Russia's Sberbank is helping the country's tech start-ups find American investors and transforming itself in the process.
Russia’s state-owned Sberbank and San Francisco-based early stage venture fund 500 Startups hosted a Demo Day in Moscow this week to give 30 fledgling Russian IT firms the opportunity to pitch their products and services to American investors. These 30 firms were selected out of 843 applicants who responded to a call by Sberbank and 500 Startups last September to apply for a 13-week accelerator program and receive 120 million rubles ($1.8 million) in investment by Sberbank. Seven of Demo Day's 30 participants were chosen to be mentored by 500 Startups in areas such as international business practices and travel to Silicon Valley in spring of 2019 to present their projects to potential investors and clients.
While e-commerce was particularly well represented among start-ups applying for the accelerator program, the judging panel and potential investors in Moscow showed a preference for firms focused in areas such as medicine, educating toddlers and fraud prevention:
- Data Screen: A technology provider for analysing and managing digital content distribution across the entire supply chain.
- Heartex: Provides tools for collecting data and converting it to profitable assets. Only three months old, the firm plans to become a major force in the rapidly-growing machine learning market.
- iBrain (also known as Innovative Brain Solutions): An AI-based neural interface that helps patients recover motor functions after brain injuries. The firm plans to launch into the post-stroke rehabilitation market.
- Mishka AI: A smart soft toy that incorporates AI and a built-in platform to convert a child’s teddy bear into a learning tool, which can deliver content for pre-school children.
- Oz Forensics: An authentication platform for verifying digital documents and photos that can detect fraudulent items. Oz has been recognised by SWIFT, winning the bank messaging service’s Innotribe Challenge award in 2017.
- Third Opinion: An AI-based service for automatic analysis of medical images that aims to reduce medical errors caused by incorrect diagnosis that cause an estimated one million deaths annually worldwide.
- Yorso: A B2B marketplace for fish and seafood wholesalers developed beginning in 2015.
Demo Day marks another phase in Sberbank’s transition in recent years from being Russia’s biggest bank to “the ecosystem of first choice,” says Mark Zavadskiy, vice-president of Sberbank, Head of Ecosystem Development Department (Sber X). “We’re committed to supporting the start-up culture and have also been considering what type of start-up might prove interesting to American investors.” Sberbank has been in business for 177 years while its eight-year-old partner, 500 Startups, has invested in roughly 2,000 companies across 70 countries (one-half of its portfolio is outside the US).