Startups have a complex role at MWC. The event wants to have startups and new innovations, but at the same time it is dominated by large corporations. 4YFN has been one solution to handle it and it has become more and more popular. But when the world is now overloaded with startup and pitching events, MWC should probably try to find more focus on its startup component.
4YFN has a lot of startups and also quite interesting presentations and panels nowadays. The quality of the startups varies, but on average it is not great compared to many other startup events. Maybe part of the problem is that many governments and regions subsidize or pay local startups to come there and maybe their qualification criteria are not so high. There are a lot of startups that make very basic services mainly locally in their own country. It is amazing how many companies still focus e.g. on new advertising or social something projects and often they have nothing really new to offer.
Probably the main value startups look at 4YFN for is contacts and information on funding opportunities. There are venture capitalist and corporate venture people at the event. There are also many speeches and panels about funding options and criteria.
Venture capitalists have always the same story to tell, especially those from Silicon Valley, there is too much money and shortage of real talent. I don’t know how it resonates with entrepreneurs that have fought for years to get some funding to exist. At least these Silicon Valley guys could then really try to find interesting startups at this kind of events that is very global. One really interesting category of startups at MWC is those that come from developing countries (especially Africa, LATAM and South East Asia) and offer really scalable solutions to local needs of emerging markets.
There are also great startups at the event. Actually, the startup battle finalists were a great summary of good startups and innovations that really fit MWC:
- Twiga Foods from Kenya focuses especially on improving the effectiveness on the food supply chain from farmers to retail in Africa. Improving the supply chain helps farmers to get better prices and retailers to offer lower prices. It has already 6,000 retailers in its network.
- Brokoli is a Barcelona based Insutech company. It offers a mobile app to manage insurance policies. This includes tools to compare policies, highlight the most important points, have help line to ask about insurances and make emergency calls.
- Jelurida is an Israeli blockchain as a service company. It offers public (with a public token) and private blockchain services to parties that want to utilize decentralized solutions e.g. for public sector documents, financial services, or loyalty programs.
- Zapiens is a Spanish company that offers knowledge sharing platforms. For examples, companies can use it internally to collect questions and answer available to all employees. It also offers the service for free to universities, if universities are ready to provide information for free.
- Viisight is an Israeli video analytics intelligence platform. They especially have machine learning competence and their solutions can analyze video stream and e.g. recognize security and safety issues. For example, the system can recognize a fight from a CCTV video, wrongly parked cars or if someone follows another person (without a badge) through an entrance.
- Mobijob is from Colombia and offers a mobile service for companies to look for freelancers and for people to look for assignments. The assignments are simple tasks to do with mobile, like following living habits of people for market research purposes, or sending photos from supermarkets when some items are missing.
These examples give a very good idea of what kind of startups really represent the best part of the global mobile event. They are linked to mobile services and they help people and companies in daily situations around the world. Of course, one missing category is really hard-core tech startups that make, for example, chips or software for networks and devices.
Maybe MWC and its partners could put higher criteria to select startups for the event, or at least e.g. offer more incentives to really find top level startups. It would increase the attractiveness of the whole event. Then also corporate people would be more motivated to use time with startups. No one is really excited to see the 1234th solution to target mobile ads.
One important aspect that MWC is its global coverage. It can really find startups that solve global issues, including opportunities in the emerging markets. But there are also other good examples of how a more global approach is important. I saw interesting Spanish and Italian startups to tailor and buy fashion products, and in those businesses Spain and Italy have credibility. Or a Finnish startup that offers devices to track and communicate with Alzheimer patients, very important solutions for countries with aging populations.
With higher criteria and clearer focus, MWC can really improve its startup and innovation part. It is one of the most important global tech events and places to meet a lot of people and start businesses. BTW, the winner of the battle was Twiga Foods, for very good reasons.