Vadecity's CEO and founder Marta Recasen at Smart City Expo World Congress © Vadecity
The Barcelona-based startup wants more people to bike by offering flexible, affordable parking with its Vadebike solution
“Stop thief!” With over 4,000 bikes stolen in the region in 2017, Barcelona is trialing a smart parking solution by local startup Vadecity to stop the growing problem of bike thefts. Founded by Marta Recasens, Vadecity is rapidly building Vadebike rotational-use parking facilities for cyclists across the city.
Ultimately, Vadecity wants to attract more people to switch to cycling as their main form of transport in the city. Its parking solution is already attracting interested parties from other cities like Madrid, Valencia, Málaga and Paris.
Recasens also knows what it's like to have her bike stolen. “During my PhD studies, I was working on patents for over eight inventions in design and technology. One day, my bike was stolen right in front of the university. Since one of my patents was for a bike-parking solution, I decided to move this project forward,” the company CEO told CompassList in an interview at the 2019 Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona.
“Three-quarters of bike users in Barcelona use private bikes, so this is quite a big market,” she added. Recasens, an architect by training, presented her first prototype Vadebike in 2014 at an Open Challenge run by the Innovation Department of Barcelona City Council. Two years later, Vadecity is busy building over 1,500 smart parking sites for bikes and scooters in the city and surrounding municipalities.
The Vadebike bike-parking structure was inspired by the Golden Ratio. “As an architect, I wanted to build something that was small, safe and also economically affordable,” Recasens said. After the Vadebike concept won a city council innovation competition, Vadecity quickly launched a pilot in the municipality of Barcelona by installing 150 parking bays, open to the public 24/7 with 360-degree services.
“That's quite challenging because we actually built only four prototypes and the full solution was still to be deployed. So, we had to speed up the development. We started a collaboration with the RACC [Reial Automòbil Club de Catalunya, a nonprofit promoting motor sports and mobility services] and to provide full coverage and assistance 24 hours a day.”
Registered users pay €25 yearly to get free access to any Vadebike space for the first eight hours of parking, usually the time when people are at work in the office. After that, the service will cost €0.09 per hour. Vadecity is collaborating with one of Barcelona's largest parking operators SABA to provide bike-parking for locals to enable them to store their bikes safely near their homes.
First and last mile mobility
One of the greatest benefits of the Vadebike system is its flexibility. Each parking lot can be easily installed and removed based on demand. A dedicated team is working on heat maps to find the optimal areas where more Vadebike parking spaces are needed. Vadecity also has the potential to expand into the city outskirts.
“Any municipality with more than 100,000 citizens can easily afford our solutions because the infrastructure and maintenance costs are very low,” Recasens said.
The rotational service and adaptability of Vadebike are two great competitive advantages, according to Recasesns. “There are players worldwide providing bike storage inside purpose-built boxes, but they take up a lot of space on the street,” she said. "We cannot make our streets bigger. From an architect's point of view, this is not feasible. Cities were built in such a way that 70–80% of the roads were designed for vehicle traffic circulation only. Today, this is changing, the numbers have to be reversed.”
The Vadebike hardware also includes a space to store the helmet plus three independent lockers. All are made in Barcelona by Net i Serra. The technology is developed in-house. A mobility platform uses sensors to monitor the status of the Vadebike facilities in real-time. Users can use the mobile app to search and reserve the parking spaces available in desired locations.
Scaling with MaaS partners
Bootstrapped with capital of just €60,000, Vadecity has now secured contracts from Barcelona's public universities. Its Vadebike's user-base has grown rapidly with the installation of Vadebike parking on campuses across the city. Funding of €50,000 from Horizon2020 phase one program enabled Vadecity to further develop and scale Vadebike's mobility platform to meet increasing demand.
Recently, Vadecity secured €2.6m from a Horizon2020 phase two funding program. “We're finalizing this second phase and that’s when we need to push our business to the next level,” said Recasens.
The Smart City Expo was ideal for introducing smart-parking solutions for scooters and bikes. A new model will be launched by March 2020 to kick off a €1.5m fundraising round. Meanwhile, Vadecity is looking for more collaborations in the smart-mobility ecosystem to expand operations throughout Spain.
“We seek more than a financial partner. I’d like to onboard someone in the MaaS industry that we can partner with to help us to grow bigger” she said. “We're building a team of people with strong expertise in the area because we are facing something that's getting bigger every day. As I'm used to saying, either we think big or we go home.”
Biking is healthy, sustainable
Vadecity currently has a team of seven full-timers and collaborates with over 30 other personnel. The operations team is led by Margarita Juanes, who had spent over 10 years heading operations at Bicing, the biggest bike-sharing provider in Barcelona. CTO Tony Gonzalez has over 15 years of experience leading the technological department of the Ramon Lull University in Barcelona.
The company's top priority for 2020 is to establish an extensive and efficient infrastructure for first and last mile mobility solutions. This will encourage more commuters to choose bikes as the most convenient and sustainable means of transportation.
“My vision is to sell happiness to people because moving around the city with a bike is healthy, and even more importantly, it's sustainable. That’s what we offer: the joy of moving around the city with a bike without any worries.”
For locals, they can now sleep well at home knowing their bikes are kept safe in Vadebike parking lots.
This article earlier misreported the funding amount that Vadecity received from the Horizon2020 phase one program and misspelled the name of the company CTO. The company also misstated the number of personnel it is collaborating with. The article has been amended to reflect these corrections.
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