MWC2014: Startups get a larger role

04 Mar 2014

Mobile World Congress is an expensive event for startups to get visibility. There have been different kinds of concepts to attract startups and new innovations to the show. The innovation competition and the innovation zone have been one concept. Many startup people have also focused on networking and side events. This year there was also a more startup-oriented event, "4 Years From Now", in the old exhibition center. It had a reasonable price - $299 - to participate and many startups were also able to demonstrate their offering and get stage time.

Since the launch of the iPhone, mobile apps have become an important part of the mobile ecosystem. Most mobile startups work with apps. The challenge of course is that there are so many apps and it's so easy to make an app that it is not easy to get attention and users. We can also ask whether MWC helps a startup in the app business. Maybe it can help to get some marketing partners and some visibility, but probably many other places are better to get real users.

There were nevertheless some interesting new apps in the show. Some examples - Seene has created an app to take 3D photos with a normal phone camera. It instructs the users to move the camera to get different angels of the object and then it can build the 3D picture. You can then roll the picture on the screen and look at the object from different directions. It will also be possible to send the photo to a 3D printer and print it out. They are still in beta.

YouLapse has developed an app to make videos from photos. For example, I took over 150 photos from the show, then I was able build a 20-second video from the photos, add music to it and publish it on Facebook. It is a nice way to collect a lot of photos and publish them, especially when the phones now have memory and processing capacity to handle it. Something like this can be the next Instagram. Probably there will be more video oriented mobile apps to share moments.

Then there are also companies other than app startups. They, in MWC, are typically very strong technology oriented companies. They do e.g. innovations for data transmission, chipsets or data analytics. Their challenges are that they should be able to win business from carriers, equipment or network vendors. And it means long sales cycles, a lot of free pilots and trials, and also a threat that a potential client does it in-house instead. Some of these companies have really excellent technology competence, but very weak competence and resources to market and sell.

Mobile is a becoming a fundamental part of all internet services, as Facebook’s Zuckerberg’s speech highlighted. This means more services are based on mobile service components. It also means mobility is a fundamental part of most of businesses in the future (read Mobile startups in the third era). The important question for MWC is how it will be relevant for all these new business opportunities in the future. It probably requires that the role of carriers and network components must become less important and new companies and people must find MWC. In any event, MWC has done well to keep its role as the leading mobile event. This year it had over 85,000 visitors. It is still the one place to meet mobile business people annually.

Jouko Ahvenainen is serial-entrepreneur and co-founder of Grow VC Group, a new funding solution. In the 1990s Jouko worked for Nokia in Europe and Asia, and then lead the 3G practice at Capgemini globally. The last 12 years Jouko has been an entrepreneur and investor.

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