Startups and Innovation: Our First Day at 4YFN Barcelona

The first day of 4YFN 2017 went by like a flash – the fourth edition of the MWC’s tech startup event in Barcelona, with more than 600 exhibitors, 8 stages and nearly 300 speakers, is a vast phenomenon that is impossible to take in all at once. The experience is as intense as a music festival, rich in fun and social elements as well as intellectual stimuli, thanks to the countless educational talks and workshops where tech experts share their valuable insight. After a full day of networking and learning, we were truly impressed by what this year’s installment of 4YFN had to offer – read on to find out more about the highlights of the first day and how we saw it all.

One of the best things about 4YFN is the Innovation Market – the large marketplace that you stumble into as you enter the event through the main entrance. It’s a surprisingly orderly maze of stalls and booths that accommodate startups from all over the world, showcasing their products and latest innovations. Honestly, we did not find it hard to go up to anyone and have a chat, asking them about their companies and the stories behind them. The very purpose of this space is to be able to go up to each other and exchange business cards without it getting too awkward.

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We had a chance to meet startups from every sector imaginable. Technologies related to health, finance, tourism, food, gaming, as well as artificial intelligence and VR are all well-represented in the Market, among others. Unsurprisingly, there is a plethora of VR headsets (along with the amusing sight of the people wearing them, as they wiggle their arms funnily and stare into unlikely directions for long moments), but so far, we’ve only caught sight of one drone (we were expecting an entire platoon, following the drone-craze that’s been taking over the world recently).

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The Innovation Market was busy in the morning and turned outright crowded in the afternoon. No wonder, considering the numbers: in 2016, 12,500 participants attended 4YFN, and this year, they are expecting up to 20,000 attendees. However, the buzz just added to the positive vibes that the hall was already exuding.

However fun and casual the Innovation Market may be, 4YFN is not just about making friends with (financial) benefits. The talks and workshops themselves are also more than worth attending, as proven by our experience of the first day, and they have their own casual and funny moments as well.

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Here are a few highlights from the talk, workshops and panels we attended:

“We are at the beginning of an era of disruption in foodtech,” – Fernando Fanton, Just Eat

The first keynote of the day featured Fernando Fanton, Chief Product & Technology Officer of Just Eat, who gave an impressive speech about how Just Eat aims to be the largest community connecting people through food. He emphasized that realizing this ambitious dream is impossible without bold and innovative entrepreneurs, which is why Just Eat (once a startup, now a large business) is making a conscious effort to support new startups. The company’s accelerator branch will be launching a new seed program in April, he announced.

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“The phone number on my business card is not actually there for you to call,” – Mike Butcher, TechCrunch

We attended a panel discussion wittily titled “The Best and Worst Mistakes startups Make When Dealing with the Media”. As we are both a startup and a blog, we found this topic particularly interesting. We learned a little more about what we shouldn’t do as startups looking to grasp a journalist’s attention then what we should do, but we did take away some key ideas. Ravi Mattu (Financial Times) stressed the importance of credibility when dealing with the press; Josh Quittner (Flipboard) pointed out that what makes a great story is the element of surprise, while Robin Wauters (Tech.eu) advised us not to try and corner a journalist to pitch our startups to them on the spot at an event like 4YFN.

Mike Butcher (TechCrunch) arrived fifteen minutes late to join the panel (there was talk of him having spent the night at a karaoke bar), and and immediately provoked an altercation right there on stage between himself and Patrick de Laive (The Next Lab). The debate got a bit too intense and personal, as Mike accused Patrick of being an investor in a company that “spams journalists”, but it did spark an interesting discussion about mass mailings and press releases and just how pointless and annoying they are. Mike (being himself), also enlightened us to the fact that the phone number on his business card is not actually there for us to call, it’s more of a courtesy, just for show. If we want to get through to a journalist, e-mail is the best way to go.

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“Diversity improves the bottom line,” – Kim Arazi, IN3

We popped into Worskhop Dome 1, where speakers Lu Li (Bloomberg Founders) and Kim Arazi (IN3) shared their thoughts on why diversity may not only help scaling startups, but be absolutely necessary for growth, and what leadership and management skills are need to make it happen. A quick game of “Who’d you hire?” made us realize just how much we are still prone to unconscious bias, how we make assumptions about people just by looking at their pictures and trying to relate to them, instead of looking at their skills or experience. Ironically, most of the people attending the workshops were women, millennials at that, with only a handful of men scattered among them, looking like they were feeling a bit uncomfortable and out of place. However, all the young women seemed passionate and eager to ask questions, which came as no surprise after the inspiring talks by the two speakers.

Read our recap of day two at 4YFN if you’d like to find out more,  and follow us on Twitter to get live updates on what is going in at the event!

Also, check out the 10 Spanish Startups whose pitches we’re most excited to see at 4YFN!

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