areas for Techstars Mobility in 2016
We’re looking at solutions that go across connected cars, trucking, and multi-modal applications. Multi-modal, which refers to all modes of transportation, or the glue from getting you to point A to point B.
The automotive landscape is changing drastically and I’m excited to help play a small part in helping to define this new future of mobility.
Ted Serbinski is managing director of Techstars Mobility, and is a regular contributor to DBusiness.com.