This was the fourth time the Startup World Cup has returned to downtown San Francisco, live and in person. It once again puts the spotlight on the question of whether and when the sci-fi tech industry will do the same.
Founded in 2017 by San Jose-based venture capital firm Pegasus Tech Ventures, the event attracts participants from around the world with a $1 million prize pool.
The event was shelved for three years due to the pandemic, but returned Friday at the Marriott Marquis Hotel downtown.
“It was hard to keep the event postponed,” Pegasus CEO Anis Uzzaman told The Standard. “Many people who wanted to continue fundraising using this platform asked me to continue online, but I wanted to resume in person.”
The return of the World Cup follows Dreamforce’s explosive return to the city streets last month.
“Meeting in person has many benefits that cannot be discounted,” says Uzzaman. “People are doing well and excited to be back together.”
For the World Cup, Pegasus hosted smaller competitions around the world, shortlisting 56 companies that traveled to San Francisco. On Friday, that list was narrowed down to the final 10 people vying for his $1 million prize.
Each company had four minutes to pitch to six judges on why it was worth the investment. Judges scored each participant on market size, business model, presentation and team composition.
The $1 million prize went to Canadian company Sheertex, which sells the fabric that makes “unbreakable” pantyhose and tights. Her CEO, Katherine Homuth, said in an email that the company will use the funds to reduce production costs and explore new categories of products.
Lazarus 3D CEO Jacques Zaneveld said after the pitch: He runs an Oregon-based medical company that uses MRI scans to create physical replicas of the patients that surgeons practice.
“I’m particularly bad at speaking in front of people,” Zaneveld admitted. “Even in an intimidating new environment, I had to practice and practice to make my speech work.”
Runner-up Sabrina Castelli founded her company Mujer Financeria in 2019. The company was built around technology aimed at empowering women in financial management. Before she traveled to San Francisco, she had to beat out 10 of her other startups in Argentina at a regional event, also hosted by Pegasus.
“Generally, I think judges are looking for companies that can scale, if they decide they have a good team that can do it,” said Castelli. “They also need to see numbers that show you’re building something that can succeed.”
Mujer Financeria fell short in the end, but Castelli said the trip was still worth it thanks to all the contact and mentoring she received.
The event also featured luminaries from the venture capital and tech industry, including ABC’s Shark Tank Kevin O’Leary, former Uber CTO Thuan Pham, and Microsoft CMO Sandra Lopez.
No speech encapsulated the spirit of the event better than O’Leary’s. In front of a room full of more than 2,000 enthusiastic entrepreneurs, he concluded his remarks by announcing that he had just launched a new investment fund in the United Arab Emirates.
Uzzaman of Pergasus, on the other hand, celebrated a direct gathering. But in a situation where his 50% of the city’s publicly traded companies now say his remote work is their future, despite his enthusiasm for face-to-face connections, Uzzaman has been a reluctance to go to the office. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there should be a full comeback. .
“At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide whether you can maintain efficiency with remote workers based on your business needs,” Ussaman said.