More than 60 Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) dedicated to providing social impact in emerging markets gathered with investors and tech leaders in the Swiss city of Lausanne yesterday to compete for equity investment of up to $1,000,000 at the fifth annual Seedstars Summit.
This elite group of global entrepreneurs were chosen from more 6,000 SMEs that had applied to the Seedstars startup accelerator and competition.
Only six emerged as award-winning solutions in HealthTech, EdTech, FinTech and other categories. But after hearing the impassioned pitches and innovative tech solutions, you got the sense that any one of them could very well be the next entrepreneur to change the world.
From an app-based solution to optimize farmers’ supply chains in Ghana to a game-ified robotics and recycling educational solution from the UAE, to a web-based platform that improves the availability of medicines in Nigeria – the innovative solutions were as diverse as the entrepreneurs who joined the competition.
Innovation for social impact
The full-day programme at the Seedstars Summit at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Innovation campus was all about innovation for impact.
As the world’s largest event for SMEs in emerging markets, now in its 5th year, it has seen around 2,000 jobs created and has generated almost USD 100 million of revenue for social impact businesses.
Seedstars is proving that ‘doing good’ can be profitable.
Impact investing is on the rise. Nearly every wealth management firm has funds earmarked for impact investments. But how much money will be needed to end poverty, end hunger, or end gender inequality?
UNCTAD estimates that 5 trillion dollars of investment per year will be needed if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And the current investment gap is estimated at 2.5 trillion for developing countries. But as Seedstars proves, there is reason to be optimistic for the future of impact investing in the SDGs.
“You have impact investing and the rising power of entrepreneurs doing business with purpose,” says Alisée de Tonnac, one of the co-founders of Seedstars.
She is optimistic that a new wave of entrepreneurs will address challenges in ways never imagined before, and will will create wealth in their countries. “Millennials have similar views around the world. Entrepreneurs are more comfortable with technology. They are impatient… and these factors make them the drivers of change,” she continued.
Two sides of the coin: innovation and disruption
With new innovations in technology, business models are being reimagined the world over. Corporate giants are at risk of disruption.
Telecom giant, Zain, presented their corporate approach to innovation, believing firmly that they must ‘disrupt or be disrupted.’ To achieve this, Zain took a holistic approach to innovation and disruption, making it a key element across their business.
“To reach youth and to improve innovation within the organization… We changed to culture of innovation within the organization. And as a result, we have an identity with youth and are one of the most trusted brands… We are working to continually innovate from within.”
To foster innovation they launched the Zain innovation campus in Jordan – a dedicated facility to encourage entrepreneurship in the region and to promote a culture of innovation within the company.
Winning SMEs for a better world
Seedstars Summit rewarded the most promising start ups with cash prizes, partnership opportunities and more.
The top prize went to AgroCenta, a Ghanaian startup that is improving the livelihoods of farmers through fair trade and financial inclusion.
Other prizes included: The Energy Prize to Solar Freeze, a post-harvest solution for small holder farmers in Kenya that allows them to hold onto products until after the peak season.
The Transforming Education Prize was given to Edves in Nigeria – a startup that aims to make education relevant to the challenges we face.
The Fintech Prize was handed to FinChat, a mobile compliance solution.
The Health Tech Prize was given to Essential medical guidance, (EMGuidance), a mobile and web-based clinical support platform for medical professionals in South Africa.
While these SMEs were the ones walking out with prizes, it was clear that social impact entrepreneurs are on the rise and will be key to building solutions for the world’s greatest challenges.
By Theadora Mills