This past week, I attended my first in-person conference since 2019 — Micromobility America, held at a beautiful port-side venue in Richmond, California.
The conference claims to attract "micromobility’s top builders, investors and thinkers — including more than 500 global brands — focusing on the companies, business models, enabling technologies and macro trends that are reshaping transportation in cities around the world."
Here are a few quick takes from the conference:
This is what "in-person" should look like in 2021. Although I was skeptical at first about the safety of an in-person conference, the organizers did a good job executing enough COVID-conscious protocols to ease my concerned mind. These included using as much of the outdoors space as possible for booths and demonstrations, requiring screening questionnaires and vaccination checks, and encouraging consistent mask usage by the vast majority of the attendees. If you haven’t seen or been to the Craneway Pavilion before, it’s a seaside stunner. Many attendees arrived via ferry direct from San Francisco’s Financial District, landing at the doorstep of the venue.
Will micromobility adoption and use follow the same trajectory as mobile phones? I find it hard to believe, but opening speaker Horace Dediu, co-founder of Micromobility Industries and producer of the conference, really tried to build a case to convince the audience of it. His presentation was filled with charts and graphs to back up his claim — based on simulations with data he conceded that he generated.
Other notable points, moments and quotes from his "10 Commandments of Micromobility" state-of-the-industry speech:
- Lithium-ion batteries have enabled the micromobility boom, with a 93 percent reduction in the cost of manufacturing over the past 20 years. (I found a similar figure in The Economist to back this up, although it says 98 percent in 30 years).
- "All infrastructure is a sum cost" — referring to the need to build up infrastructure to support micromobility.
- "How many hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on … moonshots?" (A dig at investments into autonomous vehicles.)
- The audience clapped loudly when Dediu said we will reduce planetary emissions faster through micromobility.
- Micromobility will be "just like phones ... we ended up doing much more with them than they could do when first introduced to the market."
E-scooter variations had the biggest product representation at the conference. Here are two rather cool ones:
The Unagi (the Japanese word for freshwater eel) was named the "best portable electric scooter in the world" … by founder and CEO David Hyman. However, it did turn heads as the first product on display during the "Modal Review" — a six-company pitch session. Hyman touted Iggy Pop as Unagi brand ambassador and referred to the scooters as "urban assault vehicles." Despite this, I was impressed with both the high-tech features (such as a motion sensor to warn of theft) and the company’s new partnership to sell the scooters from within Best Buy locations. Its signature subscription service for monthly use is $49, or $1.63 per day. Preordering went live the day of the conference for $1,540, with production expected next summer.
San Jose, California-based Aktivo claims to have "the world's first and only hubless electric scooter." When asked why this makes its product superior, representative Julian Low told me two things — "torque and security." The hubless tire allows for a chain to go through it, which I have to say seems very practical. It also appeared to have the most affordable product on offer, with the base model going for $699 on its website.
An e-bike made in Hungary was a big hit, with conference-goers clamoring to test-ride it. The Cowboy has a sleek design with no gears — its automatic assistance feature adjusts the power based on the pedal pressure exerted by the rider. The bike is synced with its owner’s cell phone, becoming the key to powering it on. "So what happens if you lose your phone?" I asked. Co-founder Karim Slaoui ensured me there is an emergency unlock for the bike — simply remove the battery from the frame with its key and reinsert it. Preordering is active on its site, and all three color variations go for $1,990.
Lastly, there was a notable lack of the presence of women on stage and off. Only one of the six presenting companies during the "Modal Review" was a woman, Shirly Kalush, chief strategy officer of Israeli startup GoToGlobal. I would estimate that of the few hundred attendees, only a few dozen were women. Unfortunately, this seems to be a reflection of the industry in general, as it’s reported that women use micromobility options about a third as much as men do — a fascinating topic I’d like to return to in the future.
I couldn’t stay for the full day and missed out on some promising programming, including a keynote from entrepreneur and universal basic income advocate Andrew Yang. Overall, I really enjoyed my time at the event, but here’s hoping next year’s Micromobility America brings greater speaker and audience diversity.