One of the biggest perks of living in the 21st century is represented by having access to a well defined and diverse transportation system providing freedom and mobility for all, enabling us to have direct access to various places regarding education, health and employment.
In this article we will give you an overview on mobility-related trends world-wide, but applicable also in Romania, with several examples of startups, based on a list of 35 startups we have mapped in this area.
Brief overview on the European ecosystem
According to the Automobile Industry Pocket Guide 2020 edition published by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, there are 313 million motor vehicles in circulation in Europe, which is more than one for every two Europeans. Moreover, in 2019, more than 18.5 million vehicles were produced in Europe, which represents 20% of the global vehicle production.
We can talk about the automotive industry as one of Europe’s most important and innovative sectors. No wonder that this industry is far the biggest spender on R&D in the EU, investing over €60.9 billion. This gives us the opportunity to have an advantage over the global competitors and of course, to make significant transformations in the mobility industry.
In correlation to the investments made in this field, it is not a surprise to see that in the EU, according to our startup monitoring index, there are over 1,200 startups active in this industry. We used the following criterias to make the selection: only startups which were established after 2018 with headquarters in Europe.
Based on one of Dealroom’s reports, in Europe the most significant unicorns from the automotive industry are BlaBlaCar, Bolt, Omio, Flixbus, Cabify and AUTO1 Group. These companies managed to grab on the opportunity provided by this rapidly changing era, they started capitalising on technology and this way they made good use of web and mobile applications, revolutionising the way of booking a ride in Europe.
Nevertheless, Europe still lags behind the US which has 17 unicorns in travel and mobility and China which has 12 unicorns.
How about the Romanian Ecosystem?
According to the statistics published by the General Directorate for Driving Licenses and Car Registration from Romania, in the last 5 years there has been a constant increase in the number of passenger vehicle registrations in the country; from 2015 to 2019, these numbers have almost doubled: from 81.175 to 161.564 registrations per year.
Taking note of this, we could say that people are showing more interest towards the comfort of travel/commuting which comes with new challenges and potential solutions coming from startups (as you’ll see below).
On the other side, although not yet backed by statistics in Romania, but observable already, ownership in personal cars will slightly diminish in the upcoming years as people will have more options for commuting and travelling.
In the Romanian ecosystem, according to our database, there are 35 startups active in the area of mobility and transportation, these provide various services, from parking and traffic management systems to carpooling and ride-sharing applications.
In the following part of the overview, we will group the startups according to their main area of practice and we will talk about each category shortly, while pointing out some important trends too.
Trends and startups
1. Solutions for traffic management, parking, pollution
The lack of parking spots in urban areas, is an issue that needs to be resolved as it’s a permanent stress factor and one of the main causes of traffic jams, and consequently excessive pollution.
In theory, there are numerous solutions to this problem, from image and video analysis using AI, to people choosing public transportation, bicycles or even walking instead of cars. These ideas could be put into practice, as many countries in Europe are already known for their eco-friendly transportation systems, based mainly on two wheeled vehicles, but the transformation takes years, it happens gradually as it also requires a change in people behavior and mindset.
The high-end tech solutions aren’t out of reach either, as there are numerous startups that developed the technology for traffic optimization and urban life pedestrians improvement using AI. These startups, in collaboration with the authorities, have the power not only to notify in real time the individuals about the current parking situations, but also to influence traffic flows, and provide new ways of urban mobility accessible for everyone.
In Romania, we know about 13 startups tackling parking problems, in various ways, like Parking Spotter which is a smart solution that helps end users to find the closest available parking spot and parking owners to improve operational flows, all these by analyzing the video images from all the cameras installed inside a parking lot. Other fitting examples would be Parking Wizard (a cross-platform app composed from a machine-learning algorithm, a desktop and a mobile app, which aim is to help drivers find available parking spots in their area), yeParking (an in-app, real-time residential and business parkings availability and booking system) and ZenParking (a smart-parking solution that enables users to reserve their parking spots before departure).
2. Urban micro-mobility and commuting
Although it's a big challenge to create the business model and to figure out the logistics of urban mobility, their utility and success it’s not only proven by the multi-billion value of the unicorns existing in the world, but also by the number of investments in their respective projects, which also illustrates the need for new eco-friendly ways of transportation.
As to back up the previous statements, investments in new mobility startups have increased significantly since 2010, micro mobility companies increased their investments by a factor of more than five from 2014 to 2018, making possible the quick development of companies like Bird or Lime into unicorns, in less than 20 months.
There are also a few Romanian startups tackling the issue of micro-mobility and commuting, like Teamway (a corporate carpooling platform that matches drivers and passengers going in the same direction) and Teleport (electric car sharing service).
Worth mentioning here is that, based of the experience from CleverTaxi, Mihai Rotaru founded UrbanAir which offers users a single app that aggregates +100 shared mobility providers worldwide: e-scooters, bikes, mopeds and 4 wheeled vehicles.
The challenge for startups in urban mobility comes from the logistics and cost involved in acquiring the vehicles and management of the fleet, so such a startup cannot be started without a lot of capital and a solid structure.
Urban mobility in Romania is dominated by the unicorn startups that are battling to serve consumers with the best solutions, Uber, Bolt, Bird, Lime, which makes it quite easy for consumers, but sustainability for them is harsh because of the competition with each other. Probably in the future we’ll see the “winner takes all” mindset as we saw in other geographical markets.
3. Digitalization for drivers
The digitalization trend is also visible for drivers, startups offering to drivers or to various companies the opportunity to digitize documents and license management, insurances for drivers, making them easily accessible, without the fear of losing them.
Besides making reachable all documents in virtual format, there are tries in converting the driving schools learning process in virtual ones. Although real life traffic and every type of driving behavior can not possibly be simulated during on-line driving lessons, these new technologies can provide multiple hours of practice and innovative, interactive ways of learning (ex: VR simulations) about all the aspects that are important in becoming a responsible driver.
As Romanian startups in this field, we can talk about Movcar (a mobile application which enables their users to upload vehicle documents, store them safely and have them always at hand), WashMe (a digital platform where the users can make real-time reservation for car washes in the city), Acte Vanzari Masini (a platform that automates and facilitates the process of car selling, standardizing the flow of information, increasing transparency of transactions, and digitizing the process of completing the necessary documents), Autopia (a mobile application which helps drivers manage everything related to their vehicle), TPark (an application through which the users can pay the parking taxes) and Wash Now (a booking application for car washes).
4. Future of cars and mobility
When people are talking about the future of cars and mobility, besides the flying cars, the development of electric vehicles is the most frequently mentioned. As these e-vehicles will become more reachable for the general population too, more startups will be built around these ideas to facilitate the use of electric cars, for example applications that show chargers or charging stations for these vehicles. The transition towards electric fleets is happening to some extent in Romania also, but the infrastructure to support EV needs more development in order to support that.
In the international press we constantly hear about new technologies that enable more diverse solutions related to autonomous driving, connections between cars, electric cars and smart mobility. Unfortunately, Romanian ecosystem will be more of a beneficiary of these advancements and less of a creator and trend setter.
We have an example of a startup co-founded by Romanians: SwissPod (a sustainable transportation company designing and developing Hyperloop vessels and infrastructure which promote efficiency and economic viability). Also, we would like to highlight two Bulgarian startups too: Ampeco (a smart cloud software suite for EV Charge Point management) and Dronamics (an aviation company, which is developing a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft that can transport freight cheaper than other aircrafts).
5. Logistics and freight transportation
In the field of logistics and freight transportation, perhaps the most crucial aspects are accessibility and efficiency. Changes and new ideas are mainly implemented with the purpose of delivering products from point A to point B with less effort from both the producer and the customer, meanwhile also taking into consideration reducing traffic jams and pollution.
Among these startups, we have a few Romanian ones like Starcargo (a complete transport management system for companies activating in the transport industry), Cargo24 (a digital platform for on demand transportation services, that connects customers with 700+ transport operators in Romania) and Postis.EU (a solution that manages the delivery operations for retail players with complex logistic chain).
Overall, the Covid-19 crisis impacted heavily the domain, regardless if auto-maker or startup, as transportation and mobility went down by a lot. It’s the “survival of the fittest” time. “Being a startup born in Eastern Europe, we have the mindset of paying attention to costs, doing more with less money, which puts in a advantageous position during these times compared with our competitors ” says Adrian Pica, Group Product Manager at Bolt.
The global trends are going for reducing pollution, effectiveness in transportation and automation and we see the effects in Romania as well with e-vehicles, micro-mobility, but to a much lesser extent compared with a megalopolis like London or Paris.
Impact of mobility startups is still only present in the main urban areas where it makes sense to be present economically as there is potential for critical mass and more interest/need from users.
Romanian startups in mobility and transportation are active, but of course with much lower volume given by the smaller market, compared with the bigger countries which are much more proactive in this area as mobility is tightly connected with progressive public administrations also.
We see signs of this happening in some cities in Romania, where the administration is more open to supporting a variety of solutions knowing that each of them will decrease a bit the congestion in traffic and improve the life of the citizens, but we still have a long way to go.
Perhaps we should start investing in flying cars (as the trend is growing) and less in highways (which we don’t seem to ever finish building).