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Calling all innovative ideas and solutions for Industry 4.0 (Sponsored)



Are you a trailblazer? A relentless innovator of industry 4.0? Then the i4Challenge is looking for you!

The i4Challenge offers a platform to help innovators promote their industry 4.0 product, service or idea. The i4Challenge, now in its 4th year, is open for applications until July 15, 2021.

The next phase of the industrial revolution is in full speed: Industry 4.0 embraces interconnectivity, automation, machine learning, real-time data, teams, organization and new business models. It’s not just about new technology and tools to improve efficiency – it’s about revolutionizing the way a business operates and grows while meeting customers’ and suppliers’ expectations. To foster this process and to promote innovative ideas and solutions that address challenges in the industry, Basel Area Business & Innovation launched the i4Challenge in 2018.

Who can apply?

There are three tracks for any stage of your innovation, so no matter if you are an SME, a startup, or in university, they have a place for you:

🏢 SME track: For those with sustainable industry 4.0 solutions or services.
🚀 Startups track: For ventures with existing Industry 4.0 solutions or services.
💡 New Ideas track: For students, intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs and tech teams.

What do winners receive?

Winners gain access to partners, exposure, collaborators and potential customers, the possibility of funding for their idea, a personalized mentoring program through Basel Area Business & Innovation and much more. Some of the happy winners include companies like No-Touch Robotics, NextDay.Vision for the SME and Startup tracks and Yvette Alleman for the New Ideas Track.

“Basel Area Business & Innovation has supported us since the i4Challenge 2018 and offers us access to its network. Being part of this community and benefiting from excellent workshops, conferences and events is a real advantage for us,”  said Philippe Kapfer, CEO of NextDay.Vision.

How do I apply?

It is very easy, simply visit and submit your application. They accept applications from Switzerland, Alsace France, and Baden-Württemberg Germany. For SME and Startups, they must be able to demonstrate a prototype or a product.

A prestigious panel of industry leaders will evaluate the submitted projects and ideas and select several to proceed to the finals.

If you’re curious to apply, visit the website to learn more, see list of past winners, full benefits list, and apply now before the deadline of 15 July, 2021. Good luck!

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Start Ups

Applications now open for the COVID-X acceleration programme! Using data-driven solutions to save lives (Sponsored)



COVID-X has announced the launch of their Open Call #2! Applications are now open for a unique acceleration programme in Europe, which will fast-track to market 15+ European data technology solutions, that are addressing COVID-19 challenges and facilitating an innovative stack of AI-driven tools in order to defeat the pandemic.

COVID-X Programme, supported by the European Commission under Horizon2020 programme, funds European companies and healthcare providers to boost 30+ data-driven solutions to the markets to overcome clinical challenges in diagnosis, prognosis, and follow-up. The funding is invested in solutions with TRL 7+ and [or in the process of] CE marking, covering two profiles: single solution (EU tech SMEs / Start-Ups) validating their solutions at one of COVID-X pilot sites; or team solution (Tech provider bringing in a healthcare provider that will validate the solution).

COVID-X involves a consortium of 10 prominent partners from 7 different countries: F6S, AUSTRALO, Civitta, Bosonit, Intrasoft, Eight Bells, UPM, Humanitas, SERMAS, Karolinska Inst.

The COVID-X Programme Open Call #1 closed on 27 January 2021, gathering 112 applications from data technology companies and healthcare providers coming from 29 different countries in Europe and beyond. In total, 16 selected single and team solutions were selected and are now completing the 1st Sprint of the programme.

What are the benefits?

The COVID-X Programme provides a tailored acceleration programme, organized in 3 sprints, of 3 months each. These include:

  • Funding
  • Technical coaching
  • Business mentoring sessions
  • Support in ethical issues
  • Piloting with healthcare organizations.

The 10-month programme aims to boost quick market uptake, to defeat COVID-19 with data solutions.

How can we apply?

Open Call#2 has a two-stage application process. In the first stage, the applicant’s eligibility and alignment with the selection criteria are assessed. All eligible applications access the 2nd stage where the complete application form with detailed information about the solution & implementation is required.

The Open Call#2 application is now open in this link. The deadline for the first stage will be on the 22nd of July 2021 (17:00PM CEST). Good luck!

Tips on applying

The COVID-X team invites you to join a series of webinars (free of charge) that will take place in June and July, which will cover the programme from application to technical requirements.

Experts from the consortium will present the programme and solve the questions you may have about applying:

  • June 22nd 12:00 pm CEST – COVID-X Open Call 2, Acceleration services, Application and selection Overview (30 min), Q&A (30 min).
  • June 23rd 12:00 pm CEST – COVID-X Technical Infrastructure Overview (30 min), Q&A (30 min).
  • June 24th 12:00pm CEST – COVID-X Clinical partners & datasets (30 min), Q&A (30 min).
  • July 13th 12:00 pm CEST – COVID-X Open Call 2, Application and selection Overview (30 min), Q&A (30 min)
You can register for the informational webinars, here.
For further information on COVID-X, please visit their website. Good luck!

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Vietnamese financial services app MFast gets $1.5M pre-Series A led by Do Ventures



MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

MFast, a mobile app that lets Vietnamese users in remote areas access financial services, announced it has raised a $1.5 million pre-Series A today. The round was led by Do Ventures, with participation from JAFCO Asia. 

Launched in 2019 by fintech company Digipay, MFast says it has been used by 600,000 people to date. It partners with financial institutions who provide services like loans and insurance, and says it has been used to distribute more than 50 billion VND (about $2.2 million USD) worth of products so far.

The majority, or about 75% to 80% of MFast’s users are in remote provinces or rural areas, which the company says often limits their access to banking and credit-related services. 

The funding will be used to expand MFast to more cities and provinces in Vietnam, develop its technology and partner with more institutions. MFast also plans to enter other markets in the future. 

MFast’s consumer credit partners include Mirae Asset, CIMB, Mcredit and Easy Credit, and its insurance partners include PVI, PTI and BSH. It claims to have a network of more than 350,000 advisors, who offers their services through the app, and that its data analysis tools are able to reduce bad debt and fraud rates. 

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GrowSari, a B2B platform for small stores in the Philippines, adds investors like Temasek’s Pavilion Capital and Tencent



Sari-sari stores are neighborhood stores in the Philippines that usually sell daily necessities and sometimes serve as community hubs, too. Today GrowSari, a startup that is digitizing sari-sari stores with features like pricing tools, inventory management and working capital loans, announced it has raised a Series B from several notable investors that brings its total funding to $30 million.

The company’s Series B is at a rolling close, so it has not announced a final amount. The $30 million total it has raised include its seed funding and Series A, which according to a July 2020 profile in Esquire Philippines was $14 million. Participants in its Series B included Temasek Holdings’ private equity unit Pavilion Capital, Tencent, International Finance Corporation (IFC), ICCP SBI Venture Partners and Saison Capital, and returning investors Robinsons Retail Holdings (which is part of the Gokongwei Group), JG Digital Equity Ventures and Wavemaker Partners.

GrowSari was founded in 2016, and says its B2B platform is currently used by more than 50,000 stores in over 100 municipalities on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest and most populated island. Its ultimate goal is to serve one million sari-sari stores.

According to GrowSari, there are more than 1.1 million sari-sari stores in the Philippines, and they account for 60% of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sold in the country, making them a valuable distribution channel for wholesalers. In addition to its supplier marketplace, GrowSari says it is able to give sari-sari store operators better pricing for products from about a thousand FMCG brands, including Unilever, P&G and Nestle, which it claims can help stores double their earnings. Other services in the app include online telecom and utility bill payments, remittance and microfinancing for working capital loans.

GrowSari’s founding tDeam includes Reymund Rollan, Shiv Choudhury, Siddhartha Kongara and Andrzej Ogonowski, who first launched the platform as a backend system for sari-sari stores to manage their logistics and inventory.

A screenshot of product categories in GrowSari's app

A screenshot of product categories in GrowSari’s app

Since most sari-sari stores are run individually, their margins are smaller than large retailers that can negotiate deals with FMCG wholesalers. GrowSari’s supplier marketplace addresses this issue by giving sari-sari stores access the Distributor List Prices seen by large stores and wholesalers. GrowSari’s marketplace does not require a minimum order, and it allows sari-sari stores on the platform to pay with cash on delivery, GrowCoins (or cash credits that can be topped up through GrowSari’s shippers, online transfers, banks or over-the-counter at convenience stores) or E-Lista, GrowSari’s seven-day loan product.

GrowSari’s new capital will be used to expand its userbase to 300,000 new stores in the Philippines, especially in Visayas and Mindanao, increase the size of its supplier marketplace and launch more financial products for sari-sari stores. The startup is part of a new crop of B2B platforms in Asia focused on serving micro to small-enterprises, including BukuWarung and BukuKas in Indonesia and Khatabook in India.

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4 ways to ensure success when talking to investors



In the highly competitive world of startup investment, having a brilliant idea is not enough to win over investors. Where the rubber really hits the road is in how your team executes on its mission and how you communicate that execution to investors. Angels, VCs, and institutional investors are accustomed to hearing ideas every day. In order to truly grab attention, you need to demonstrate that your team has the capabilities to turn an idea into an actionable, scalable business. 

Pitching is not only about what’s inside the pitch deck. In order to succeed, you will need to cut through the noise. Here are four ideas that will ensure you are putting your best foot forward when you finally sit down to talk with investors. 

Lead with purpose

In business, everyone wants to make money. Describing your startup as merely a powerful engine for profit is not going to bring today’s investors on to your side. In the startup world, growth and scalability go without saying. You need to also distinguish yourself and your team through your purpose and motivation. Answer the question, “Why?” for your audience. Tell a story to the investor to win them over – not only with your narrative but also by demonstrating your ability to sell your idea to customers, partners, and top talent to hire. 

They say that purpose is the new profit, and without a compelling purpose that gives meaning to your efforts, your pitch risks fading into the unwanted group of bland startups. At the same time, the story of your startup’s purpose, your answer behind the ‘why,’ is not simply a hammer that you take out to start pounding on nails. Purpose is first and foremost a journey of inner motivations. Being clear on your purpose will relax you and make it easier to describe all of the other parts of your business. Having a purpose that is aligned with fixing a real problem in the world can also give you an intensity and charisma that shines through everything you do. 

If you are preparing to raise money for your startup and you don’t have any clear answers to what your purpose is, consider taking a few moments to pause and possibly hit reset. The most successful startup entrepreneurs lead with purpose. Think of successful startups like AirBnB, Bolt, Spotify, UiPath, and Kahoot, and you can immediately also call to mind their purposes, their stories. The most successful startups tackle real problems and build customer relationships through a shared vision; figure out your company’s purpose if you want to be among them. 

Be the expert

While purpose will be the inner fire that runs your startup’s engine, most of your conversations with investors will be taking place on the level of the nitty gritty. Do not expect your investors to be your experts. They will be investing in your expertise in combination with your ability to execute on your vision. Investors should lend expertise occasionally from within their own fields, but you need to be the authority on the details of your business. 

Communicating a calm expertise about every facet of your startup will telegraph an infectious confidence during investor pitch meetings. This means demonstrating not only familiarity, but fluency in how your product functions, details of your target markets, specifics about what you’re asking for from investors, how you will use the funds you raise, and details about all the customer interviews and research you’ve done. The best pitches showcase startup solutions as a pain-point killer and not just a vitamin or, worse, a feature blowing in the wind.

Be the expert on your investor as well. Who else is in their portfolio? Do they have an investment specialty or focus? Do they have personal experience themselves as a startup founder? Some of this information can be used strategically, and some might just be handy to break the ice. Either way, don’t go into an investor conversation blind.

Think bigger

After you’ve established your burning fire of purpose and nailed down all the details that prove your expertise, it’s time to envision your narrative as large as you can possibly make it. Investors want to be excited about something and they especially want to be part of something that has a global impact. Investors love to hear you describe and quantify the size of the opportunity for the business. Speak their language on this and make sure you can back it up with market research.

Not every product or service is going to reach for this level, and not every company needs to be a unicorn. But you shouldn’t hobble yourself at the early stages simply because there isn’t enough money around. Don’t be afraid to create a big story for you and your team. 

On a practical level, this can mean not getting bogged down in product demos during your investment pitch. Rather than going through the details about how everything works at the product or service level (believe me, you will have enough time for it during your next meeting), focus instead on the business and markets that you hope to capture. It’s ok if your early-stage startup doesn’t have a ton of traction yet, as long as your roadmap has clear milestones and achievable time frames.

The pitch is a two-way street

Time is limited during a pitch meeting (or Zoom pitch), and it would be impossible to fit in your entire life story. Talking too much is a common first-time founder mistake. On average, the first meeting lasts 20-40 minutes. It might seem like you have enough time to talk about your product, but I’d recommend using that classic three-minute speech with slides, and leave 27 minutes for a Q&A. You are here to get to know each other, to listen and learn. 

You want to make your pitch simple, impactful, and assured, but don’t forget that you also need to ask some questions during your meetings with investors. You are trying to persuade these people to give you money, but if you play your cards right, they should  actually be persuading you about all the ways that they could help take your startup to the next level. Let them pitch to you! The best way to get investors talking is to simply ask questions. 

If you do get investors talking, remember to listen! These people might not be experts in your specific field, but they are experts in startup investment. Don’t be afraid to take notes. Ask follow-up questions when relevant. See if they can connect you with anyone else they might know from their own networks. Look at this conversation as a privileged chance to move up a level. And make sure to end the meeting with clear and actionable next steps.

Final thoughts to remember

Don’t wait until you’re out of money to begin fundraising. First-time startup founders are often surprised how long this process can take. Plan at least six to nine months, or you might find yourself in a desperate situation. 

Nobody can run a startup alone, and the team composition of founders and early employees can make a huge difference to investors. Try to tie in your team’s relevant experience and expertise as one of the cornerstones of your belief in future success.

Importantly, know what your main challenges are. Investors will likely ask about your perceived challenges, and it would seem silly to say, “nothing.” These are people that you will potentially go to for help for many future challenges, and it’s important they know you can be transparent.

It can be a lot to take in all at once, but remember to relax. If you’ve done your homework, are passionate about your product, and are comfortable with your team, you have all the necessary ingredients to produce a winning pitch and you will eventually raise the funds you need. 

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