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CoMotion LA 2019 and the UK SMEs blazing a trail

Annual Los Angeles transport conference, CoMotion LA, brings together the major players in the brave new world of the urban mobility revolution that will transform our places. Alex Weedon, Connected Places Catapult’s Director of SME Strategy, was our man on the ground at the event this year. Here is what he made of it.

On 12 November I arrived in a warm, misty Los Angeles and contemplated the huge struggle to get to my hotel in Downtown LA. The choices had a range of prices and journey lengths, but all of the options were road-based: ride-hailing, taxi and bus. LAX is the largest airport in the world not to have a rail link to its host city. However, this, some might say oversight, in LA’s connected places planning was not reflected in the breadth of delegates and exhibitors at CoMotion. It’s an exciting time for mobility in LA, and even more so for the 10 UK SMEs that were chosen to join the trailblazing CoMotion LA 2019 conference cohort.

Our first full day of activities, arranged and hosted by the Department for International Trade and the Foreign Commonwealth Office’s Science and Innovation Network, was at the top of One California Plaza, with amazing views across the north of the city to the Pasadena Hills (once the mist/smog/smoke from forest fires abated). The UK SMEs in attendance were:

These startups had the chance to pitch to, and network with, buyers from the LA region and further afield. As well as amazing panels delivered by esteemed mobility organisations like New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, LAX, LA City, Toyota Mobility Foundation, LA County Metro, investors including Expert Dojo and the LA World Trade Center were also present to talk to. The day was also attended by representatives from Transport for London and the Department for Transport, as well as the British Consul General in LA, Mike Howells.

Electric cars and canapes

Later in the day, the delegates had the chance to see other SMEs pitching at the LA Cleantech Incubator. We then reconvened in the evening via electric school bus (a very strange experience where the bus makes a strangely melodic honking noise to inform other road users of its passage) at the Consul General’s residence where, apart from eating too many canapes and having many exciting conversations, another British SME, StreetDrone a graduate from our IM Accelerator programme, was exhibiting their car.

The next two days of the conference passed in something of a blur. With amazing keynotes from Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of LA, who announced LA’s Urban Movement Labs and Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary. The UK was also well represented in the international mix, including panel sessions with Richard Bruce of the DfT and Michael Hurwitz of TfL, where the UK is seen as a key part of the international mobility scene. There were many exciting exhibitors, such as Cyclopic, showing off their spoke-less drive technology, and StreetDrone, with one of their clever autonomy-ready test vehicles, both of which seemed to get a lot of interest. To complete the British invasion, there were workshops from New London Architects and, an alumnus of last year’s delegation and darling of the geolocation world, What3Words.

There was certainly a lot of interest in what the UK is doing from a policy perspective on the future of mobility and a real interest in the delegates. My favourite highlight came when a couple of our panellists went through the delegate brochure saying, ‘We can work with them, and them…and them and them…’.

The place was buzzing and as I reluctantly left for the long slog out to LAX, I reflected on the great business opportunities that might develop as a result of the trip and excited for those candidates that were going to join the Automobility LA 2019 conference which is in full swing as I write.

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