Uber's most significant innovation is not its taxi hailing app, says Harvard economist

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Michael Mandel Flickr Lisbon Council

Uber's most significant innovation is not its widely-used taxi hailing app, an economist from a US think-tank said on Tuesday. 

Speaking at the FT Innovate conference in London, Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington DC, suggested that "Uber's real innovation has been in working with governments around the world" where it has been "outstanding."

The Harvard economics graduate said that other sharing economy companies - those firms that aim to make a profit by providing a platform that enable people to share their properties, cars, and other possessions - will now look to Uber as role model for how to work with governments as they expand internationally.

Mendel provides policymakers with policy briefs on topics such as the impact of regulation on innovation and growth, the effect of the international tax system on the location of innovation, and the Internet of Things.

Uber, however, has not expanded without trouble. As the map below from data analysis firm Silk shows , Uber is engaged in a number of ongoing regulatory battles in cities around the world, including London, Paris, Delhi, Beijing, and Auckland, as well as its home town of San Francisco.

Last August, Uber hired David Plouffe , a former politician that managed President Barack Obama's presidential campaign, as its chief advisor. Since joining Uber, Plouffe has met with policymakers worldwide in a bid to ensure Uber can operate legally in their jurisdictions. 

Traditional taxi companies have been hit hard by Uber, which typically undercuts the incumbent taxi operators in each country that it expands to. In London, for example, the black cab drivers are having trouble gaining new recruits

Mandel's comments were made on a panel called "Big vs Small," which looked at whether startups or corporates are better at coming up with and executing the best ideas.

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