Entrepreneurial talent is spread across every country in the world. But access to funding, mentoring, and publicity is not. How does a brilliant startup go global when it is not based anywhere near Silicon Valley or New York – but rather is in Nigeria, South Korea, Peru, or Poland?
Seedstars World is an annual competition that selects the most promising startups from emerging markets. Somewhere between a pitch competition and an entrepreneurial movement (“You don’t have to be American to be the next Mark Zuckerberg!”), Seedstars World gained momentum in 2013 and 2014. Its team or organizers are now touring the world to vet the companies eligible to compete in the 2015 competition, the biggest yet. Most recently the team was in Armenia.
Businesses from 53 emerging economies, producing everything from wearable technology to online payments systems, will compete for the grand prize of $500,000 equity financing. Winners in industry categories like fintech will get six-figure equity financing awards. But there are other rewards for the 70 emerging-market startups invited to gather in Switzerland early next year. They will attend a “bootcamp” to improve their pitches, learn about business building, and meet with mentors and potential investors. In the first two competitions, basic networking has proven valuable for startups that may have just as good an idea as a similar company in Palo Alto – but have poor brand visibility beyond their home cities.
Seedstars World is planning a Consumer category competition for the 2015 competition. Other industry categories such as fintech and travel. Seedstars, the Geneva-based investment company backing the competition, sees huge potential in consumer technology companies – specifically in food tech and retail e-commerce. One of Seedstars’ portfolio companies is Libassy, a Moroccan e-tailer of fashion items suitable with the hijab, or Muslim veil. Seedstars discovered a hijab fashion e-tailer in Malaysia through the first Seedstars World competition and thought it was such as good idea that it incubated a similar company in Morocco, on the understanding that the two may merge one day.
Infusive supports the Seedstars World concept. Infusive’s Consumer Alpha framework describes the success of consumer businesses that are built on the perennial desire to look or feel good: to be happy. And just as these needs and wants are present everywhere in the world, so are the businesses that cater to them. Locating excellent businesses outside of a few global hubs, however, is challenging. Seedstars World helps close the gap. And it increases the likelihood that excellent businesses, once given the right prominence, can enter those global hubs.
Infusive is not the only fan of the competition. Swiss cantonal governments and Edmond de Rothschild, the private bank and private equity group, are project partners. What better way to locate – and invest in – the crème de la crème of startups outside of western Europe?
Selected finalists from the 2014 Seedstars World include:
Machina has invented a sensor-loaded suit that makes the fantasy world of gaming more multisensory. The suit is designed to work with other immersive gaming technologies such as the Oculus Rift or Google Glass, which lets the wearer see a different world – but leaves the body behind. The Machina suit translates the motion of the body into the game and registers the sensory impact of events that happen in the game world.
Scandid aggregates hundreds of online discounts and promotions at Indian retailers, helping consumers locate the best deal. The bargain-hunting mania of the Indian marketplace inspires retailers to offer countless time-limited promotions, but the profusion of these promotions also makes them nearly impossible to track. Scandid’s app allows people to conveniently compare prices – and gathers valuable data from its users.
Salarium won the 2014 Seedstars World competition, collecting $500,000 in equity financing. Its cloud-based payroll administration software targets large companies in the Philippines (and, it hopes, beyond) that manage their HR processes in an inefficient, paper-trail method that is prone to errors. By automating and simplifying payroll, Salarium believes it can save companies’ employees many wasted hours – and lots of wasted paper.
Krowdpop uses the crowd to make the business of concert organization more efficient. Bands often turn up at the wrong-sized venue, or charge too much for their tickets, or visit cities where they have few fans. The Korean entrepreneurs behind Krowdpop believe the best way to eliminate the variables that make concerts go awry is to gather as much fan data as possible before the event, asking people who they want to see, when, and for how much.