Building a Swiss-US Urban Tech Community

This October, Swissnex’s Sustainable Cities Lab program brought together seven Swiss and American startups in New York City to learn from each other and explore what’s next in urban tech.

December 8, 2022 | Boston & New York

Across the world, climate change is driving the transformation of cities. From sustainable construction and building management to net-zero mobility and urban farming, new technologies and modes of urban life have an important role in making our cities more sustainable and resilient. Imagining, developing, and implementing these and other solutions will take outside-the-box thinking collaboration on a global scale.

To tackle these challenges, Swissnex and Impact Hub New York Metropolitan Area launched the Sustainable Cities Lab, a pilot program that brought together seven Swiss and American early-stage startups in New York City from October 24-28. Aimed at seeding a Swiss-US urban tech community, the program focused on collaborative learning and building peer-to-peer connections between startups from the two countries while allowing them to take advantage of the city’s robust urban innovation resources.

For Swiss startups interested in bringing their solutions to the US, American counterparts are a key source of knowledge and experience.
“Follow-up with local startups in the same field is valuable to understand how to go through the process,” said Christoph Lang, cofounder of Zurich-based green transportation company 4QT. Likewise, working with their Swiss counterparts offers the American participants a fresh perspective on the challenges they have in common. For Henry Obispo, founder of Bronx-based urban farming startup ReBORN FARMS, the program was

“a powerful way to engage with new people and to cross-pollinate with new ideas.”

On their arrival in New York, the founders dove into a week-long program incorporating academia, the private sector, government agencies, and nonprofits. “New York City offers the ideal conditions for startups to pitch their ideas and get real-time feedback from a diverse range of stakeholders,” said Joséphine Erni, Innovation Lead in Swissnex’s New York office. From the SCNY Urban Tech Summit at Cornell Tech to meetings with the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to one-on-one sessions with investors, the participants explored all facets of the city’s dynamic sustainability ecosystem. The program’s diverse array of stakeholders encouraged participants to think expansively about future collaborations, whether in New York or in Switzerland. Said Lang, “We’re very happy to explore many ideas on how we can collaborate and run a project between public, private, and academia.”

At the flagship pitch event on October 27, participants presented their solutions to a packed audience of investors, experts, and entrepreneurs. The evening also featured a panel of seven NYC-based urban tech professionals discussing sustainability innovation and offering insight into the challenges and opportunities for cleantech entrepreneurship in NYC.

Throughout the week, the city itself served as a laboratory for the founders to explore the cutting edge of urban tech. During a visit to Hudson Square Properties, a green development project by the real estate firm Hines, and behind-the-scenes tours of Governors Island and the Empire State Building, they experienced first-hand how actors across the city are reshaping the built environment for a cleaner and more resilient future. Even the local participants got to experience their city in a new light. “Swissnex rolled out the red carpet for us and allowed entry to organizations that wouldn’t have been as open otherwise,” said Obispo. Swiss participants echoed this sentiment. “It’s been amazing how many doors have been opened for us,” said Lang, “and we are so happy to actually go through them.”

The Sustainable Cities Lab is only one step along the way for these startups, but it’s already planted the seed of future projects. “We made really great connections through the program and I’m definitely going to follow up. I think some specific contacts will be the start of a really good collaboration,” said Margaux Peltier, CEO and co-founder of Lausanne-based startup Enerdrape. “It was a great, insightful program. Lots of questions answered–but lots of new questions as well.”

Learn more about the participating startups:

  • Scandens | Zurich | Smart Buildings | Scandens provides software solutions (SaaS) for institutions that own, finance, or plan buildings, enabling them to measure and understand their climate impact and take profitable action toward the 1.5°C climate target.
  • 4QT | Zurich | Transportation, Electric Vehicles | For utility vehicle manufacturers, 4QT offers electrified powertrains that cut emissions and boost fuel economy, responding to the complex mobility requirements that more and more dense urban centers are facing.
  • | Bern | Smart Buildings | provides trusted air data for commercial buildings, allowing operators to optimize them for human health, thermal comfort, and energy efficiency, while significantly reducing their carbon footprint.
  • Enerdrape | Lausanne | Geothermal Heating | Enerdrape has developed the world’s first thermal panel that turns underground environments such as parking garages and tunnels into renewable heat sources for the heating and cooling needs of buildings.
  • ReBORN FARMS | Bronx | Urban Farming | ReBORN FARMS is the first farm currently located in public housing nationally. ReBORN FARMS is giving life to a new urban eco reality by creating hyper-local food systems and growing food for greater community access.
  • Clever Carbon | NYC | Carbon Literacy | Clever Carbon’s mission is to raise carbon footprint literacy in order to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, reach net zero targets faster, and create scalable technologies and solutions.
  • OnePointFive | NYC | Environmental Sciences, Consulting | OnePointFive simplifies the cost of and access to multidisciplinary experts for sustainability services, climate technology, and climate finance. OnePointFive helps you solve your climate project needs.

To view more from this first edition, you can explore the full photo collection here.