BMW’s Bernhard Blattel on New York City as a Hub of Mobility Services

5/3/11Follow @arleneweintraub

In February, Munich-based car giant BMW set up a corporate fund, BMW i Ventures, in New York City, with the goal of fostering startups that are developing location-based technologies. The fund’s first investment was MyCityWay, a company founded by three former Wall Street execs who created a series of apps designed to help people find products and services in 50 cities around the world—starting with their hometown of NYC. BMW is currently searching for office space to house the fund and an accompanying technology incubator.

BMW’s head of Project Mobility Services, Bernhard Blattel, is based in Munich and working with a team of four New York-based colleagues to get i Ventures off the ground. Xconomy spoke with Blattel by phone about why the automaker is fostering the development of technologies that are not necessarily car-based, and why it chose New York as the fund’s home.

Xconomy: What was the genesis of BMW i Ventures?

Bernhard Blattel: We were seeing trends that we thought provided growth opportunities for a company like BMW. One trend is growing urbanization—the tendency for people to move into urban areas. These people will still have the need for mobility, and the desire to be comfortable when they’re being mobile.

One enabler of transportation in urban areas is electric cars, which speaks to new products, like our new i3 and the i8 vehicles. But on the other hand, we think that connectivity, location-based services, and the rising penetration of smartphones will make the future a great enabler for a new set of services that will help customers to be more mobile.

We believed that we could combine our engineering know-how, products, great brand, and marketing with the agility and the drive and innovative ideas within startup companies. That’s why we created i Ventures and decided to invest in these companies.

X: You created the fund and chose its first investment in parallel. Why that strategy?

BB: When we started the plan for BMW i Ventures, we thought it was important to show our board and other people internally what we meant when we said we were going to invest in these new companies. So we had to very quickly focus on making the first investment.

We chose MyCityWay because it is a one-stop city portal. It goes way beyond classical concentric services, and provides a complete menu of city information. We were able to demonstrate immediately what the mission of BMW i Ventures is.

X: But the MyCityWay app was not designed to be used in a car. So why is it of interest to BMW?

BB: It’s an example of the scope we have for Project Mobility Services. Of course, mobility services will sometimes have to do with cars—that’s our home turf. But we’re convinced that the key to success of this new field is to … Next Page »

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