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The Atlas
Location: 6737 Lipmann Street, San Diego, CA, USA
Founded in: 2016
Stage: Post-launch
Number of employees: 1-5
Short URL: vator.co/the-atlas-marketplace-co
Followers (2)
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The Atlas

Navigate to Resilience.
Startup/business
San Diego, CA, USA
http://www.the-atlas.com
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Company description

Vision

The Atlas envisions a world where cities are safer, smarter and more sustainable because city officials have quick, easy access to all of the solutions and partners they need to solve their toughest problems – problems like citizen engagement, climate change, and mobility.

About

The Atlas is an online community that helps city, county and utility officials do three things: 1) Share their success stories 2) Learn about what’s working elsewhere and 3) Build relationships with the partners they need to jumpstart progress. The goal is to help city officials R&D (rip-off & duplicate!) what’s working elsewhere in their own communities – whether that’s a specific technology approach, design innovation, financing mechanism, public-private partnership arrangement or procurement method. The Atlas is proud to call the City of San Diego home.

History

The Atlas was founded by three women under 35, two of whom are military spouses and all of whom are former government officials themselves. After leaving government service in 2013, The Atlas co-founders had an opportunity to work directly with eight U.S. cities to help them pursue specific infrastructure innovations like flexible flood barriers and microgrids as a part of a large philanthropic effort supported by The Rockefeller Foundation. During working sessions with the eight cities, it became obvious that local governments needed a safe place online to share, learn and build relationships. It also became obvious that implementing partners were struggling to connect with the right cities, at the right time, with the right information – and that they were spending a ton of time and money trying to do so. Thus, The Atlas was born! In the short years since its founding in 2016, The Atlas has become an online community of engaged local government officials and staff. The Atlas helps 1,000+ city officials each month find creative solutions to urban problems that have been proven in other communities around the world, and has facilitated more than 3,000 new relationships to help cities jumpstart progress on the ground.

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Team
  • Elle Hempen
    Elle Hempen | Team member
    Elle experienced the inefficiency of infrastructure predevelopment and procurement while working with cities to design resilience projects. She developed the Atlas to help cities save money and make smarter infrastructure choices.
Business model

What is the problem you’re solving?

Technological advances have allowed municipalities, federal and state government agencies, and utilities, (“Buyers”) to imagine modern infrastructure systems that offer flexibility to meet changing needs and conditions. Those more resilient and sustainable infrastructure solutions are generated by the small- and medium-sized companies that make-up 99% of the environmental technology market, and the engineering firms that bundle services for large integrated projects (collectively “Vendors”).

The same qualities that make those modern infrastructure systems more resilient are also what make the projects, and the vendors that produce them, difficult for Buyers to find, evaluate, and procure. Currently, Buyers are resigned to conducting random Internet searches, hiring expensive consulting firms, or relying on past experience and word-of-mouth to procure infrastructure solutions. The McKinsey Global Institute found that improved project sourcing, selection, and procurement creates a $20 billion opportunity for cost savings for cities alone.                    

Meanwhile, Vendors around the world that are developing new solutions to address infrastructure challenges, struggle to connect with the Buyers who need them most. This is because the market for infrastructure remains stuck in traditional procurement processes that are biased toward familiar technologies and solutions. Vendors need an efficient way to leverage pilot projects and achieve economic scale by reaching Buyers who are empowered to make long-term procurement decisions.

Meeting the $57 trillion demand for infrastructure modernization over the next 15 years requires a new approach for finding, evaluating, and procuring solutions and vendors.  

How is your product/solution going to help?

The Atlas is an online marketplace and recommendation engine for environmental technology and infrastructure products. The Atlas helps Buyers find and compare Vendors from around the world by curating a list of relevant, installed, and procurable solutions. Once a solution has been chosen, a Buyer can quickly and directly reach relevant Vendors through messaging and RFP distribution functions. The tool’s growing database of projects and multi-faceted search functionality allow Atlas users to streamline the procurement process from months to minutes.

Buyers use the Atlas to:

  • Inspire innovation by identifying potential infrastructure solutions designed to address local urban challenges.
  • Streamline procurement by reducing the need for consultants and expensive reports to compare available solutions.
  • Improve procurement outcomes by promoting RFPs to a wider range of national and international bidders.
  • Track existing infrastructure projects alongside new investments to avoid unnecessary overlap and take advantage of opportunities for integration.

Vendors use the Atlas to:

  • Generate new leads and reduce transaction costs associated with customer acquisition.
  • Develop brand awareness by marketing directly to active municipal customers and large engineering, design, and construction firms through impact-tagged post structure.
  • Enable early identification of prospective bid opportunities and get matched to open RFPs from around the world.
  • Strategically source vendors and suppliers for sustainability, resilience, and other “green" contracts.

How would you size the market opportunity & what is your go-to-market strategy?

In total, there are nearly 50,000 global cities. Over 25,000 of which are actively looking to become more resilient as evident by their participation in UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient campaign or membership in a resilience, sustainability, or smart city focused peer group. Other Buyers include the 62,000 utilities operating in the United States, 16,000 universities around the world, and hundreds of large manufacturing companies that are responsible for building, operating, and/or maintaining infrastructure systems. To support those Buyers, there are over 1,000,000 environmental tech companies and 3,500 engineering firms operating around the world (a market segment that is growing at a rate of 4% a year).

Target Buyers are (1) elected officials who see the value of finding and validating new, innovative legacy solutions, (2) senior planning, public works, and/or sustainability officers who see the value of reducing costs, are comfortable with using technology based solutions, and are already in a position to influence on contracting decisions directly.

Target Vendors are (1) CEOs and CMOs of small- and mid-size environmental technology companies who see the value of being able to target specific Buyers, and increase their product and brand visibility, (2) senior business development and marketing officers of engineering firms who see value in sourcing new vendors and suppliers for specific contracts, increasing visibility and brand value, and improving opportunity spotting.

In order to effectively build the Atlas as a two-sided marketplace, the go-to-market strategy includes the following stages.

  • Establish strategic partnerships with trusted member networks to create trust and credibility.
  • Prioritize Buyer signup with freemium pricing strategy.  Engagement occurs both directly, and through strategic partnerships with member networks.
  • Direct sales to Vendors. Engagement occurs both directly, and through strategic partnerships with member networks.

When did you launch and how much traction is your product seeing?

The Atlas marketplace went live on July 18, 2016. Already, we have established strategic partnerships to support promotion of the platform to users of 5 major, international city and county membership organizations (>1000 members each). Limited direct outreach to Buyers has resulted in a conversion rate of 70%, meaning the contact led to the creation of at least one freemium profile for the contacted city. In addition, prior to launch we initiated conversations with 3 large vendors (>$20m in revenue) and 3 small vendors. This resulted in 1 secured subscription, and ongoing negotiations with the other 5 Vendors.

How do you make money? 

The Atlas offers “savings as a service” through an online marketplace designed to streamline procurement for both Buyers and Vendors. Pricing is broken down based on activity with the most prominent product in terms of sales weight being the Buyer and Vendor subscriptions. 

  • Subscription Fees: While individual subscriptions are available, Atlas will prioritize selling annual enterprise agreements based on the customer’s type and size. By doing so, Atlas can offer multi-department discounts within an entity to incentivize greater usage and coordination.
  • Featured Listing Fees: Recognizing that on average engineering and environmental technology firms spend anywhere from 3-5% of their total budget on marketing, the featured listing fee is intended as an upsell to already subscribed vendors. The featured listing pricing is based on standard advertising rates for the B2B market.
  • Bid Related Fees: Based on the finder’s fee model used by consultants, Atlas will capture a flat success fee based on the size of the contract in the case that a Vendor secures a contract after finding an open RFP on the Atlas. Because RFPs are publically posted, there are ways for a Vendor to avoid paying the fee. In order to capture as many success fees as possible, a provision describing the success fee purpose, our ability to track when RFPs are viewed by a Vendor on the Atlas, and rates will be included in the terms of use.
  • Licensing Fees: Licensing the growing dataset of Atlas projects for use in government owned or proprietary software is a model used by many data firms. In order to maintain brand presence and leverage the relationship, when licensed there will be a provision that the proprietary tool features a “powered by Atlas” notation. Clients could include Vendors, or Federal Government Agencies looking to aggregate a particular type of solution for use by grantees.
Competitive advantage

The most significant competition for the Atlas is customer inertia. That said because the Atlas is designed to address both infrastructure predevelopment and procurement, there are a few options available to Buyers and Vendors today that offer a subset of similar features including, (1) climate decision-support tools, (2) e-procurement products, (3) traditional marketing.

  1. There a number of existing climate decision-support tools to help Buyers, but all are geared towards helping users understand environmental risks at varying levels of detail. While some of those tools recommend “best management practices,” none help users identify real procurable technologies/products, let alone procure, vendors that can implement solutions like the Atlas. 
  2. Listserves and e-procurement systems that highlight government contracting opportunities, including pre-forecasted RFPs and solicitations, as well as previously awarded contracts for review also exist. The complaints of the systems tend to be that the user-interfaces are outdated and difficult to use, and that the opportunities listed are limited to large federal government contracts or consumable goods (printers, phones, etc.). None offer the ease of use or strategic approach based on specificity of market, relevancy, and direct access to decision makers provided by the Atlas.
  3. For Vendors, marketing to Buyers is mostly centered around direct sales, participation in conferences and trade shows, and word-of-mouth. Some larger firms will utilize inbound marketing techniques by co-authoring reports, using social media, and sponsoring events. No current techniques allow strategic opportunity spotting based on expertise.