This week, the 2017 Seedstars Summit will kick off in Lausanne, Switzerland – a weeklong conference that will convene some of the hottest up-and-coming tech startups from emerging markets around the world.
The Impact Beacon team is extremely excited to be attending this event. In the weeks leading up to the Summit, I had the opportunity to interview Alisée de Tonnac, the CEO and co-founder of Seedstars World and the Seedstars Summit.
The Background: A leap of faith
Only four years ago, Alisée was chasing quite a different corporate career – working for L’Oreal’s marketing team in Milan. Despite her initial belief that this was the right path for her, she soon developed a strong feeling that she could add more value to the lives of others if she were doing something else. As Alisée put it, “I had spent a lifetime building the perfect CV, and this hadn’t gotten me anywhere closer to feeling more meaningful.”
Ready and open to new opportunities, she sought out a career change, and through her personal networking she met Pierre Alain, Michael, and Benjamin, and was immediately enthused by their ideas for Seedstars. Alisée decided to take a leap of faith and join their crazy adventure of launching the organization, and she has never looked back since.
Growing the Seedstars Brand
The Seedstars motto has always been ‘keep it simple, keep it lean.’ The team bootstrapped everything from the start, but this minimalist strategy did not diminish their massive ambition. They wanted Seedstars to be a vehicle to connect people -mainly entrepreneurs- from around the world. Alisée described it as, “a platform where anyone can plug-in, and if you believe that technology and entrepreneurship are going to have an impact in emerging markets, then you can leverage us.” Their vision has remained the same throughout the last four years.
When people told them that they were foolish to try to build a competition in 20 countries in their first year, they went ahead and did it anyway. “We have been loyal to our way of doing, which it just to ‘try it.’ We will probably fail in the process but we’ll reiterate and we’ll make it better. And this is the philosophy with Seedstars. From day one we had a very big ambition of impacting change at a global scale, supporting entrepreneurs around the world, and becoming one of the biggest investors in the next few years,” Alisée explained.
The team was able to attract great talent to help them scale their idea, doubling in size almost every year. Alisée believes that this success was greatly due to their ‘why’ – the Seedstars objective is something that touches many people, and many people want to be a part of it.
What’s Next: Building a machine
Alisée enthusiastically described the current phase of Seedstars as one of “building a machine” – a machine that will help to support the growth and acceleration of promising entrepreneurial ventures around the globe.
Seedstars is in the process of launching a number of new projects, including an online platform to share all that they have learned in experience from their 65+ markets. They have also just launched:
- Seedstars Growth: an acceleration program that has already enrolled 10 companies
- Seedstars Academy: a 6-month internship program that focuses on accelerating local talent and supporting them to create companies. The program seeks out individuals who have the hunger to succeed and the hustling attitude, but not the same education, network, access to funding.
- Seedspace: co-working/co-living spaces they have begun to open, with the aim of having about 16 open in 2017-2018
- Seedstars Funds: investment funds so they can continue to invest in companies at later stages
What is even more impressive is that team has gone from five individuals to a team of 50, and Alisée predicts this will double in the next year!
The Summit – An event for like-minded individuals
The Seedstars Competitions are the cornerstone of the organization, and each year these culminate at the Summit in Switzerland. For Alisée, the Summit serves many purposes, and one is bringing together a community of like-minded individuals, all under one roof, to connect, share ideas and learn about the startup ecosystems that are growing in all corners of the globe. She placed a strong emphasis on the value of intercultural and intercontinental dialogue among entrepreneurs and attendees, as this highlights the diversity of the event. She also mentioned that there are few other events that can bring together so many entrepreneurs from emerging markets – “that’s our niche, really looking at the frontier markets of tomorrow.”
According to Alisée, many new places are popping up on the startup map that did not have a strong presence a few years ago. She sees exciting things occurring in Mexico and Columbia, which are rising markets. On the African continent she mentioned Nigeria and Egypt, and then in Asian she highlighted Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, which are now becoming part of the scene.
Seedstars aims to change the story of these new markets, and the Summit is a vehicle to do so. “Many people who were attendees last year were in awe to realize that there were such competent, dynamic, vibrant entrepreneurs coming out of these markets that they had only seen as disease, war, hunger stricken places,” said Alisée. The media always gives one side of the story, and Seedstars believes it’s their job to give the other side.
The aforementioned countries are among those that will be represented at the Summit this week, along with over 60 others. For entrepreneurs, this will be a chance to connect and learn from entrepreneurs working in both similar and different markets, as well as meet with potential investors. Last year Seedstars organized over 300 investor meetings during the week! The Summit is a meant for doing business and making investments, and the Seedstars team wants it to be a win-win for entrepreneurs and investors alike.
As for the Seedstars World Global Winner, Alisée admitted that choosing one company is very difficult and the process has its limitations. However, the choice is ultimately made based on which company is the best investment decision – taking into consideration the market scheme, scalability, pain point the company is solving, and the overall investment opportunities/background of investor. The chosen startup is one in which Seedstars and their investors are ready to make a large investment. However, even though there is one “global” winner, there are also prizes for innovation, the best female entrepreneur, and a number of others that are sector specific.
Words for the World
Alisée’s advice to entrepreneurs was quite brief, but it fits well with her personal experience and the experiences of entrepreneurs that she has come to know: “The biggest risk is not taking the risk.”
Stay tuned for our upcoming articles about the amazing entrepreneurs we will meet at the Summit!
To learn more about the event, visit https://www.seedstarsworld.com/summit/.