Satoshi Sugie is dripping. Literally. He has just been bathed in Champagne – judging by his face, a reaction he had not anticipated. But Pioneers founders Andreas Tschas and Jürgen Furian were not going to break tradition, just because they were on the other side of the planet. Satoshi Sugie, CEO of the hardware startup Whill had just won the prestigious Pioneers Challenge award at Pioneers Asia, the first big festival overseas in Asia. After Sugie had recovered from his first Champagne shock, he grabbed a bottle of his own and started the rematch, cheered on by an audience of over 1,200 – both live and via livestream.
Whill’s win certainly came as a surprise to some. The startup successfully challenged its four opponents in the finals by proving that wheelchairs can be cool and revolutionary: the pharmaceutical research company Molecure, Fintech startup Moneytree, Maintool, dedicated to developing smart straps for watches, and Naio Technologies with their agricultural robot.
According to the Pioneers Asia jury, Whill is “bringing innovation to an unsexy industry." The Japanese startup has developed a modern electric wheelchair with advanced technology built for better usability while being visually more appealing with a lean and smart design. The“personal mobility device” aims to revolutionize a market that has been lagging somewhat behind. While other products from the service industry have long exceeded the level of functionality, the wheelchair has remained basically the same. Whill’s technology is proving that a wheelchair can be a synonym for an active all-terrain lifestyle and will push out of the box that has kept this technology the same.
For Whill the award came at the perfect moment as Sugie plans to expand to Europe after a successful start in Asia and America: “Since this event has a strong connection to Europe, we want to expand the business network in Europe, where we are planning to expand in the future.”
Disrupting the 90 Seconds Pitch
As the name suggests the 90 Seconds Pitch allows early stage startups from the Pioneers Asia 250 to present their business ideas to a high-profile jury of investors and industry experts.
Austrian startup and Pioneers Ventures investment Parkbob emerged as one of the winners of the 90 Seconds Pitch because of their recipe for smart parking. Philipp Stangl, Investment Manager of Pioneers Ventures, praises his investment: “We are amazed that one of our portfolio companies was able to convince the high-ranking jury to win at Pioneers Asia and receive a lot of visibility in the region as a result – creating Synergies like this is exactly what Pioneers Ventures is about.”
For the first time in Pioneers history two startups came in first and quasi disrupted the Pioneers contest itself. Parkbob was accompanied by the Swiss startup Swie.
Parkbob’s technology is a combination of real-time parking availability from crowd-sensing applications, comprehensive standardized parking knowledge and geo-information. The solution automatically knows where parking is allowed, at what time and at what cost. Starting from April it will also show free parking spots in real-time.
Swie is an open source collection of PCBs (printed circuit boards) – a component so important that it is part of every single electronic device ever made. The startup’s aim is to support collaboration of hardware designers to inspire and help each other.
Additionally, Whill also grabbed two awards one from the city of Vienna and one from Japanese securities company Nomura. Another Japanese finalist, Molcure, which offers an antibody discovery service, received an award from Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.
Epilogue: Pioneers Asia as We Experienced It
Unfortunately not everybody from the entire Pioneers team could venture on the 5,668 mile journey to Tokyo. So on Wednesday morning we gathered to watch the grande finale at Pioneers HQ– complete with cheering and applause– and came to a viable conclusion. Fadi Haddad, Head of Partnerships at Pioneers sums up our feelings about the event (something that transcends Vienna and Tokyo):
“Even watching the event on screen in our Vienna office, I felt like we were there with the rest of our team. I expected a slightly more conservative vibe in Tokyo, considering the cultural differences but it just felt like the Pioneers Festival as I know it, even from the distance. This is fantastic news, because it means that wherever we come from, wherever we are – the enthusiasm for the startup and tech scene transcends the boundaries of culture.”
The official part of the event ended at 8pm in Tokyo. For our colleagues it was off to partying; sadly this was where the mutual experience ended. We couldn’t quite justify drinking Champagne at 12 noon. Still, pumped up from cheering and loaded with inspiration, work flowed much easier – even without golden bubbles.
Check out the review from Nikkei, Pioneers Asia’s main partner, about the Whill winning the challenge: Japan’s ‘Modern Wheelchair’ Wins Pioneers Asia Competition