The Skolkovo Foundation has awarded its first invitations to next year’s Startup Village in Moscow, selecting two Asian startups from the finalists of the Tech in Asia Jakarta Arena competition.
The winners of Tech in Asia Jakarta Arena, including Skolkovo's picks: Naomi Kurahara of Infostellar, third from right, and Adam Hobson of VeNA, sixth from right, who won tickets to the Startup Village. Photo: TIA ID.
Tokyo-based Infostellar, which is creating a network of shared communication stations for satellites, and Singapore-based VeNA, which produces ad revenue for apps by injecting TV commercials into them, each won two tickets and travel expenses to the Startup Village, a large-scale two-day conference for entrepreneurs and investors held at the Skolkovo innovation centre outside Moscow in June. The event is the culmination of the Open Innovations Startup Tour, Skolkovo’s annual roving quest for talented tech startups, which is selecting startups at events outside the former Soviet Union for the first time this year.
Naomi Kurahara, the co-founder and CEO of Infostellar, said she was very excited by the prospect of coming to Moscow.
“Russia is one of the biggest space markets in the world, so this is really exciting for us,” she told sk.ru after winning the award. Infostellar, which was founded in January this year, also won the second prize in the Tech in Asia Jakarta Arena competition, having previously won tickets to Jakarta at the Tech in Asia Tour in Japan.
As low earth orbit satellites have become cheaper in the last five years, the number of satellites has increased rapidly, but the number of antennae on the ground that communicate with those satellites has not increased accordingly, Kurahara explained in her pitch. Many of those satellites are used in the earth observation market, such as in agriculture, but because the satellites are moving, they are only usually in range of the station and able to transmit data to it for about 40 minutes per day.
Satellite operators that require more data than that need more antennae, but they are expensive to rent ($500 for 10 minutes) and build, according to Kurahara, who has a post-doctorate in satellite development. Her idea is to set up an antenna-sharing platform for satellite operators that will connect antenna owners who want to sell their idle antenna time with satellite operators looking for additional antenna time. With enough partners on board, the costs of satellite operations will fall and their efficiency will increase, the company believes.
Infostellar, whose declared mission is “to expand humanity’s presence into outer space through the construction of the largest communications infrastructure,” already has antennae in countries in Asia and Africa, and their system is due to start operating next month, Kurahara told sk.ru.
“We are targeting Asia first, then we want to expand to the Middle East and Eastern Europe,” she said.
Naomi Kurahara pitching her startup at the competition. Photo: Sk.ru.
Elon Musk, the CEO of private U.S. satellite launcher SpaceX, announced plans Thursday to triple the number of satellites in orbit in order to blanket the Earth with high-speed internet access, confirming Kurahara’s assertion that the number of satellites being launched would continue to grow rapidly.
Space is one of the five focus areas of the Skolkovo Foundation, along with IT, biomed, energy and nuclear technologies. Space startups attracted $2.3 billion in investment across the globe in 2015.
VeNA, which was presented by its Australian CEO and founder Adam Hobson and took third place in the overall Tech in Asia Jakarta Arena competition, is a sell side platform (SSP) for connecting global app publishers with advertisers. The company, which was set up three years ago, promises to help apps earn video advertising revenue without the need to produce their own video content. It leaves app publishers with editorial control, meaning they can choose how many videos to show within their app, as well as when and where.
“We’re active across about eight countries,” Hobson told sk.ru after winning the invitation to Moscow, adding that their main markets are Australia and New Zealand, where the company also has offices, as well as Indonesia.
“We will be doing reseller agreements in North America and the U.K., but we hadn’t thought about Russia until now,” he admitted.
“I think a lot of the same challenges in terms of scale, price points and different layouts could appear as in Asia, but we’re certainly open to it,” he said.
Yury Saprykin, head of the foundation’s branch in Russia’s Far East, which has forged ties with companies and organisations across Asia, said that choosing two startups to invite to the Startup Village was not difficult, although all the finalists were good.
“They were simply the best companies, as well as the ones with most relevance for the Russian market,” he told Sk.ru.
The overall Tech in Asia Jakarta Arena competition was won by Horsepower, a Philippines-based platform to provide freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses with affordable health insurance packages, legal and tax advice, accounting services and other products. The company won $5,000.
The other finalists included Sevva, an online marketplace for renting goods required for limited periods of time such as baby equipment, suitcases, accessories and cameras; Kostoom, a platform for connecting home-based tailors with small-scale fashion designers; and QueQ, an app that allows users to reserve a place in a queue and then virtually stand in line while they go about their business, before the app alerts them that they are nearing the front of the queue.
The Skolkovo Foundation’s next stop on the Open Innovations Startup Tour is the Vietnamese city of Ho Chi Minh, where it will select another two promising startups at Echelon Vietnam.