MWC and 4YFN once again brought close to 100K people and the latest tech to Barcelona. From robot dogs and alcohol-free Vermut to a giant Hyperloop mock and smartphones seemingly defying physics, it’s been one fascinating show. And while there’s been some fun Twitter banter on whether it’s really MWC pulling the crowds or rather 4YFN, the truth is: They both play a major part in putting Barcelona on the global tech map once a year.
Of course, Barcinno has been in the thick of it. Natasha & I (Clemens) walked 500 miles that week to scout as many tech gadgets, startups and events as humanly possible. Spoiler alert: One person alone can’t check out everything. We still tried though, so read on for our best picks.
Best local startup
As somebody who is very passionate about the blockchain space – and knows that the industry also has a lot of nonsense projects – I just love what Freeverse do. Whilst most NFT projects are really just a waste of time and money, Freeverse is one of the few that solves an actual use case beyond art collectibles. They create Living Asset NFTs that evolve and appreciate in value, with unlimited scalability according to how they are actually used. Translation: They create digital assets, a kind of NFT 2.0, that changes over time based on user interactions and other factors. This makes their NFTs an incredibly powerful tool for boosting engagement, with lots of clients already working with them to do just that.
Bioo is a startup that creates electricity from nature. Yes, this is actually possible, and an amazing innovation with a greener future in mind. In simple terms, they use batteries to collect electrons from decomposing organic substances in the ground. Bioo’s other product, which was on display at MWC and served as a lovely jungle-esque escape, is a plant switch. A single touch to one of the succulent’s leaves can activate lights, sounds, and screens by perceiving frequency changes that it converts into a voltage. Seriously cool.
Natasha’s honorable mentions: LogMeal (identifies and logs food items and even full, cooked meals from a photo instead of entering them manually) and Flamme (previously Spark, a couples app), and Union Avatars (3D avatars for the virtual world that we got to have a go at creating).
Best foreign startup
- Clemens’ pick: FINcredible (Austria)
- Natasha’s pick: Petnow (South Korea)
A lot of times, it’s not the most flashy startup that wins. It’s the one that has the best team and focus. FINcredible, with their instant digital credit check solution, tick all the boxes. As an academic spin-off, their team consists of leading experts who know their stuff. They identified a specific, real pain and are solving it with surgical precision, as evidenced by their strong client base. Oh and by the way, the current economic climate will make their solution even more relevant in the near future.
On another note, Natasha and I both learned that apparently dog’s noses are like human fingerprints: unique and usable for ID verification. Petnow leverages that and provides AI-driven pet biometric ID for dogs and cats on mobile phones, replacing losable tags and expensive microchips while adding an extra layer of security.
Special mention to Grover (Germany) and refurbed (Austria) for solutions that help with sustainability but which I didn’t include as they are already better known.
- Clemens’ pick: Oppo Find N2 Flip
- Natasha’s pick: Motorola Rizr (rollable concept smartphone)
While Nokia’s repair-friendly phone deserves a mention and brought nostalgia, Oppo’s smartphone was my favorite. I tested all the flagship devices and most of them were either clunky, slippery, or too large. So as companies race to make screens bigger, Oppo delivered a very compact version that brings the best of both worlds – large screen size and ease of transport/the ability to fit in your pocket.
Motorola’s Rizr, meanwhile, doesn’t actually exist: It’s a fascinating smartphone concept giving us a glimpse of the future. Will the screen roll-outs take over the tech industry completely? Maybe. My wild prediction: smartwatches with rollout screens will eventually make smartphones a thing of the past. Is that a good thing? Maybe not – we already struggle to put our devices aside, so imagine how tricky that would be with a watch that’s on you all the time. At least it means it will be harder to lose it.
Most fun tech gadget
- Clemens’ pick: LG Imprintu
- Natasha’s pick: Solum (Samsung spin-off) fitness-tracking headphones
Loved LG’s surprising entry with Imprintu – a portable temporary tattoo printer that works on skin, paper, and textile. You just connect it to your phone, select one of the available tattoo designs and in literally seconds you get your print. Of course, I had to test it: Got a penguin tattoo (Why? Because they rock) and it worked like a charm. The bad news: Apparently it will only be available in Asia and the US later this year, so we may have to wait to get it in Spain.
Natasha also loved the Imprintu (and came away with a new luggage tag) but as a fitness freak, was a touch more won over by Solum’s headphones. Essentially, they combine the tracking aspects of a smart watch or wearable with comfy earbuds. And unlike Samsung’s or other brands’ watches, they’re iOS and Android compatible…
- Clemens’ pick: Robots
- Natasha’s pick: Anything VR
While Natasha has been all over VR experiences (when you could actually get on them), I was amazed by the quantity and quality of robotics on display: Robot dogs, robot security forces, and even robot surgery assistants. While all of this is not necessarily new, seeing how this technology continues to evolve is pretty mind-blowing. Fun fact: One company forgot to charge their robot dog overnight so couldn’t show it off to the media. And one suggestion to make next year’s event even more fun: a Robot (Pitch) Battle.
- Clemens’ pick: BCN FinTech at Barna Brew
- Natasha’s pick: 4YFN Awards
Okay, as co-founder of BCN FinTech, I’m biased. So what? C. Ronaldo would vote 3 times for himself too if he could. But it’s not just me, people loved it. The event was a sell-out – we had to send away some investors at the door – and we had the best beer in town thanks to Barna Brew. Big kudos also to Startup Grind, who rocked the entire week with multiple awesome events, as well as to IoT Stars, a must-see event every year during MWC.
And what’s better than a pitching battle? An award at the end of it. Hyped up by the host and with all the theatricals of the Oscars (well, somewhat), the 4YFN awards were a great bit of mid-week fun to celebrate some great startups. And Payflow were crowned the winners. Result.
- Clemens’ pick: Navigate the winds of change
- Natasha’s pick: Barcelona Activa Pitch Event (I & II)
A fintech panel with Philippe Gelis is always insightful and fun, but add Payflow’s Benoit Menardo and Li Zhixian from Alipay and it’s pretty awesome. The only bad part: Time ran out very quickly.
While Natasha enjoyed the Sky Room panels too, she admits to loving a good pitching session. Highlights were the Barcelona Activa Pitch Events and the Fintech Pitch Battle, both at 4YFN.
Score (from 0-bad to 10-great) & Review:
- Clemens: 7; “It’s been great to see the event return closer to its former glory and size. And 4YFN being at the same venue as MWC made it easier to visit both events. I found 4YFN to be way more enjoyable once again and the tech at MWC had less of a “wow” factor. But overall, a really fun week to meet new tech and connect with old and new friends. Please just make the app more user-friendly on Android for next year.”
- Natasha: 8; “Overall it was a fun experience: loved interacting with new tech from companies big and small, meeting innovators from all over the world, and the vibe and setup of the 4YFN area. Maybe provide drinking water next time – and golf carts for after you’ve walked 20k steps in heels”
What’s your take on the MWC / 4YFN week? Let us know in the comments.
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