For University Startup World Cup, All Roads Lead to Copenhagen

For University Startup World Cup, All Roads Lead to Copenhagen

In a year with more than its share of xenophobia, nativism and actual terrorism, my return to Copenhagen in October was a welcome reminder of a more civilized age. For the second year, I served on the final jury of the University Startup World Cup, a startup competition that brings together student teams from across the globe. The teams compete across six categories for the grand prize, which is awarded by Her Royal Highness, Mary Elizabeth, the Crown Princess of Denmark.

In the wake of Brexit and in the U.S. campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump (and, of course, Trump’s victory), those of us with a more global perspective have found our values under assault. Of course, most Americans can’t even get through their breakfast without their imported coffee, tea, bananas or any chocolate flavored danish or muffin (to name just a few items). Nevertheless, voters were sold on some gauzy vision of an America that was somehow more perfect without global, cross-border business.

Human Shojaee, the visionary Founder of the University Startup World Cup, may have had no intention of making a political statement with the founding of this competition. But in today’s environment, it makes a statement simply by its unapologetic embrace of certain basic truths: namely, that we share a common humanity; that good ideas transcend borders; and that the future belongs to those fearless individuals and business leaders with the fluency to cross cultures and promote their visions.

Case in point: the deaf in any country cannot hear. The Indonesia based app Isara was the overall winner of competition for their app which teaches sign language for free. According to Isara, there are only 34 sign language interpreters in all of Indonesia. What’s most exciting though is that in its next generation, Isara plans to build an Uber-like feature. A deaf user would be able to beckon and hire an interpreter — and then for the deaf user to point their phone’s camera at the person speaking, while the deaf user can watch the interpreter in real time. Imagine a deaf patient, able to visit any doctor with the security of knowing they can simply beckon an interpreter to communicate. Seriously . . . Mind. Blown. It’s a reminder that for all of the foibles of our time, for deaf people we could be on the cusp of a golden age, where technology enables them to understand more of what’s happening than ever before.

Interested in more snapshots of the future? Here are the other semi-finalists:

  • For Nowi-Energy, a semi-finalist from the Netherlands, the world looks more connected too but through sensors that are powered by WiFi. According to Nowi, one of the earliest use cases would be in the 160 million climate sensors that are in European offices and often powered by batteries (which go out, require replacement and so on). Nowi’s harvesting of the energy in the WiFi signals, however, would enable other sensors as well in the coming Internet of Things. I think we can all agree, a world with fewer cables and wires is a better place.
  • Klenergy, a semi-finalist from Denmark, is working to manufacture hydrogen-based battery technology. One of the major problems with renewable energy sources is that when it is windy or sunny, not all of that energy can be used at that time and storing it efficiently is the next step for a renewable future. Klenergy has made a device that can store electric power into hydrogen and later convert the hydrogen into electricity.
  • There’s been a proliferation of marketplaces on the internet, but apparently not every market is cornered. Marine Nexus has a built a business-to-business platform that permits shippers to browse vessels. Need to charter a Barge in South East Asia for shipping? They’ve got you covered. Perhaps it’s not headed for the list of most visited websites list, but that’s not the point. Marine Nexus aims to transform the maritime industry by bringing visibility and transparency to a formerly opaque process – and usually when that has happened in other markets, prices have fallen and efficiencies have increased.
  • Next, representing the USA from Columbia University, the student team of CatheCare aims to cure a basic problem in U.S. hospitals. According to the company, one in twenty infections in the U.S. are caused by bacteria on central venous catheters (“CVCs”). Imagine surviving a major surgery only to die from a routine infection. Right now most of the CVCs are simply cleaned with an alcohol swab. CatheCare has a technology using ultraviolet light that has no bacterial resistance.
  • For the last snapshot of the future, Nara Space, a South Korean startup out of Yonsei University is working on a synthetic aperture radar for satellites. According to Nara Space, most satellites have difficulty monitoring conditions on earth if that particular part of earth is in darkness. Their technology would permit better satellite monitoring of earth in those conditions.

It will be little surprise to any of my readers who I voted for, but I think a quick read of this blog and a review of these incredible teams informs you why. As a Californian, I see people every day starting companies and creating ideas to make the future an even better place. I never believe the doom and gloom, regardless of who is proselytizing it. And from the University Startup World Cup, I can report that there are young people around the world with drive and enthusiasm who are working to create our next modern miracles.

It troubles me that others may not see this, but I think famed Danish author Hans Christian Andersen had it right: “The whole world is a series of miracles, but we’re so used to them we just call them ordinary things.” In these tumultuous times, my highest hope is that a miracle like the University Startup World Cup remains an ordinary thing.

Los Angeles, California

 Do you know any college entrepreneurs? Please tell them about University Startup World Cup.

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