First University Startup Fest Held at HSE St. Petersburg
On June 24 – 28, HSE University – St. Petersburg hosted the International University Startups & Spin-Offs Festival (HSE Fest), which brings together students from across the world to pitch their startups for a one-time chance to win grants that will help them take their projects to the next level.
Festival participants networked and presented their startups to an international audience of representatives from both local, transnational Russian corporations that can help them enter the big Russian market, as well as successful entrepreneurs from the UK, Europe, and North America. This interaction provided students the opportunity to get both exposure and potential funding for their projects.
The five-day event consisted of six tracks that examined startup strategies and technological innovations from many standpoints: Digital Health; EdTech (educational technology); Neurotechnology; Startup Management; Growth Hacking and Marketing; and Fundraising and Financing Strategies.
A Week of Expert Insight
The festival kicked off with an opening ceremony in which Philip Kazin, Deputy Director of HSE University – Saint-Petersburg, delivered welcoming remarks. The days that followed featured talks by a wide range of invited experts, and, at the end of each day, participants got to go on a different cultural excursion, such a boat tour or a trip to the Hermitage.
The first guest lecturer of the Festival, Raman Kumar, CEO of Marketing Agency and Co-Founder of Qlean (Moscow), spoke about marketing tactics such as engaging Facebook micro-influencers to offering discounts to crucial players who offer assistance. Another invited expert, Robert Neivert, Venture Partner of 500 Startups (San Francisco, USA), talked about how to break into foreign markets and how it is important test your product locally.
Day 2 of the Festival focused on the ins and outs of interacting with customers and building a client base. Topics included how to attract potential customers via Facebook, how to build and use a pipeline (i.e., a visual representation of where potential customers are in the sales process), and the importance of simplifying your strategy. Day 3 featured talks about investment: participants learned how to raise capital for their startups, perfect the art of crowdfunding, and engage in dialogue with investors.
Day 4 focused on innovations in several of the fields in which students were launching startups—education, medicine and neurotechnology. A talk by Liubov Simonova-Emelyanova, a representative of Rostelcom, concluded the lecture series. Ms. Simonova- Emelyanova discussed the importance of having not merely an idea but an actual business plan, which includes identifying a problem and a solution, evaluating your market, and sizing up your competitors.
From Bullying to Artificial Intelligence: Teams Make Their Pitches
On Friday, June 28, the fifth and final day of the Fest, it was time for the student teams to pitch their startups. Participating teams hailed from the USA, Israel, the UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, Estonia and Russia—and their startups were just as wide-ranging as their places of origin.
Some projects aimed to combat social ills. Polaris Tools (San Francisco, USA), for example, uses technology to prevent abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of migrant workers in Asia and the Middle East. Another startup, Anya Berlova Designs (Denver, USA), Anya Berlova Designs uses technology to fight bullying by teaching children to stand up to it from an early age, and developing their values of self-confidence and individuality.
Other projects were more scientific. BeStraight (Novosibirsk, Russia) uses a virtual reality game to facilitate gymnastic therapy for people who suffer from osteochondrosis. Gridd.ai (Kristiansand, Norway) seeks to build a virtual AI-robot that will be revolutionize enterprise streamlining and digital transformation.
Each team had a time allotment of 10 minutes to tell how they were going to advance and commercialize their products. The startup projects were evaluated by an expert jury headed by Mikhail Oseevsky, President of Rostelecom company.
And the Winner Is…
The first prize and a grant of $10,000 went to the team from Tallinn University of Technology for their startup, Timey. The second prize (totalling $7,000) went to the team behind the uFraction8 project from Scotland, and the third prize ($5,000) was awarded to the team from Italy for their project, Artiness. In addition, two projects also received People´s Choice Awards: Timey and Annoto, a project from Israel.
The winning startup – Timey – produces chemical indicators aimed at ensuring that cooled food products are stored and transported at the right temperature. Their technology not only improves product quality maintenance; in case of any malfunction, it helps identify the stage at which it occurred in the supply chain. Thus, Timey technology helps to avoid disputes between the manufacturer and the vendor regarding the responsibility for product damages.
The second prize winner, uFraction8, helps bio-manufacturers who use biological cells in their production to dewater and concentrate biomass with a sustainable and scalable system that is more efficient than conventional filters and centrifuges. The third prize winner, Artiness, exploits augmented reality with 4D holograms in order to move beyond the limits of current clinical methodologies.
Upon being awarded the first prize, Tatiana Zaretskaya, one of the team members for Timey, talked with HSE News Service about what her team is going to do next. 'We are going to split the money into two parts,' she said. 'We’ll spend the first part on producing the stock of indicators, so that we can satisfy the needs of companies as quickly as possible. The second part will be spent on patenting. The Estonian market is not so large, so we want to enter the international market.'
While only three teams walked away with sizeable grants, all teams came away from the event with valuable knowledge that will help them take their startups further. 'For us the festival became a new starting point,' said Anastasia Telichko, a student of HSE University – St Petersburg and a member of the team 'Sphere'. 'Over the course of this week we deepened our understanding of how startups function at the very first stages, how to enter the business sphere, how to interact with clients and partners, and how to structure your project and present it in the best possible way.'
‘We’ve received important feedback from the experts,’ added fellow ‘Sphere’ team member, Anna Gomarteli, ‘Now, we understand what direction we should take for further development.'
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