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How emerging technologies can create a more equitable world

Startups from emerging markets are closing the tech gap

How emerging technologies can create a more equitable world
Camille Charluet
Story by

Camille Charluet

Former Editor, TNW Spaces

Emerging technologies are transforming our lives in ways we’ve never seen before. From algorithms anticipating financial opportunities to fridges compiling your grocery list, there’s no doubt tremendous technological leaps are being made. However, too often, the economic and social benefits of these technologies remain concentrated in developed countries. 

That’s why a growing population of innovative entrepreneurs from emerging markets are taking hold of the opportunities emerging tech can bring to build products, find solutions, and provide services that meet the needs of the other 85% of the global population

This movement has the potential to help close the gap between emerging and developed countries but, in order to make this change happen, we must prioritize making access to technology, IT and STEM skills, and funding available to everyone. Not only does it have the potential to even out the tech playing field, but it can also solve some of our biggest global challenges from food insecurity to access to education.

One investment and education company already working hard to showcase talent coming from emerging markets is Swiss-based Seedstars. Alongside its accelerators, growth programs, and investments, the company also hosts the largest startup event in emerging markets: Seedstars World Competition

After a nine-month-long journey involving workshops, mentoring sessions, and multiple rounds of pitching, Seedstars selects the most promising startups across Asia, Africa, CEE, MENA, and LATAM to compete for $500,000 in equity funding and join the investment portfolio of Seedstars International. 

Watch the full competition here: 

This year, TNW was lucky enough to partner with Seedstars to help host its annual event. From the long-anticipated pitch competition revealing this year’s winning startup to an insightful expert panel discussion around upskilling for the future of work, it was a jam-packed and insightful edition. Here’s a recap of this year’s highlights:

Seedstars World Competition 2021

After receiving more than 5,000 applications from entrepreneurs across 95 countries, only five startups were selected to compete in the grand finale. Each finalist went against the clock with only three minutes to pitch their startup to the judges. The judges then had a chance to ask questions about each startup’s traction, scalability, profitability, and defensibility to determine who would be crowned this year’s winner. 

On the panel were Salman T. Jaffrey, CIO of Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Ventures, Shannon Kalayanamitr, CEO at 5GCT.CO and Advisor at Gobi VC, and Charlie Graham-Brown, CIO at Seedstars. But before we reveal who came out on top, let’s take a quick look at the five finalists who made it this far:

IMAN: Democratizing Islamic finance

Mark Zubov is the CFO and founder of Uzbekistan startup IMAN. IMAN offers more accessible and affordable investment products for the over one billion Muslims based in frontier markets.

Ladda: Making investments easier

Oluwatosin Olaseinde is the powerful female founder behind Nigerian-based Ladda. Ladda provides affordable and convenient access to investment opportunities for retail investors. 

Finology: Simplifying lending and insurance

Jared Lim is the co-founder of the Malaysian startup, Finology. Finology enables seamless access to financial products everywhere using end-to-end digital broking technology.

PEGASI: Upgrading electronic health data

Luis Santiago is the CEO of Venezuela-based PEGASI. Driven to put an end to paper-based health records, PEGASI makes healthcare information accessible, clear, and useful for patients, physicians, and service providers in the developing world.

Fulfillment Bridge: Powering global logistics

Kais Khadhraoui is the CEO and founder of Tunisian startup Fulfillment Bridge. The cloud-based global e-commerce logistics platform offers warehousing in four continents, fulfillment, shipping, return management, and more.

And the winner is…

After a very long and difficult deliberation, the judges crowned Finology the winner of this year’s competition. Representing Asia in the global finals, it was Finology’s plug-and-play solution that received the traction it needed during 2020 to make it to the top. 

While the other finalists didn’t take home the prize, they will continue to be supported by Seedstars’ global network and keep leading their regional startup ecosystem forward. Most importantly, the event helped to put the spotlight on innovative emerging market startups that have what it takes to compete on a global level. 

Panel discussion: 21st Century education for 21st century skills

How can we keep up with an ever-changing labor market? And how can we help entrepreneurs and institutions upskill to prepare the next generation for the future of work? These were the questions tackled during the insightful panel discussion “21st Century Education for 21st Century Skills.”

“If you don’t have talent with 21st-century skills, you won’t have 21st-century ventures,” explained Pierre-Alain Masson, CEO of Seedstars. “We need to put more effort, energy, and resources into supporting talent in emerging markets and providing them with the right skills.” 

But what does that look like, practically speaking? “It’s not just funding that matters,” shared Sunita Grote, Deputy and Innovation Fund Manager at UNICEF Ventures. “It’s really the support of infrastructure through connectivity and the development of technology solutions that can accelerate and generate value for all that brings that sustained impact.”

From launching Giga: an initiative on a mission to connect every school in the world to the internet to algorithmic equity: making sure the needs of those UNICEF aim to serve are represented in the data they use, Sunita believes connectivity and diversity are instrumental in preparing talent for the future.

Nicolas Sadirac, Co-Founder of 01Edu agreed. “Today, knowledge is freely available,” he explained. “We have to focus much more on creativity and collaboration rather than knowledge.” 

When asking panelists what they believe to be the most important skills for this day and age, critical thinking, collaboration, diversity, and a wide network of resources were their top picks. With increased research, discussion, and initiatives around 21st-century skills, let’s hope that more countries commit to integrating these into education systems soon.

Solving global challenges with emerging technologies

Next up was the TV MAGs portion of the event: a series of powerful short films showcasing the disruptive startups tackling some of the biggest challenges in the fields of education, accessibility, and food tech solutions. Co-created with their partners, the Canton of VAUD, Mada, and The School Of Management Fribourg, there was no shortage of technology and entrepreneurship providing new and innovative solutions.

With the help of the Canton of VAUD—a frontrunner in food and agricultural innovation—Seedstars showcased some of the top FoodTech and AgriTech startups helping to feed a growing global population while causing as little impact on our planet as possible. 

Take GAMAYA: helping farmers in Brazil and India improve crop yield and sustainability via remote sensing, hyperspectral imaging, and artificial intelligence. Or CLEANGREENS: improving access to healthy, nutritious, and sustainable food all year round with aeroponics food systems. 

Check out the other emerging technologies supported by VAUD that are revolutionizing the food industry: 

Let’s make an impact in emerging and frontier markets

Interested in learning more about Seedstars and the top startups from emerging markets? Follow the journey these inspirational entrepreneurs went on to represent their countries at the grand finale.

Is your startup looking to learn from industry experts, network with the local ecosystem, and accelerate growth in your existing market? Keep an eye on the Seedstars website to apply for your chance to be part of the biggest startup competition in emerging markets!