Chatting with the winners of CODE_n CONTEST 2018
Out of more than 300 startup applications from every corner of the globe, the Top 50 most progressive game-changers were live on stage at this year’s new.New Festival, pitching their digital business models and competing for the CODE_n CONTEST Awards. From blockchain, to virtual reality and natural-language processing, three young companies from three different countries succeeded in winning over the jury with their pioneering technologies. After extending our congratulations to these inspiring entrepreneurs, we took the opportunity to chat with them about their personal experience at the new.New Festival and their near-future business goals.
Iulia: Looking back now, why was it important for you as a startup to be at the new.New Festival?
Katie Sedat, VP of Marketing, Airfox: At Airfox, we are unlocking the value of technology for the 99% who deserve a shot at economic stability. The new.New Festival provided a valuable platform to share our vision with an audience of international innovators. The startup landscape is incredibly competitive, and the CODE_n pitch competition tested our business model head-to-head against the world’s top 50 startups. By supporting our goal of providing inclusive financial services to emerging markets, the new.New Festival was a tremendous way to not only heighten awareness of the Airfox brand on an international scale, but also learn from a diverse set of visionaries who are exploring the possibilities of blockchain and cryptographic trust.
Mark N. Goldfarb, CEO and Co-Founder, Sixdof Space: As a young startup, with a technology that is unique and different from other solutions that are currently available on the market, it is challenging for us to get our name and our technology in front of all our potential partners and customers and connect with a global audience. At the new.New Festival, CODE_n offered us the opportunity of literally hundreds of 1:1 high-level interactions, all within only three days.
Sven Körner, CEO and Co-Founder, thingsTHINKING: We were impressed with the outstanding quality of the meetings and visits to our booth. Also, thanks to the unique setup at the new.New Festival, we got to know many other great startups and made friends with entrepreneurs from the US.
Iulia: What impressed you most at the new.New Festival? What was in your opinion the highlight of the event?
Katie Sedat, VP of Marketing, Airfox: Speaking with other blockchain thought-leaders was very inspiring, but I must admit that winning the CODE_n grand prize was our overall festival highlight! This recognition for Best Business Model and Best Startup from respected industry judges reinforces the Airfox mission of accelerating financial inclusion through technology. Airfox engineers have been working around the clock to drive adoption of the Airfox app and our cryptocurrency AirToken, and this big win was energizing for the entire team. Additionally, we are proud to donate part of the prize money to sponsor financial education courses focused on economic empowerment.
Mark N. Goldfarb, CEO and Co-Founder, Sixdof Space: For us, the highlight is simple: winning the Best Tech Innovation Award, but we really enjoyed the exclusive event on the Sunday evening before the official festival kick-off (the pioneers’ dinner). It brought together many people, from many different organizations, and offered us the opportunity to connect with people from the business, government, and startup scenes in a relaxed setting. We were also highly impressed by the dramatic, modern layout and style of the exhibition booths – someone had clearly worked hard on this!
Iulia: Did you expect to win the CODE_n Award?
Katie Sedat, VP of Marketing, Airfox: In all honesty, we didn’t expect to win at first. Building a startup is not an easy endeavor, especially when social impact is integrated into your business model. We knew that our company might be at a disadvantage in the competition because Airfox is committed to affecting social change, rather than simply focusing on maximizing profits. In October, Airfox departed on a journey across the Atlantic to spread the word about our global mission to combat financial exclusion within emerging markets. When Airfox was nominated a Top 10 startup, we thought we might actually stand a chance of winning.
Mark N. Goldfarb, CEO and Co-Founder, Sixdof Space: We came to the new.New Festival to exhibit and meet companies, without the intention of winning any awards. Once the CODE_n CONTEST got underway, we were hopeful of being in the Top 10, if only because we were one of the few contestants among the 50 entrants working on hardware. We knew we were innovative, but we never imagined that we would receive such clear confirmation.
Sven Körner, CEO and Co-Founder, thingsTHINKING: Not at all. We went there like going to the Olympics and I personally had many other startups on my own list of possible winners. As a matter of fact, having a B2B focus doesn’t help when it comes to winning awards. Our use cases may not be as catchy as some classic B2C use cases, so they’re harder to judge. We set out to use the new.New Festival as a recruiting platform to attract talent and interested students. That worked perfectly, and especially female applicants showed up at our booth.
Iulia: Did you enjoy any particularly fruitful exchanges with festival partners, startups or visitors?
Katie Sedat, VP of Marketing, Airfox: This festival achieved its goal of bringing together those passionate about tech and entrepreneurship. From conversations with students asking insightful questions to an industry expert sharing skepticism, we learned something valuable from every person we spoke to. As Airfox continues to grow, any chance to learn from other business leaders will help us scale and unlock growth opportunities. Furthermore, we know there are many difficult barriers to success with our goals, and I appreciated talking with angel investor Karl-Heinz Haegele. He’s had experience working with companies with similar plans and had some really useful pointers on things to look into which I shared with the rest of the team.
Mark N. Goldfarb, CEO and Co-Founder, Sixdof Space: Definitely. First of all, we enjoyed working with the CODE_n team organizing the event. We also got in touch with partner companies, other startups, and many of the visitors. We’ve followed up with many of them and we look forward to seeing if a handful or so will develop into some sort of collaboration.
Sven Körner, CEO and Co-Founder, thingsTHINKING: Our neighbors from Rosey (USA) were very funny, and we also had some interesting discussions with the people from Daimler’s Startup Autobahn.
Iulia: How did you participate in the interactive sessions held at the new.New Festival (e.g. workshops, panel discussions, Q&As)?
Katie Sedat, VP of Marketing, Airfox: The new.New Festival featured countless interactive sessions that provoked thoughtful conversation in the international startup community. My personal favorite was the one on the macroeconomics of blockchain. I joined industry experts from Daimler Financial Services and Blockchain Factory on a panel discussing tokenization and the future of securitization. With startups setting historical precedents for crypto, it was inspiring to exchange ideas on how blockchain could be the breakthrough that finally allows for a truly open, safe financial system for all.
Sven Körner, CEO and Co-Founder, thingsTHINKING: We had one interesting panel discussion with Thomas Jarzombek, member of the German Parliament, on Ethics in AI. Other than that, we were fully booked out with meetings during the day, even at our booth.
Iulia: Could you share with us the key lessons you learned at the new.New Festival and CODE_n CONTEST?
Katie Sedat, VP of Marketing, Airfox: With any startup, it can be easy to get locked in to one way of operating. Hearing from such a diverse group of startups at the new.New Festival provided my team with new business perspectives that we can use to scale the Airfox platform. The new.New Festival was also the first time I had the opportunity to get on stage and pitch a company. I learned a lot about myself and overcoming a bit of my stage fright – which is strange considering my background in theater. However, the crowd, organizers, and other presenters put me at ease. I discovered that I am capable of presenting on stage and I now look forward to future opportunities.
Mark N. Goldfarb, CEO and Co-Founder, Sixdof Space: What I got out of the event was the impressive number of machine manufacturers based in Germany that participated. As our technology includes industrial tracking, this was very useful for us. Even though there wasn’t an extremely high volume of visitors, the quality really made up for it!
Sven Körner, CEO and Co-Founder, thingsTHINKING: Never underestimate the color green! (smiles)
On a more serious note, I think it’s great to see that the big players and companies are slowly grasping the idea of collaborating with startups rather than building up walls and trying to protect what’s about to get disrupted anyway. The big principle is: Get real or go home! Or: You think changing is hard? Try losing significance…
Iulia: What would your advice be to startups submitting an application to the next round of the CODE_n CONTEST?
Katie Sedat, VP of Marketing, Airfox: For the CODE_n CONTEST written submission: Startups must keep their responses concise. Space to tell your story is limited, so focus on communicating your vision and value clearly. CODE_n asked us to detail the problem our startup is solving, why it needs solving, and how our technology addresses this problem. Our strategy was to include points of information in the real word to support our responses. For example, we included metrics such as the number of users or market potential, and we detailed our competitive edge. It’s also important to define your technology approach and 12-month strategy in the submission.
Mark N. Goldfarb, CEO and Co-Founder, Sixdof Space: Think very carefully about how you describe your company in the application form. This year, the text was printed on the wall of our booth; the visitors read it and decided whether we were relevant to them or not.
Sven Körner, CEO and Co-Founder, thingsTHINKING: Just do it – there’s no harm in that! The CODE_n team is great and fun to work with, and the networking benefits can be tremendous. Make the best of your time and make sure you set up meetings in advance. Don’t just go there and expect the world to show up at your doorstep. It doesn’t work that way. But if you proactively engage with customers and visitors … well, it’s a meeting place with high-ranking people who can make the right decisions, not just students, which some people say they fear when talking about CODE_n.
Iulia: We’re also curious to know more about upcoming developments in your company. What are your next steps? How are you planning to grow your startup?
Katie Sedat, VP of Marketing, Airfox: Airfox is focused on the mass adoption of blockchain-powered payment systems through collaboration. Our engineering team is building a mobile banking system based on data science and blockchain to accelerate financial inclusion. Our next step will be to collect hundreds of transactional and mobile usage data points and leverage machine learning to create a more dynamic credit model that enables us to provide more affordable microloans. In parallel, Airfox is building a platform that will allow people all around the world to fund these loans through our AirToken cryptocurrency. In the years ahead, Airfox plans to transfer its vision to surrounding markets across Latin America.
Mark N. Goldfarb, CEO and Co-Founder, Sixdof Space: We’re continuing to develop and improve our technology. We currently have three live pilot integration projects and are in discussions with others. We’re looking to be on the market during the first quarter of 2019. Funding is challenging – but as we have a great product and an outstanding team, we expect to meet this challenge!
Sven Körner, CEO and Co-Founder, thingsTHINKING: We’re currently working on our series A financing. CODE_n already helped us grab the attention of investors as well – obviously they all read the press. Also, customers were faster to decide after seeing us in the media fallout after the new.New Festival. Then again, winning a prize with the word “disruptor” in it might have helped quite a bit!
Short descriptions of the winners
Airfox (USA), Best Business Model and overall winner, extends critical financial services to billions of unbanked and underbanked people, bringing financial inclusion to underserved populations around the world. Airfox’s Android app facilitates easy cash deposits, microloans, and more.
A breakthrough in both speed and accuracy, winning this year’s CODE_n “Best Tech Innovation” Award, Six Degrees Space (Israel) has created a new optical tracking system technology for VR and a variety of other sectors. Combining optics, electronics and algorithms, Six Degrees Space offers the device the market has been waiting for.
Winning the “Industry Disruptor” CODE_n Award, thingsTHINKING (Germany) runs comprehensive and precise NLP/NLU analyses similar to the way a human agent does, combining graph-based knowledge (top down), deep learning (bottom up) to overcome the obstacles both technologies encounter if used in isolation.