For the last few days I was invited to the beautiful city of Lausanne, Switzerland and the EPFL campus for mentoring with a focus on SAAS, Chatbots and Conversational Interfaces at the Seedstars World Summit. I was not only amazed by the stunning views of lake Geneva and the still snowy mountain tops, but even more by the incredible passion and entrepreneurial spirit of all participants of the summit.

Let me break down the participants:

  • 69 start-ups from emerging markets who left their regional competition behind came to Lausanne for a week to create connections to businesses, mentors and, most importantly, to each other.
  • 60+ mentors both from Switzerland and abroad (some were traveling from as far as Manila, Philippines!) supported these start-ups on their challenges and provide them with guidance
  • 96 members and volunteers of the Seedstars family helped to ”keep it swiss” (ensure everyone is on time) and make certain everyone had a great time.
seedstars - years of shaping the future together in emerging markets
Photo credit: Seedstars

Day 1 – Hosting the SAAS business services mentoring session

I was selected to host the session SAAS business services (especially bots and plugins) together with Stefan Ehrhardt from Google. We were given a tight schedule and a few topics to focus on for the five 75 minute sessions we had together with our very diverse set of 5 start-ups :

  • SatisMeter – a customer satisfaction measurement tool from the Czech Republic
  • Kiwix – an offline internet for people that are faced with no or bad internet connection or censorship from Swizerland/France
  • Widebot – a bot builder platform and arabic NLP provider from Egypt
  • VdoCipher – an end to end video hosting platform from India
  • Eve.calls – a voice service that can handle outbound and inbound calls from the Ukraine

While it was a challenge for us to keep it relevant for all teams and making sure to spend equal amounts of time on the individual topics, the diversity also brought many different perspectives to the table. The unique ways in which these entrepreneurs are tackling the challenges of acquisition and activation, customer retention and growth not only gave the other start-ups good ideas, but also left me full of inspiration.

After the day, Seedstars gathered all mentors to collect feedback which they received very well and already applied on the next day. The first day concluded with a delightful mentors dinner, where all the mentors had the chance to get to know each other and share experiences. I had the pleasure of making connections to many pioneers in their fields, such as Joseph de Leon, Steffen Kellner, Bracken Darrel, Vincent Tresno, Stefan Dobrev, Jon Attwell – and many others.

CEO Christoph Bitzner in a 1:1 mentoring session
Photo credit: Seedstars

Day2 – 1:1 mentoring sessions

On the second day start-ups were able to  select a mentor to talk about their businesses and obstacles in 1:1 meetings. Each start-up had 60 to 75 minutes to explain what they are tackling, gather feedback and enjoy a spirited discussion on what is coming next.

The 4 start-ups I met with were:

  • tootle – a 2wheeler based ride sharing solution from Nepal
  • Saipos – a cloud based POS system for the food industry in Brazil
  • Tunga – an AI and NLP provider from Mongolia
  • Payit – peer to peer payment provider from Mexico.

I was as much humbled for being chosen as a mentor, as I was impressed by hearing the different backstories of the founders and their ideas and experiencing the passion with which they are working hard to reach their goals, despite being faced with many obstacles. Interestingly enough, none of these start-ups where there to win the grand price on the summit day, but much rather to enhance their businesses through ideas, feedback and new connections.

My takeaways:

  • The solution often lies in asking the right questions. Most of the time you cannot provide an absolute solution to a challenge they might face. Instead, ask for “Which process can I use to tackle challenge X?”. This holds even more value when you are mentoring a start-up from a market you have basically no clue about.
  • Strategy is nothing without cultural awareness and an understanding of your local customers.
  • The way of entrepreneurship provides value everywhere.
  • Chatbots and conversational interfaces are not just a phenomenon of the northern hemisphere. Great start-ups utilize them all over the world.
  • From the organizers to the mentors and start-ups. All people I talked to, where incredibly open minded, receptive to feedback and appreciation.
  • Start-ups in emerging markets focus much more on solving “real” problems and convenience often just automatically comes with it. The quality of the start-ups was high across the board and I am certain all of them have a chance to create a big impact.

My gratitude goes out to Seedstars for inviting me and giving me the chance to pass on learnings and to share my experiences. And thus, after two days of countless impressions and intense conversations I hopefully provided useful guidance for a few start-ups on their journey to success. It was a pleasure to meet so many passionate entrepreneurs, who inspired and motivated me to contribute even more to the startup-community in Austria and all around the globe.