Powering Startups Beyond Silicon Valley

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Nowadays, booking a flight is as simple as sending an email. But why is it so easy to plan your next flight when coordinating land transportation, an even more common mode of travel, is far more complicated? Australia-based Jayride would like to solve this problem by building a new platform for mobility.

As with land travel, sometimes the best routes in industry are the most obvious ones. So Jayride co-founder and CEO Rod Bishop chose a clear-cut path: Why not create a unique booking platform for mobility that groups all available car pools, ride shares, shuttles and public transportation routes under one roof?

 As Jayride’s bold journey shows, startups need not operate within the confines of Silicon Valley any longer.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Nouhailler/Flickr

As Jayride’s bold journey shows, startups need not operate within the confines of Silicon Valley any longer.

Speaking of the inspiration behind the platform, Bishop says that “the idea is simple. While almost all land mobility websites provide existing data, we create new figures for people traveling. It’s hard work. We have to contact all local travel firms and integrate their data in our platform.” Once Jayride reaches a significant size, transportation companies may even contact Bishop and his team to provide the data.

But being outside of the usual startup realms, such as the San Francisco Bay Area or Boston—innovation ecosystems built around top colleges like Stanford, MIT and Harvard—could potentially disrupt Jayride’s journey. Without the ability to tap into the aforementioned institutions, Jayride is threatened with the prospect of becoming a symbol of the very thing it’s trying to solve—untapped solutions. Which begs the question: Why, in an age of unbridled technology and expanded communication, are such ecosystems the gatekeepers for startup success? And do alternative models exist?

Luckily, they do. Seedstars World, hosted in Geneva, is an ambitious project revealing the greatness of the world’s best startups. It is a basic startups competition with an attractive prize of up to $500,000 (U.S.) in equity investment. But unlike many other competitions, Seedstars World supports strong regional networks, which empower startups with a global visibility that may put them outside of the Silicon Valley equation.

In 2013, Seedstars World visited 20 cities, organizing local competitions to select 20 finalists from more than 2,000 applicants. The best startups were invited for a weeklong training session in Switzerland before a final pitch determined the competition’s winner.

Startup founders from around the world converge at the Seedstars World competition in Geneva.

Photo courtesy of Seedstars World’s Facebook page.

Startup founders from around the world converge at the Seedstars World competition in Geneva.

Jayride was on the panel on this year’s business ideas, which also included Flitto, a crowdsourcing translation platform; Kudo, a games hub that allows children to learn new languages; and Foyo, a mobile and Web solutions company providing health care information throughout Rwanda.

Many of the participants’ business models respond to regional needs. To tackle such challenges, it is important to develop innovation ecosystems removed from the U.S. Competitions like Seedstars World provide unique visibility for many startups so they can obtain resources they lack in their own ecosystems, such as financial or human capital, and deal with matters outside of the American scope, such as high financial transaction fees, a lack of access to electric power and, in Jayride’s case, nontransparent mobility markets.

As many resources are not widely available in many of these emerging markets, it might be difficult to develop solutions and ideas. During this event, Richard Tanksle, from the Ghanaian incubator Meltwater, provided insight on difficulties facing non-U.S. startups, noting that “paying for high-speed Internet access is very expensive in Ghana, as much as 10 times more than in the U.S.” The experience of this type of incubator is therefore very different from situations encountered by those located in Silicon Valley.

Members of a graduating class from Meltwater, a school and incubator for African startups.

Photo courtesy of Meltwater’s Facebook page.

Members of a graduating class from Meltwater, a school and incubator for African startups.

But Meltwater shows tremendous success in educating, coaching and financially supporting West African entrepreneurs. According to Tanksle, this is principally due to the fact that Africa has enormous potential for entrepreneurs, even when many of its countries have a lack of infrastructure and trust in international investments. It is therefore difficult for them to scale their business ideas. Should we then continue to focus only on trendy innovation ecosystems found statewide?

Jayride, for its part, is currently active only in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. But it may plan to expand, thanks to collaboration with local partners all around the world. Alternative modes of access are, therefore, vital to its future.

Jayride’s arrival at this juncture sheds light on why the simple idea behind it has taken so long to materialize. And it also shows the need for a framework where technology and innovative business models can continue to serve the needs of global citizens, including those from hyperlocal communities. Building initiatives such as Meltwater and Seedstars World can create new opportunities around the world.

Even with globalization, such initiatives may become more common. If people can continue to act locally and develop alternative ecosystems, we can end our obsession with the Silicon Valleys and MITs of the world. Just as Jayride’s simple approach can be the future of mobility, so can the structures that dictate Jayride’s place be more accessible and navigable. On the other side awaits an interconnected network of flights, shuttles and bus routes that is as accessible as email is today.

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