How mobile startups can ‘dream big’ at the annual Mobile World Congress, thanks to the 4YFN platform

The world’s leading industry event is a great place for mobile innovators to go global. Startup platform Four Years From Now (4YFN) connects hundreds of founders with mobile industry giants and investors each year.

Noaa Barak is Strategy Manager at Four Years From Now (4YFN), the startup business platform of the Mobile World Capital Barcelona Foundation. 4YFN hosts a mammoth startup pavilion during the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC).

In earlier analysis pieces, we focused on IoT payments, AI, security, wellness, agritech, KYC, design, and connectivity solutions of startups at MWC 2019. See also our five photo essays on networked robots, innovative startups, creative marketing, 4YFN pavilion, and government promotion.

Noaa joins us in this chat on startup participation and support at 4YFN, opportunities for mobile entrepreneurs, and ecosystem partnerships.

Edited excerpts of the interview:

YourStory: What is the scope and scale of innovation at 4YFN, and how does it support GSMA’s growth strategy?

Noaa Barak: 4YFN is a major source of innovation for large corporations attending Mobile World Congress. Over the years we have seen a shift from very mobile-centric innovation, into a general trend to innovate in the realm of everything connected. In that sense, our scope in terms of markets and verticals expands from one edition to the next.

While digital innovation is the main component, we at 4YFN witness its different applications in emerging markets such as 5G, connected car, fintech, as well as more traditional sectors such as retail and manufacturing.

YS: What was the founding vision of 4FYFN, and how is it supported?

NB: As its name suggests, ‘Four years from now’ was born with the mission of providing a stage for young startups with ground-breaking innovations that may be the next big thing in the digital industry in four years. We do this by providing startups an affordable way of getting involved and noticed within the context of MWC.

YS: How many startups participated in 2019?

NB: From the outset, 4YFN has always taken on an ecosystem approach, aspiring to gather under the same roof not only startups but also the key agents such as investors, corporate innovation programmes, and accelerators. At the 2019 Barcelona edition of 4YFN, we had 760 exhibitors, of which about 600 were startups and some 150 were different ecosystem players and delegations offering programmes and services aimed at helping startups succeed.

YS: What is the background of the managers of 4YFN?

NB: The 4YFN team is, like our startups, young, creative, and diverse. We work from different locations, including Barcelona, Shanghai, London and Los Angeles, and come from all over the world - Spain, France, Belgium, UK, Israel, China, Italy, and more.

Team 4YFN 2019

YS: What would you say are the top three opportunities for mobile entrepreneurs?

NB: Within the context of 4YFN, entrepreneurs have the unique opportunity to connect in a single event to leading corporations in the telecommunications industry. The hot topics for this industry currently, and where great opportunities await startups, are 5G, AI, and big data.

YS: What are the key challenges faced by startups in mobile space, and how can you help bridge the gap?

NB: While startups in the mobile space may encounter different challenges along various growth stages, a common challenge is access to a large user base and a real industry framework for validating their products and services. 4YFN helps bridge this access-to-market gap by bringing startups closer to corporations in a meaningful way that allows them to discuss synergies and assess a common ground for collaboration.

YS: What are the unique challenges for social entrepreneurs as compared to tech/business enterprises?

NB: Most startups delivering social innovation have a solid business-driven case. However, they sometime struggle to convince investors to view them as a business, rather than a charity act.

We like to think that 4YFN has helped these businesses succeed. One example is our Hack_D_Gap competition. This is a unique global challenge in which GSMA rewards innovative startups aiming to reduce the gender diversity gap within the tech industry. We have clearly seen how the finalists have been able to demonstrate that, while their mission and innovation may be social, they have a solid business case.

YS: What are the selection criteria for startups in 4YFN?

NB: We have a number of entry routes into 4YFN, including nomination by investors and competitions held throughout the year. That said, we always leave the door open to new independent ventures that may not be part of our traditional channels.

This “breaking silos” approach is to source ground-breaking innovations and help those who may be less connected to meet the right players and network. We are very proud of our role as an ecosystem facilitator in this respect.

YS: Who are some of your institutional partners, and what kinds of agreements are in place?

NB: We work with a host of international delegations from all over the world, including Japan, Colombia, South Korea, and Italy, and it is an area growing rapidly. We work with EU-wide institutions like Next Generation Internet. In Spain, we have relationships with almost every major institution. This year, for instance, the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX) brought 38 startups to 4YFN.

YS: What support and services do startups receive in 4YFN?

NB: The sky is the limit at 4YFN! Startups are offered a range of opportunities to connect to corporations and investors. For example, our pitching programme is curated and hosted by members of our investors club, providing additional exposure to those startups actively searching for investment.

YS: How would you differentiate 4YFN from other initiatives in the field?

NB: We are the only startup platform attached to the world’s leading mobile event, giving us a much broader reach into a deeply influential tech community. We also host events throughout the year around the world in Barcelona, Shanghai, and LA, which makes our platform more international. This year, we are also doing an event in Mexico City; in 2020, we will launch the xside experience with the world-famous music festival Sonar to explore the nexus of technology and creativity.

YS: What would you define as success for 4YFN?

NB: For us, success is building the startup ecosystem for a better future. Success is the startups we work with thriving!

One great example is our investors club member Inveready Technology Investment Group. They had a stroll around the event back in 2017 and met startup BoxMotions, who was preparing to scale their operations and raise their seed round. A year after, Boxmotions was part of Inveready's portfolio and closed a €1 million investment round.

YS: What are some notable startup deals during 4YFN this year?

NB: As in the example above, these deals take time to mature and are not to be rushed. The connections created at 4YFN lead to subsequent meetings and discussions with the actual agreements being announced at a later stage. We always recommend the community to follow our social media channels closely as that's the tool we use regularly to give visibility to such deals.

YS: How can better partnerships be forged between accelerators, industry, and universities?

NB: We think it is all about finding shared interests and agreeing on win-win collaborations. The 4YFN community club, through which we collaborate with tech hubs, accelerators/incubators, tech events, institutions, co-working spaces and universities, has been very successful in empowering entrepreneurship and innovation across the board.

YS: What are your recommendations or words of inspiration to the startups and entrepreneurs in our audience?

NB: One of our core values as part of the GSMA is to “dream big”. We encourage our startup community to aspire to make the world a better place and pave the way to having a real, positive impact on our lives!


Updates from around the world