Last year was the first edition of 4 Years from Now (4YFN), Mobile World Capital Barcelona’s startup and mobile innovation event taking place concurrently with Mobile World Congress. With over 1k attendees and numerous big names of the global startup ecosystem, including Whats App’s Jan Koum, Waze’s Di-Ann Eisnor,and Doodle’s Myke Naef taking center stage as speakers, to say it was a successful 1st edition would be an understatement. Mobile World Congress has generally been viewed as a large, telco establishment event. But, not unlike other big tech events that have been around for quite some time (think CES), the event organizers and big tech & telco establishment have come to realize that startups will play an increasingly critical role in the future of their industries. As a result, startup tracks and big startup focused events have become increasingly important.
This year’s 4YFN, set to kick-off next Monday, 2 March, will be even bigger and better than the last, with more big names from across tech and media joining the speaker roster, a significant jump in the number of startups exhibiting, particularly from IoT, and a rich agenda, including various workshops, talks, the 4YFN awards and their hugely popular founders & investors matchmaking session.
I had the chance to catch up with Aleix Valls, director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Mobile World Capital and Director of 4YFN to discuss what is increasingly becoming the mobile industry’s top startup event has planned for this year and to understand a bit more about how Barcelona’s mobile startup ecosystem is evolving:
Mobile World Congress has certainly put Barcelona on the map in terms of mobile technology. Would you say that Barcelona could be considered one of the top hubs in the global mobile ecosystem?
We are not yet a global mobile ecosystem hub. We are trying to do our best effort to leverage on the concept of the Mobile World Congress. Of course, all the administration her and the tech ecosystem in Barcelona is pushing to make Barcelona a global hub for the mobile ecosystem. We are on the way to being relevant on a global level, not yet being as relevant as we want to be on a global scale. But, again, we’re on our way.
Regarding this, if we look at the startup ecosystem in Barcelona, the critical mass of the ecosystem is now big enough to consider that we have a rich startup ecosystem in many fields. We’ve seen though (to date) a lack of international connections, so we want to make sure we get the ecosystem to have international scale.
What do you think needs to happen for that to happen for you to achieve that goal?
We need to see, as we’ve seen actually in the last month, more cases of startups being invested strongly in by international investors. We need those stories of success to enrich the ecosystem and have the local guys to believe they can make it. Another is for the international community to start to see that something is happening in Barcelona so they turn their heads to look more closely at Barcelona. Finally, in the next few years we need international startups and investors looking at Barcelona as a good place to start and grow a business.
There are some interesting things happening. For example, we’ve seen that Startupbootcamp has been awarded top European accelerator for 2014 (at the Europas) and they’ve recently launched operations with us on an accelerator here focusing on the Internet of Things and Big Data. I think we’ll see pretty soon more acceleration programs landing in Barcelona, which is a good thing because it means projects from around Europe and the world come to Barcelona to be accelerated here, mentors come from around the world to mentor the startups, and, ultimately, we’ll start to see international investors coming to invest in projects here.
Recently there’s been a shift in focus by Mobile World Capital towards startups. What is driving this shift and what things specifically are you both doing to focus on the global startup community?
For us, it’s fundamental piece. If we want to position ourselves as a global leader or, at the very least, at the European scale startups are a key element of that ecosystem. Startups have become the relevant piece to creating new products, businesses, and services in the mobile area. If want to become this digital hub, we need to push on that part of the ecosystem. Not, of course, forgetting that Barcelona is also the right place for corporations to open R&D centers, operations here. For example, Cisco will soon be opening an IoT center here in Barcelona, Accenture has their mobility competence center for Europe here as well. I think we need push on both sides.
Are you doing anything to help bring those two entities, startups and corporates, together more?
We’re trying. It’s not an easy task because the startup world and the corporate world are so different. They both need each other because startups need the corporates as clients and the corporates need the innovation that startups are brining to the table. I think that’s why events like 4YFN and even hackathons we organize are a good starting point for bringing both entities together. An acceleration program can also be a way to bring them together. At the end of the day the mentors at theses acceleration programs are people who at some point had some relevant position in the corporate side. Their being excited about the projects that they are mentoring is one of the best ways to help get some deals or business for the startup.
4YFN is now in it’s 2nd year. After an incredibly successful first year, what do you have planned to make it even bigger and better this year?
This year we wanted to make sure we went in, first and foremost, with the best line-up possible because we want the conference to be a big draw of international investors, top speakers, etc to the city. But this year one area we’re pushing strongly is what we call the Innovation Market which is a completely new piece of 4YFN. We are doubling the amount of space we’re using to host the event. All of this additional space will be used for startups to have permanent exhibition space during the conference. This is because 4YFN has to become a business platform. If I look around the other top tech events in Europe, such as The Summit in Dublin and Le Web in Paris, they’re really awesome events with a good line up of speakers and investors coming out, which is a good opportunity for the startups. But what we can offer at 4FYN which is really different and something we want to build on is that we have all the mobile industry at the same time in city. Which means we can offer something that is very valuable to startups; exposure to the ones that are going to do business with. Which is why we’ve dedicated this space for them to meet with potential clients are partners, not just those who may invest in them.
I understand that startups will have an increased presence at this year’s conference. Do you see any interesting trends in terms of he types of startups participating?
There are some really interesting startups in IoT, besides wearables, many focusing on the core businesses of IoT. Another thing which we’re seeing more and more is about B-to-B companies in mobile. Up until now, many of the startups have been B-to-C and now we’re starting to see more and more in B-to-B. Another trend we’re seeing as well is providing solutions in the health sector. And, a final trend we’re seeing is in food and how mobile technologies connect with that sector. Of course fintech, security, payments continue to be big topics as well.
If you’re planning to pop down to Barcelona and would like to attend 4YFN 2-4 March, tickets, which continue to be quite reasonably priced, are still available here.