Defining Mobility for the Automotive Industry

Mobility includes technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely.

Since launching Techstars Mobility in Dec of 2014, the #1 question I get asked is:

What does mobility mean?

And the follow up: How does this relate to the automotive industry?

And to be honest, when we launched the program, I didn’t have a great way to answer this question. Thankfully, I had some friends that had a better sense than me. Fontinalis Partners, a VC firm co-founded by Bill Ford, along with Ford, and Magna all shared their perspectives with me.

And it became clear: their definitions were different and changing frequently to address the rapidly expanding market. As with any new, emerging market, it’ll take time and experience to offer a clear and consistent definition.

Since launching the program, I’ve talked with and read over applications from more than 1000 startups in the mobility space. From the applications to our 2015 and 2016 programs, to general outreach, I’ve seen companies far and wide. And not just companies in the United States, but all over the world.

Over the last 2 weeks I’ve talked with companies from Dubai, Moscow, Kiev, Buenos Aires, Vienna, Tokyo, Bangalore, Estonia, Cape Town, Chile, Lithuania, Kenya, Latvia, Germany, France, Sweden, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Portugal, Romania, Taiwan, and Italy to name a few 🙂

Mobility means so many different things from a global perspective.

How I Define Mobility

After 18 months and reading nearly 1,000 Techstars Mobility applications, I arrived at this succinct definition.

Technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely.

Simple and elegant. The key things to take away are:

  • Simple
  • No mention of automotive
  • Keywords: services and goods
  • Slightly vague but still specific enough without being verbose

Why This Definition

The world is changing incredibly fast. How people get from point A to point B is changing too.

The Underlying Automotive Change

When you combine all those factors, a perfect storm of change emerges to disrupt existing business models, especially in the automotive and transportation sector.

Automotive + New Technologies + New Services = New Business Models

Automotive is now too narrow of a term. A new term needs to be used to include all of these new technologies and services. And what better word than mobility.

What the Automotives Think

Bill Ford was years ahead of the industry. He introduced his “Blueprint for Mobility” back in early 2012. He talked about a future beyond traffic gridlock in 2011. And in 2009 he started Fontinalis Partners to invest in this emerging sector.

We become a piece of the mobility ecosystem. In this new world, we need to figure out what we have to own and what we don’t and to be a great integrator of technologies and services. We need to figure out who are friends, who are foes, and how do we turn our foes into friends.
Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford

Fast forward four years, and we’re seeing the automotive companies turning this vision into a reality. Looking at two of the Big 3, we see just that.

“As we’re thinking about the company, we’re thinking about ourselves not only as car, utility and truck company, but also as a mobility company”
Mark Fields, CEO of Ford

“Some might find this massive change to be daunting, but we look at it and see the opportunity to be a disruptor. We believe our decades of leadership in vehicle connectivity is fundamental to our quest to redefine the future of personal mobility.”
Mary Barra, CEO of GM

The 2016 Automotive Shifts into Mobility

So what does an automotive company in transition to a mobility company, look like?

At the Detroit 2016 auto show, we saw a huge transformation in the perception of Ford.

Take a look at Ford’s booth:

Ford at the 2016 Detroit North American International Auto Show


2016 Detroit North American International Auto Show


To me, it was quite clear Ford felt more like a tech company than an auto company at the auto show.

But Ford is doing even more:

And GM is moving faster with bigger headline grabs:

Expanding our Definition

And that’s why I’m so excited that Techstars Mobility has partnered with Ford and others. We’re defining mobility for a whole new range of startups. And impacting the entire industry at the same time.

Taking our definition, here are the areas of most interest to us:

Key interest areas for Techstars Mobility in 2016

We’re looking at solutions that go across connected cars, trucking and multi-modal applications. Multi-modal referring to all modes of transportation, the glue, from getting you to point A to point B.

The automotive landscape is changing drastically and I’m excited to help play a small part in helping to define this new future of mobility.

Originally published at on April 6, 2016. To keep updated on Techstars Mobility and the growing intersection of Detroit’s automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence follow Ted on Twitter: @tedserbinski

Our 5 Favorite Startup Digest Reading List Articles From Last Week

5 hand-picked articles from across the Startup Digest Reading Lists. Sign up to receive great weekly content on various topics from expert curators.


1. How to get a startup job, even if you have an MBA

By Matheus Riolfi

Digest: Startup
Curators: Zubin Chagpar & Chris McCann

One of the first things I heard when I arrived in San Francisco was this joke: “Silicon Valley investors value startups by adding $1M for each engineer in the team and by reducing $500k for each MBA.” Read More

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2. 50 Sources of Funding for Women Entrepreneurs

By Melinda Briana Epler

Digest: Women Entrepreneurship
Curators: Babs Lee & Lilibeth Gangas

Want to know where the women investors are at and who is funding women? Check out these resources of capital for women entrepreneurs. Read More

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3. The Mess at Nest Echoes the Mess in the Smart Home

By Stacey Higginbotham

Digest: Internet of Things
Curator: Michael Kruk

This article discusses the challenges faced by any company going after the smart home market and takes a deep dive into Nest’s experiences facing those challenges and others. Read More

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4. Affordable Teslas? Elon Musk is about to take your brain to Mars.

By Suzanne Jacobs

Digest: Mobility & Transportation
Curator: Timo Hoffmann

Affordable, good electric automobile from Tesla. Its Model 3 seems to be a game-changer. Maybe… Read More

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5. ‘Fitbit for your period’: the rise of fertility tracking

By Moira Weigel

Digest: Mobile
Curator: Edith Yeung

Investors are pouring money into apps that allow women to track their fertility. Can tech companies use data to change the world of women’s reproductive health? Read More

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Sign up for these or other Startup Digest reading lists, here.

Our 5 Favorite Startup Digest Reading List Articles From Last Week

5 hand-picked articles from across the Startup Digest Reading Lists. Sign up to receive great weekly content on various topics from expert curators.


1. Amazon is Trying to Patent Paying with a Selfie

By Leena Rao

Digest: FinTech
Curators: Camron Miraftab & Thilmin Gee

Several large companies have recently announced integrating selfie technology for increased payments security. Amazon continues this trend. Read More

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2. Instagram May Change Your Feed, Personalizing It With an Algorithm

By Mike Isaac

Digest: Product
Curators: Sophie-Charlotte Moatti & Reza Ladchartabi

Instagram is changing their algorithm to place the photos and videos it thinks you will most want to see from the people you follow toward the top of your feed. Read More

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3. Meet The Chinese Tinder

By Emma Lee

Digest: Angel Investor
Curator: Berg Moe

Sudy is a new swipe-based dating app that only pairs rich men with attractive women, especially catering to college students who are looking for financial help on tuition fees. During the seven-month beta test starting in September last year, Sudy has enrolled over 10,000 members, mainly from the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia. Read More

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4. MIT: Red lights could someday be a thing of the past

By Lucas Mearian

Digest: Mobility & Transportation
Curator: Timo Hoffmann

MIT’s “lightTraffic” vision, with video explaining how traffic lights will become obsolete when there are autonomous vehicles roaming the streets. Read More

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5. Iranian Artist using 3D Printing to Combat ISIS

By Isaac Kaplan

Digest: 3D Printing
Curator: Dilanka

This is one of those unexpected uses of 3D Printing with interesting social and political implications. Check it out. Read More

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Techstars Mobility Kicks Off Second Year of Accelerator Program in Detroit

I’m excited to announce that we’ve opened applications for the 2016 class of Techstars Mobility. You can apply online by going to Applications are open through March 20.

Click here to watch this video for a great overview of the program.

Live from CES 2016

To kickoff the 2016 program, I’m at CES and it’s pretty clear the entire industry is talking about the future of mobility and connected car solutions. Techstars Mobility’s title sponsor, Ford, kicked off CES yesterday with a keynote from CEO, Mark Fields.

“In 2016 Ford will become a mobility company, not just an auto manufacturer” said CEO Mark Fields. Fields pointed to Techstars Mobility as a key part of their strategy.


For full coverage on all of Ford’s other mobility announcements check out  this article on CNET. You can also check out the full Ford press release announced Techstars Mobility 2016 here.

What is Techstars Mobility?

Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit, focuses on the rapidly changing mobility and transportation industry. We’ve partnered with 8 leading mobility corporations including Ford, Verizon, Magna, Dana, Honda, McDonald’s, Munich Re and Michelin.

We look for software, hardware, and advanced materials businesses across all stages of development — pre-seed, seed, Series A and later. Because of the 8 corporate partnerships, no startup is “too far along” to see a huge benefit from participation in the program.

We define mobility as technologies that power the efficient movement of people, goods and services across all modes of transportation. We look for startups that not only fit this thesis but also align across innovation themes including: connected car, trucking and multi-modal transportation solutions across connectivity, mobility, autonomy, customer experience, big data, safety and security.

Techstars is committed to operating this program in Detroit, operating at the intersection of Detroit’s automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence. 



2016 Program Key Dates

  • Jan 5 – Applications Open
  • Feb 16 – Early Application Deadline
  • Mar 11 – 13 – Early Application Interviews at SXSW
  • Mar 20 – Applications Close
  • May 3 – 4 – Final Interviews
  • May 8 – Notification of Selection
  • Jun 13 – Program Starts
  • Sep 8 – Demo day

2016 Recruiting Event Tour Dates

2016 Webinars


One Entrepreneur’s Journey: Jon Rossi

Meet Jon Rossi: Founder and CEO of MyDealerService. Jon is one example of a passionate founder who has experienced the Techstars network in many different ways – through our Startup Programs (Startup Week, Startup WeekendStartup Next) as an attendee, organizer, facilitator and mentor, and as an alumni of the Techstars Mobility program in Detroit. Jon has been a part of over 30 Techstars events!

Check out this video to learn about one entrepreneur’s journey through the Techstars network.


Apply today!


Meet Amy – Improving Mobility in Detroit

At Techstars Mobility, we’re in the midst of mentor madness with over 150+ mentors and corporate partners meeting our companies. And what better way to facilitate tons of meetings and follow up (and avoid the associated email ping-pong) than with Amy. Wait, you don’t know Amy? is an artificial intelligence driven personal assistant that schedules meetings for you. It’s not an app and there is nothing to install or download—users simply cc: Amy (the intelligent agent) and she works with your guest(s) over email to find an agreeable time + location based on your calendar avails and your preferences. She’ll then send the calendar invite to all parties. proves to not only be a slick use of AI (Amy quite often passes as human), but also solves this big problem and allows its users to be more productive—focusing time and energy on more important matters. Who wouldn’t want to be more efficient in their work day?

From first-hand experience, I can say that Amy has increased my productivity significantly. It allows me to be more mobile as I move from meeting to meeting and conference to conference, as I have a dedicated and seamless way to schedule follow up. She allows me to schedule meetings much faster and in calendar time blocks that help me optimize and control my own calendar. If you don’t prioritize your own life, someone else will.

We’re excited to be able to offer beta access (which is in quite high demand these days) to all 10 companies making up our first class of startups at Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit. For that, we owe thanks to Roger Ehrenberg, who serves as both an investor in and mentor to Techstars Mobility, for helping make this connection happen and giving first.

While we’re focused on technologies that address the movement of people, goods, and services, we see products such as serve as a nice complement to our everyday work—increasing our mobility and our productivity.

Techstars Mobility Welcomes New Partner, New Community Partners and Office Collaborators

I am excited to unveil a new partner of Techstars Mobility, our new office in Detroit, and a handful of great new local partners and office collaborators.

Techstars Mobility is focused on all technologies that address the movement of people, goods, and services. For this program, we have partnered with six leading mobility corporations including Ford Motor Company, Magna International, Verizon Telematics, Dana Holding Corporation, Honda R&D Americas, and McDonald’s.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 8.19.31 PMToday, I am excited to announce we are adding a seventh partner: Munich Reinsurance America, Inc. A member of Munich Re’s US organization, Munich Re America offers the financial strength and stability that comes with being part of the world’s preeminent insurance and reinsurance brand. Munich Re researches and communicates on emerging risks – such as the future of mobility –  that could have a significant impact on society, clients and employees.

Our three-month, mentorship driven program runs this summer in downtown Detroit. It’s a full contact startup experience that culminates with a Demo Day on September 10th at The Fillmore Theater.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 7.41.22 PM

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 7.43.17 PMAnd what better location to host our program than at the beautiful Ford Field, in downtown Detroit. This is a one-of-a-kind building that is connected via an atrium to the stadium where the Detroit Lions play. This 10,000 sq ft office gives our companies in each class an unprecedented startup experience in Detroit at a world-class office and facility.

Techstars is on a mission to be a catalyst to drive the startup community in Detroit. For the mobility program, we’ve been working closely with Fontinalis Partners, pioneers in investing in next-generation mobility solutions to help make Detroit the future mobility hub of the world.

Today, I’m pleased to announce we’re adding two more local Detroit partners to help us continue on this mission to build the startup community across #OneDetroit.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 7.44.38 PM

Automation Alley is a technology business association dedicated to growing the economy of Southeast Michigan. With over 1000 members, Automation Alley brings deep automotive and manufacturing expertise and mentors to support Techstars Mobility companies.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 7.45.31 PMThe Detroit Technology Exchange (DTX) is a programmatic partnership funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the New Economy Initiative. Techstars will be joining other partners including TechTown Detroit, Bizdom, Invest Detroit, the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, the Henry Ford Innovation Institute, and NextEnergy. By joining this partnership, Techstars Mobility gains access to hiring talented associates and being part of a collaboration for empowering entrepreneurs in Detroit.

On top of that, Techstars Mobility and the Detroit Lions are leading the way to create a new startup hub in Detroit at Ford Field. To do that, Techstars has collaborated with two incredible companies that will be opening offices in Detroit, greatly enhancing the Techstars Mobility office, and offering their services across the region.

Oblong is the maker of Mezzanine, a collaborative Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 7.46.45 PMconference room solution for innovative workplaces. Its futuristic technology enables Techstars Mobility to host real-time immersive visual collaboration sessions in one of the most high tech offices in all of Detroit.

PivotDesk, a Techstars Boulder 2012 alum and sharing economy leader, connects businesses who are looking for office space with those who have excess space. At Techstars Mobility, we leverage PivotDesk to invite outsideScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 7.46.50 PM companies to share our space during our off-program months. Please check PivotDesk later this summer to find out about space opportunities in our office.

We look forward to other high tech companies and startups joining us at Ford Field in the near future. We also can’t wait to show off our new office and host events around the region in 2015. We are proud to partner and work with such amazing organizations as we work towards our goal of making Detroit the future mobility hub of the world.

Announcing the First Class of Techstars Mobility, Driven by Detroit

Today, I’m excited to announce the first class of Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit. These 10 companies are excellent representatives of the future of mobility. They each demonstrate technologies addressing the movement of people, goods, and services.

To help us create a world-class mobility program, we’ve partnered with six global corporations with deep mobility expertise. These partners include Ford Motor Company, Magna International, Verizon Telematics, Dana Holding Corporation, Honda R&D Americas, and McDonald’s. Additionally, we have over 150 expert mentors and investors helping our first class of 10 startups.

For this inaugural program, we received applications from all over the world (every continent except Antarctica!) and were excited by the diversity of applications. We saw software, hardware and advanced materials businesses focusing on things like ride sharing, energy, safety, maintenance, logistics and trucking. The solutions being developed by this year’s class range from a ride-sharing app, to the AirBnB for car enthusiasts, to web browser technology that works without a data connection.

Here is our awesome Techstars Mobility class of 2015:


Ansik makes automotive service safer, quicker and more affordable for everyone.
CDL Warrior is a communication and productivity platform for the trucking industry that connects truck drivers to their supply chain partners and improves efficiency, visibility and compliance.
Classics & Exotics brings the “sharing economy” into the car enthusiast’s garage, allowing classic and exotic car enthusiasts to now offset their car ownership costs by renting their cars to pre-screened, highly qualified renters.
Cosmos Browser. Internet via SMS, no data or WiFi required.
Elegus Technologies, a spin-out from the University of Michigan, is commercializing battery separator technology that can enable safer, longer lasting batteries.
GearBrake is a universal, easy to install brake light module that can detect when your vehicle is slowing and automatically light the brake lights, reducing the risk of rear-end collisions by up to 90%.
Motoroso combines content, community, and commerce for automotive enthusiasts to help them discover, connect, and buy everything that powers their lifestyle.
My Dealer Service empowers automotive service departments with digital connectivity and workflow management, elevating efficiency and creating an unprecedented customer experience.
Splitting Fares — SPLT — is a social ridesharing app designed to connect people with similar routes, share the fare, save money, reduce traffic and emissions and change the way people meet and move in cities around the world.
WISE Systems provides real-time routing and analytics software to help on-demand delivery companies serve their customers more effectively.

McDonald’s, Honda R&D Americas, Inc. and Dana Holding Corporation Join as Partners in Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit

Today we’re excited to announce three new partners in Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit. McDonald’s, Honda R&D Americas, Inc., and Dana Holding Corporation will join existing partners Ford Motor Company, Magna International and Verizon Telematics to help 10 startup companies drive towards the future of mobility and transportation.

Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit, is a mentorship-driven technology accelerator that will create a Metro Detroit hub for transportation and mobility innovations in downtown Detroit. Its goal is to bring new technologies to market that address the future of movement of people, goods, and services. Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit will run for three years with a new class of 10 companies each year.

In addition to its proven accelerator model, Techstars is bringing its extensive network of mentors, founders and corporations to Detroit to help support the program. Each partner in Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit will also provide executive-level mentorship and support throughout the program and beyond.

To help make a positive impact on the community, Techstars is coordinating efforts across the Detroit entrepreneurial ecosystem. To date, over 200 mentors have signed up to support the incoming class of 10 companies. The response across southeast Michigan has been incredible, as Techstars joins in on the goal of turning Detroit into the future mobility hub of the world.

The ten companies selected for Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit, will be announced on June 4, 2015. The program kicks off June 9, 2015, and concludes with a Demo Day on September 10, 2015 at the Fillmore Theatre where each team will present to investors, industry leaders, and the community at large.

Click here to learn more about Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit.

Techstars Announces Techstars Mobility, Driven by Detroit

Today, Techstars is announcing Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit with our partners Ford Motor Company, Magna International and Verizon Telematics. Mobility and transportation are changing and we want to help the next generation of companies make it happen. Techstars is also committed to operating this program in Detroit, the center of the global mobility and transportation ecosystem.

Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit will give 10 selected companies deep connections with our partners, $120,000 in funding and three months engaged with our extensive mentor network. Each of our program partners brings an important piece of the mobility industry into this Techstars accelerator:

  • Ford, one of the leading innovators in the industry since its inception who continues to lead with a focus on mobility and transportation under the direction of Bill Ford;
  • Magna International, one of the largest automotive suppliers in the world with connections and distribution channels to virtually all auto producers and into other transportation industries;
  • Verizon Telematics, who puts the connected in connected car with their terrestrial and satellite based communication solutions.

The Techstars program will be located in the growing entrepreneurial district of Detroit. There has been a recent renaissance in Detroit with many startups moving to the downtown area and venture capital becoming very active in the region. Throughout the development of the Techstars Mobility program, Techstars worked with Detroit based venture capital firms Fontinalis Partners, Detroit Venture Partners and Renaissance Venture Capital to recruit mentors and ensure capital was ready to deploy in the region. Many other venture firms have also contacted Techstars communicating their interest in bringing capital to Detroit.

Techstars will be bringing their proven accelerator model and extensive network of mentors, founders and corporations to Detroit to support this program. Techstars will also coordinate efforts across the Detroit entrepreneurial ecosystem as a member of the Detroit Technology Exchange (DTX), ensuring that Techstars can have a positive impact across the entire community. Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit will run for three years with a new class of 10 startups each year.

The program kicks off June 9, 2015, and concludes with a Demo Day on September 10, 2015 where each team will present to investors, industry leaders, and the community at large. Ted Serbinski, formerly with Detroit Venture Partners, has been named as the Managing Director of Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit. Ted and his team are full-time Techstars staff and will live and work in the Detroit area. Applications are being accepted through March 15, 2015.