The Ecosystem Accelerator team’s takeaways from Mobile World Congress and 4YFN 2018

From 25 February to 2 March 2018, the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator team took part in Mobile World Congress and 4YFN in Barcelona. Both events gathered over 107,000 attendees from 205 countries. While capturing all of the developments in a short blog might be difficult, we have put together some of the big themes and announcements that resonate with the work of the Ecosystem Accelerator programme.


Biggest themes at 4YFN: Corporate-start-up collaborations and Women4Tech

This year 4YFN convened its biggest crowd yet, with over 20,000 attendees and more than 600 start-ups from over 45 countries.

The Ecosystem Accelerator programme had a booth to showcase our work, including our newly announced portfolio of 24 start-ups from across Asia Pacific and Africa. The booth enabled us, and our portfolio start-ups, to engage with the global tech ecosystem. It was also an opportunity to communicate about the third round of our Innovation Fund which opened for applications on 12 March.

Women4Tech appeared as one of the key themes at 4YFN, with a number of workshops and sessions focused on empowering women in technology. Aline Santos (EVP for Global Marketing and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Unilever) revealed Unilever Foundry’s recent research that shows gender bias exists at every stage of the start-up life cycle with 4 in 10 female founders admitting to frequently encountering gender bias while running their start-up. One of the core messages from the Women4Tech sessions was that diversity in tech is not only a matter of social justice but also an economic imperative and a driver of innovation.



As was the case last year, collaboration between corporates and start-ups was a central theme at 4YFN in 2018. Match-Maker Ventures, co-authors of our Opening Doors report, ran a session called “A corporate beginner’s guide: How to engage with start-ups successfully. During the workshop, Nicolai Schaettgen (CEO of Match-Maker Ventures) highlighted that corporates – including mobile operators – looking to maximise their start-up engagements need to understand that they will not always get it right at first. Instead, corporates must have an aligned understanding of their “why” to maximise their chances of success. Echoing this point, Andrea Rosen, Chief Innovation Officer at Cube, ran a session titled “Corporates And Start-ups Collaborations: Don’t Believe The Hype!”, during which she advised corporates to fix their internal structures in order to set an environment which is conducive for innovation with start-ups.



Mobile operators are teaming up to collaborate with start-ups across the globe

Dovetailing from the previous point on corporate-start-up partnerships, one notable observation from MWC was the growth of mobile operator-start-up partnerships. It was very encouraging to see that one of the conversations that the Ecosystem Accelerator programme instigated at MWC 2017 led to the birth of a partnership between Orange and Axiata. The two mobile operators announced during MWC 2018 their joining of forces as they launch a digital API platform across their operations (see our report on APIs for some background on the operators’ work on APIs prior to this partnership).

Similarly, Go Ignite, a network of four mobile operators open innovation arms (Orange Fab, Telefonica Open Future, Singtel Innov8 and Deutsche Telekom hub:raum) announced their third global call for growth stage start-ups with market-ready solutions. Successful start-ups will gain access to mentorship, expertise, contacts, office space, event support, as well as access to a combined market of more than 1.2 billion customers across Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Australia.

Another development on this topic came from a Kenya-based edtech start-up, Eneza Education, which works with multiple mobile operators across Africa. Eneza, with its first mobile operator partner, Safaricom, won a GSMA GLOMO Award for their co-branded product Shupavu 291, a study tool accessible on basic mobile phones, which allows learners to access Kenya National Curriculum aligned lessons via SMS. We were glad to feature this service and its local impact in Kenya through a video published last year: The Power of Mobile Operator APIs: Eneza Education, Kenya.




GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator portfolio start-ups at Mobile World Congress

MWC was an exciting week for the Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund portfolio start-ups. Beyond the booth highlighting our portfolio and after announcing the 15 new start-ups joining our Innovation Fund on Monday that week, a number of the teams from the 24 start-ups supported by our programme were able to display their work and achievements through various sessions.

Six start-ups including eSewa, Kytabu, Optimetriks, Biscate, Prepclass and Raye7 were offered the opportunity to pitch at one of MWC’s showcase stages. Beyond the pitches, this session offered the start-ups founders a chance to connect with various industry stakeholders.



The respective founders of Prepclass and Ruangguru were invited to speak about the role of mobile technology in expanding and improving access to educational content for families in need during Ministerial Programme (an invitation-only event targeted at senior leaders from government and industry to come together and explore the policies and actions needed to create a better future through mobile). For more about Ruangguru, see our latest video case study: “Meet our portfolio start-ups: Ruangguru, Indonesia”)



Twiga Foods’ CTO Caine Wanjau also spoke at a GSMA Mobile For Development seminar in a panel titled “Payments As A Platform: Unlocking The API Economy And The Future Of Digital Innovation” where he could highlight their work with Kenyan mobile operator Safaricom. Twiga Foods was also selected to pitch during the MWC competition “Innovation: Battle of start-ups and ended up winning the jury’s votes.




We would like to end this blog with a word to thank the teams of the 13 start-ups from our portfolio that joined us for this week at 4YFN and MWC, namely the teams of Biscate, eSewa, Field Buzz, Joonaak, Kytabu, Lipa Mobile, Optimetriks, Prepclass, Raye7, Ruangguru, SudPay, Tootle and Twiga Foods.


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