The Startup World Cup returned to downtown San Francisco for the fourth time ever, live and in-person—spotlighting once again the question of whether and when SF’s tech industry might do the same.
Founded by San Jose-based venture capital firm Pegasus Tech Ventures in 2017, the event draws competitors from around the world with a top prize of $1 million.
The event was shelved for three years due to the pandemic, but finally returned Friday to downtown’s Marriott Marquis hotel.
“It was tough to keep postponing the event,” Pegasus CEO Anis Uzzaman told The Standard. “A lot of people who wanted to keep using this platform to fundraise asked us to continue it online, but I really wanted it to be back physically in-person.”
The World Cup’s return follows Dreamforce bursting back onto city streets last month.
“Being in-person has so many benefits that you cannot discount,” Uzzaman said. “People are energized and excited to be back together.”
Leading up to the World Cup, Pegasus hosted smaller competitions globally to name a shortlist of 56 companies that traveled to San Francisco. On Friday, that list was whittled down to a final 10 competing for the $1 million prize.
Each company had four minutes to pitch to six judges as to why they were deserving of that investment. The judges scored each contestant on market size, business model, presentation and makeup of their team.
Sheertex, a Canadian company which sells fabric to make “indestructible” pantyhose and tights, took home the $1 million prize. CEO Katherine Homuth said in an email that they’ll use the money towards lowering production costs and will look into a new category of products.
“I hope it went well,” said Lazarus 3D CEO Jacques Zaneveld after his pitch. He runs an Oregon-based medical company which uses MRI scans to build physical replicas of patients for surgeons to practice on.
“I am not especially comfortable speaking in front of large crowds,” Zaneveld admitted. “I had to practice and practice to the point where the speech could go well even if it was in a new environment where it was intimidating.”
Runner-up Sabrina Castelli founded her company Mujer Financeria in 2019, built around technology aimed at empowering women in financial management. Before she traveled to San Francisco, she had to beat out 10 other startups in Argentina at a regional event also hosted by Pegasus.
“In general, I think judges are looking for companies that can scale and if they think that you have a good team that can execute,” Castelli said. “They also need to see numbers that show that you are building something that can be successful.”
Mujer Financeria ended up falling short in the final, but Castelli said that the trip was still worthwhile because of all of the contacts and mentoring she received.
The event also featured a lineup of celebrity speakers from the venture capital and technology industry that included Kevin O’Leary of ABC’s Shark Tank, Thuan Pham, the former CTO of Uber, and Sandra Lopez, the CMO of Microsoft.
No speech encapsulated the spirit of the event more than O’Leary’s. In front of a packed room of over 2,000 eager entrepreneurs, he closed his remarks by announcing that he had just formed a new investment fund in the United Arab Emirates.
Pegasus’s Uzzaman, meanwhile, celebrated the in-person gathering. But in a climate where 50% of city’s publicly traded companies now say that remote work is their future, Uzzaman wouldn’t go as far as to say that there should be a total return to the office, despite his enthusiasm for in-person connection.
“At the end of the day, it should be based on the business’s needs and if they can still be efficient with remote workforce,” Uzzaman said.
Kevin V. Nguyen can be reached at [email protected]