Local solutions for local problems – Seedstars Suva

The second of three events, being held in the Pacific region by Seedstars, in partnership with the GSMA and supported by the Australian Government, began on 13 August in Suva, Fiji. As before, there were two days of a bootcamp for local start-ups, followed by a pitching competition. We’d like to share our experiences from this event, which will soon be followed by the third of the series, in Samoa in September.

The strength of regional mentorship

For the first two days, the start-ups receive expert advice and support from a range of mentors. Three of those were regional and all from the fintech industry:

• Paul Ark, Managing Director of Digital Ventures, launched and manages Siam Commercial Bank’s $100 million FinTech venture capital fund; and
• Nat Wittayatanaseth, Investment Manager of Beacon Venture Capital and Pisey Chan an InsureTech Specialist both work with Fintech Ventures.

This emphasis on fintech was particularly relevant given that UNCDF’s Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP), co-sponsor of the event, focus on the financial services industry in the region.

The other mentors that participated included the Seedstars team, our own GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Market Engagement Manager, Kaung Sitt, PFIP, Catalpa (international development consultants) and members of senior management from local businesses.

Mike Greig, CEO of Digicel Fiji, also spent two afternoons with us as a mentor and speaker on the panel.

Gender balance in focus

When it came to the third and final day, six out of the eight start-ups that pitched are either founded or co-founded by women. If this balance is a reflection of Fiji’s technology ecosystem, it truly showed in the jury and the panel of speakers, both of with featured women leaders from the industry and public sector.

This is an important and welcome departure from the all too familiar norm of male-dominated start-up C-suites.

The start-ups and their solutions

From tracing fish, to land surveys, to growing mushrooms – there was true variety and ingenuity in the pitches on the third day. Here are some of the start-ups that presented and the one that won:

  • EcoConscious reduces waste from everyday items by providing eco-friendly alternatives. Their longer-term goal is to develop a supply chain of eco-friendly products within Fiji.
  • Mama’s Mushroom’s founder understands the challenges of women-led households, given her experience as a single mother supporting her whole family on a single income. The start-ups mushroom growing kits are provided free of charge to women-led households. The cost is recouped by buying back the mushrooms at reasonable prices and selling them to local households and hotels at healthy margins, which are still significantly below the price of imported produces.
  • The winning position went TraSeable Solution, which was founded by a husband and wife team who are from the fishing industry, with backgrounds in compliance and technical roles. Their solution, which allows small and medium fishing businesses to trace their produce using blockchain technology, has been deployed in the region with an initial small number of users. The team employs both of the only two certified blockchain developers in the country and have a strong team to back them up.

All participants should be recognised for their innovation, enthusiasm and willingness to learn and grow.

Global solutions aren’t always the answer

The main theme to come from the panel discussion was all of these innovative solutions built in Fiji are built out of necessity, as local problems can’t be solved by global solutions.

The local tech talent is best equipped to understand and deliver answers to the questions the region faces, especially given the true proximity of the Pacific to the climate crisis. Maybe it is time for Fiji to shine in the global tech ecosystem, showcasing the real potential of the Pacific region.

The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator team will be looking forward to seeing what the start-ups from Samoa will be bringing to the final Seedstars event in the Pacific series. To learn more, read our previous announcement blog for these events, or apply to attend Seedstars Apia.

The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.

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