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Transforming cities: European startups that are preparing for the population boom of 2050

According to UN and OECD projections, the world population is set to reach more than 9 billion people by 2050, most of whom will live in urban areas. Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to grow to 68% by 2050. This urbanization will require successful management practices to ensure sustainable development. How can European startups contribute to this urban growth in a sustainable way? Over the next 30 years, the cities of the world will grow by more than two billion people. This makes it necessary to build higher, denser and faster than before – while providing a high quality of life and sustainable urban environments. Achieving this is a global challenge, recognized by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

From securing sustainable resources to developing clean energy sources, improving health care, meeting demand for housing and transportation, combating climate change and dealing with an ageing population, European startups will be required to research and innovate across all sectors in order to respond to growing demands.

In recent years, startups have emerged providing new solutions across industries including agriculture, food, healthcare, and education, making them better prepared to serve a global urban world. Thanks to new technologies, startups are able to improve productivity in farms and monitor crops using drones, create efficient urban farming solutions, fight diseases, and restrain the way we power our cities and move around. Here are five startups that are using technology to improve our lives and prepare for a more urban world:

infarm-logoInFarm – Osnat Michaeli and brothers Erez and Guy Galonska founded InFarm in 2013, combining their passion for agriculture and technology to bring scalable, vertical, digital farms to reduce supply chains. Each farm is its own ecosystem and can be built anywhere across cities from supermarket aisles to restaurant kitchens and distribution warehouses. A matrix of IoT sensors gather and record growth data, and a team of experts can remotely control the farms to ensure that plants receive the best care as they grow. Their growing recipes tailor a combination of light spectrums, temperature, pH, and nutrients to create the ideal ecosystem that can nurture the growth of their plants, allowing each variety to express its natural flavor profile to the fullest. Infarm’s large module can grow up to 680,000 plants each year on only 25 square meters, making it 420x more efficient than soil-based agriculture. In June, InFarm successfully raised €88 million to invest in R&D and expand into new cities. 

liliumLilium Aviation  – This Munich-based startup is developing a five-seat Lilium jet, a new kind of all-electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) device. Designed to travel up to 300km and powered by 36 all-electric jet engines, Lilium is developing a next-generation air taxi to revolutionize the way we travel. The Lilium Jet promises faster inter-city travel than other mass transit systems. Avoiding road congestion, passengers will be able to travel from San Francisco to Palo Alto in less than 15 minutes, and from Munich to Frankfurt in just over an hour, with prices that will rival traditional car services. With over $100 million in funding, Lilium is hoping to launch a fully operational flying taxi service, bookable through an app, in multiple cities by 2025.

greencitysolutions-logoGreen City Solutions – This German startup has pledged to fight against air pollution in cities. According to the WHO, 90% of all city dwellers breathe in polluted air every day, and 7 million people die annually because of air pollution-related diseases. In 2014, Green City Solutions developed CityTree – the world’s first biotech filter to improve air quality. CityTree uses ability of certain moss cultures to filter pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides from the air. However, the biggest challenge for mosses in urban areas is to survive, as they need water and shade. The German startup came up with a solution: to connect different mosses with fully automated water and nutrient provisions based on unique IoT technology. Recent installations of CityTree in London and Brussels highlight how innovative technologies can improve living conditions and bring urban challenges to the fore. Green City Solutions is supported by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

spacemaker-logoSpacemaker – This Oslo-based startup’s mission is to design better cities with AI, with its game-changing technology that helps city planners, real estate developers, and architects maximize the potential of a building site by allowing them to explore and generate a multitude of site proposals and choose the best ones. Spacemaker combines expertise from a wide range of fields including architecture, mathematics, physics, and machine learning to provide users with creative, high-quality site proposals so that municipalities and developers can build more efficiently and densely to accommodate the world’s rapidly growing cities. With offices in Oslo, Stockholm, Barcelona and Boston, Spacemaker has expanded thanks to an increasing demand for their AI software. Spacemaker has just raised a €22 million Series A round to accelerate the company’s roll out, further develop its product, and grow its engineering and commercial teams.


Instock – This Dutch company has decided to tackle the problem of food waste. They rescue food by picking up unsold products at local Albert Heijn supermarkets and other producers and prepare it in their three restaurants (located in Amsterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague), a food truck, and through a catering service. You can make a reservation at one of their locations and experience the wonderful dishes created by the Instock chefs. Aside from its restaurants, the startup has also developed some food waste products: two beers brewed from excesses of bread or potatoes, and granola made out of malt residues from the beer production. Their mission is to empower customers to make better decisions and help other restaurants reduce their waste by teaching them techniques. Founded in 2014, the startup has saved over 700,000 kg of food so far.

By the way: If you’re a corporate or investor looking for exciting startups in a specific market for a potential investment or acquisition, check out our Startup Sourcing Service!

Arnaud Terrisse
Arnaud Terrisse
Arnaud is a startup enthusiast from France with a passion for social entrepreneurship. He loves reading, surfing, and learning about new business ideas.

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