Payment startup wins GCC Pitch Challenge Final

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The Bridg team walked away with 20,000 euros at the GCC Pitch Challenge Final. (Images via GCC Pitch Challenge)

The team behind Bridg, a startup that enables payments via smartphones (and any other phone with Bluetooth), won the recent GCC Pitch Challenge Final. Bridg’s service doesn’t require a data connection. It uses mesh networks to enable transactions without the use of PINs or physical point of sale systems. Any seller may be connected to a customer even if they are offline. The company’s focus is on the millions of people in underdeveloped countries who don’t use banks. Bridg is aiming high, but the team is well-connected and experienced, two things that helped them win. Their concept was so interesting that people lined up during a break to see Bridg’s working prototype.

The GCC Pitch Challenge Final, organized by Startup MENA, an initiative powered by Venture Scout and funded by European Commission, was held in Dubai on April 29. The 12 startups from six countries were pressure-tested by experienced mentors to perfect their five-minute pitches in a workshop before the finals.

The winner was awarded a 20,000 euros cash prize and runners up were awarded access to conferences like Slush, Pioneers Festival and MENA Angel Summit. The winners were also fast-tracked for Startup Bootcamp’s accelerator programs.

Startup MENA’s ambitious goals have been covered before. The final event was the culmination of a long road trip that took the Venture Scout team to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. The 12 startups were evaluated by a seasoned group of judges that included Hasan Haider, CEO ofTenmou and Partner at 500 Startups; Jakob Kistorp, Founding Partner of VentureScout and Startup MENA; Elissa Freiha, Director of WOMENA; and Mona Defrawi, Managing Partner at IPOQuest.

Defrawi delivered the keynote opening address and focused on the IPO path for startups. “IPO is the next challenge in the value and job creation cycle for private and VC Funded companies,” she said. “Most of the value for shareholders and most of the jobs are created after IPO. But the VC industry is in a crisis since IPO timing has shifted that extends beyond the normal fund cycle of seven years. We need to fill the gap for the value to be materialized.”

Venture Scout Partner Kirstop noted the difficulty of selecting the best startups from six countries and 400 applications, and thanked the various partners like Sirdab Labrukn.meIn5, Katara, Flat6Labs and KAUST. For Kirstop the regional selection and the final created a tangible impact. ”I sincerely hope that all the startups, not only the ones that were pitching at the finals, but also the ones we met at the regional finals felt that they got a really valuable experience out of it,” he said. “Having local mentors meet local startups is key to building an ecosystem and something that we have seen over the years really pay off in the long run, as it builds a culture of mentorship and the community grows closer.”

Entrepreneurs pitched their startups to a panel of investors and experts. 

Bridg wasn’t the only company to walk away with a prize.

Runners-up Falconviz of Saudi Arabia, and ShopShopMe of the UAE will get the opportunity to go to the Slush Conference.

Falconviz is a construction sector solution provider that uses proprietary software and drones that they built to map and monitor construction processes, many of which haven’t changed in thousands of years even while time frames have shrunk dramatically. Drones enable this fast moving and fast building market get accurate and reliable data to better plan and build large projects. Serving a multi-billion dollar market is one of the advantages of the international team from KAUST.

Simply referred to as the “Google for Shopping Research,” UEA startup Shopshopme connects online and offline stores with customers. It also connects social sellers from sites like Instagram by crawling ecommerce platforms. They also added a “cam search” to find the products in printed magazines and redirect smart ads to the ecommmerce pages. The startup already raised around $1 million from angels and institutional investors and is not only acquiring customers in Dubai, but around the world.

The startups also mentioned a few key take aways. “The event gave me a motivational boost,” said Eat App’s Nezar Kadhem. “I need better metrics, larger number of restaurants. I learned a lot from the mentors, some said we need to move faster and others simply opened up the doors to prospect clients,” he added. “I am now on a sales mission to grow client base. This is mainly because of the ‘move quick’ advice I got from the event.”  

For Boxit cofounder Premlal PK, the key advantage of the event was networking on a regional level. “We came to the finals to interact with other startups and investors to get our name out,” he said. “We think we have achieved that goal. It was my personal goal to take out my stage fear and present our idea in front a great audience and I think I have achieved that too. The prize money and everything related to that was, honestly, secondary to us.”

For investor participants like Ivo Detelinov of Riyadh's TAQNIA Fund, these events are important because “...such competitions lay the foundations of the emerging VC ecosystem and reassure that there is quality deal flow when at the same time entrepreneurs feel recognized and get attention.”

When asked about the quality of the startups, investor participant Ahmad Takatakh from Arzan Venture Capital said he was satisfied with the overall result: “the quality of the startups was really impressive. They all did a great job in presenting their startups. It’s always good to get out of the building to talk to customers, here they are going the extra mile by getting out of the country to talk to customers, peers, and investors.”

To learn more about the 12 startups that participated click here.

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