Clara Brenner is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of the Urban Innovation Fund, a venture capital firm that provides seed capital and regulatory support to the tech startups addressing the challenges facing urban dwellers. Clara and I had a wide-ranging discussion about her career, business, and the startups and technologies in which her firm has invested.
Real Estate and Government
Growing up in Washington, D.C., Clara was surrounded by real estate and government, and found herself drawn to both. Her undergrad thesis explored the historic relationship between real estate developers and local government in Lower Manhattan.
“Ultimately, I decided to go down the real estate development path because it seemed like you were equally influential and you got to have more fun, be more creative, and make more money.”
After four years of working in real estate, Clara realized she wanted to be her own boss. She returned to school at MIT Sloan with a vision to start her own real estate development firm.
Shaping the Future of Cities
Clara and her friend Julie Lein crossed paths at MIT Sloan and realized they both had a fascination with companies that were tackling meaningful challenges in cities. After some in-depth research, they discovered that these companies were facing a lot of similar challenges, around issues such as fundraising challenges, physical space, and regulatory and political hurdles.
This sparked the creation of their investment vehicle and accelerator Tumml.
“I think real estate is a great career if you want to have an impact on the physical environment around you, which is I think is something so many people want now, they want to feel like and see the influence of their work every day.”
Tumml paved the way for Clara and Julie to found the Urban Innovation Fund, a more sustainable, long-term investment vehicle that writes larger checks, is involved in multiple rounds of investing and takes board seats. This $24.5 million dollar fund has a diverse portfolio that Clara says aligns with their vision for creating scalable solutions that shape the future of cities. This looks like everything from Milk Stork, a breast milk shipping service for the traveling businesswoman, to Udelv, a driverless delivery service.
Their set of investors are more traditional, financially motivated entities who they refer to as “impact curious.”
Clara highlights the fact that today, people often look to technology as the changemaker; however, she points to politics and policy as the place where real, slow, painful change happens. Identifying transformative technology is very important, but you still need to vote and be politically engaged to create real change.