Global Trends & Top Startups: 2019 Edition

As we reach the end of another exciting year for startups around the world, I thought it would be a great idea to gather together some of the Microsoft for Startups team from around the world and ask them about the companies and trends they were seeing in each of their regions. The resulting conversation provides a ground-level snapshot of the startup ecosystem in several territories as well as list of companies to watch in the months ahead.

Thanks for joining, everyone.

Here’s the first question for you.

Which startup that you encountered in 2019 impressed you the most and why?

adamAdam Nanjee, MD Microsoft for Startups, Canada: I have to say Element AI. They are one of Canada’s top AI startups and recently closed a massive series B round of funding of over $150M. Earlier they were one of the companies that Microsoft’s own venture fund, M12, invested in to build out an entire AI toolkit and process for enterprise across verticals. Later they also were accepted into the Microsoft for Startups program.

Which startup that you encountered in 2019 impressed you the most and why?Emily Rich, MD Microsoft for Startups, Australia: I have three for you that I want to give a shout out to.

1. Getaboutable – they’re like TripAdvisor for people with mobility, vision, hearing and other sensory assistance needs.

2. Volt – the first wholly digital bank in Australia to be approved by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

3. AgriDigital – their goal is to make global agricultural supply chains simple, easy and secure - from farmer to consumer.

Which startup that you encountered in 2019 impressed you the most and why?James Chou, MD Microsoft for Startups, Greater China Region: The startup I want to tell you about is called Origin Space. Founded by Dr. Meng Su, a Harvard PhD in Astrophysics, they are the first Chinese company to do asteroid mining. I was impressed by the quality of the founders and co-founders and their ambitious and bold goal.

Which startup that you encountered in 2019 impressed you the most and why?Shaloo Garg, MD Microsoft for Startups, Silicon Valley: I have a couple of startups in the Valley who, in my view, have huge upside potential. Look out for these in 2020:

ThroughPut, based out of Silicon Valley, is a data-driven, AI and Machine Learning software company that leverages existing data to detect, quantify, prioritize and eliminate operational bottlenecks across end-to-end global supply chains. By focusing on the more than $10 trillion in combined global annual waste, ThroughPut is a trans-modal sustainability company and active AI for Good proponent, that generates results that are not only good for operations, business and investors, but also for local communities, the environment and society.

Observe.AI is transforming the voice customer service industry by enabling agents with AI-based coaching, customer sentiment and insights. With its voice AI platform, leveraging the latest cloud and Azure speech and natural language processing, organizations can dramatically improve customer experience, maintaining compliance, turning agents into top performers. Observe.AI is currently one of the fastest growing startups in the Bay Area already used by brands including TripAdvisor, Concentrix and Root Insurance.

razRaz Bachar, MD Microsoft for Startups, Israel: I have to mention DriveNets, an Israeli startup which just raised $110M for its cloud-based alternative to network routers.

James: In China before 2018, 90% of the VC investment went to B2C and business model innovation startups. We are in the midst of a sea change where more and more VCs are starting to invest in B2B and deep-tech startups. I anticipate more of these kinds of investments from China in 2020

In Japan, many large corporates have established corporate venture capital arms (CVCs). In the recent Forbes Japan CEO Conference, the entire theme was startups and innovation. These days I expect more Japanese people are into entrepreneurship rather than seeking a lifetime of employment for a large enterprise.

Shaloo: Silicon Valley continues to be a hotbed of key innovation, and these are the top two trends for the year ahead:

1. Deep Tech - One of the hottest areas of growth in the Valley are the startups founded on a scientific discovery or meaningful engineering innovation. These emerging startups are based on a scientific or technological breakthrough, such as artificial intelligence or synthetic biology. Deep tech startups are at the intersection of AI, robotics, Big Data, etc.

2. Secondly, startups in the space of social impact are emerging as strong players in this market. Although they have a lower ROI, they cause a ripple effect on our society, economy and community. It’s a space to watch out for with a tremendous amount of innovation happening which will change the landscape over the next one to three years.

Emily: I am seeing a lot of energy tech startups. The energy industry is ripe for disruption and there is a huge focus on and appetite for clean and green energy.

Raz: We’re seeing a lot of interest in quantum computing with the VCs starting to look for and invest in companies taking on challenges in this field.

Adam: I guess the big three are:

· AR / VR

· Digital health

· Agritech

Who, in your opinion, is the one person in the startup ecosystem who everybody will know by this time next year?

Raz: Eden Shochat is one of the partners at Aleph, an Israeli VC that really understands the entrepreneurial mindset.

Adam: Doug Soltys, founder and editor-in-chief of BetaKit, Canada’s leading startup news portal.

James: Neil Shen from Sequoia Capital China. His VC has invested in most of the hottest startups in China.

But for foreign startups who are interested in China, I would also recommend Hans Tung. His 996 podcast from GGV Capital gives western entrepreneurs a great insight into what is happening in the China ecosystem.

Thank you all for your contributions. It’s been a great 2019 and you make it sound like 2020 is going to be even better. Happy holidays to all.