Qualcomm Ventures’ Kashyap Sees QPrize Drawing Better Entries, Especially Overseas
Qualcomm Ventures’ Nagraj Kashyap told me back in 2009 that the economic slowdown was a key factor when San Diego-based Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) decided to set aside $550,000 and to launch its first “QPrize” competition. Qualcomm designed the incentive prize to provide seed money to very early stage mobile technology startups.
When I sat down again with Kashyap again yesterday, he said the U.S. has largely recovered from the economic meltdown, but the same can’t be said for other regions in the world—particularly India and China. “There’s always a few organizations available [overseas] to provide seed funding,” he said, “but it’s not to the same level as in the United States, and I think a lot of technology companies are really struggling.”
As a result, Kashyap says the quality of applicants for the QPrize has really gone up in the second round, which officially started with the wireless company’s announcment last September during the Demo conference in San Jose, CA.
Kashyap, who is leaving in a few days for the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, says there also have been a few enhancements for applicants to the QPrize investment seed competition. Among them:
—Microsoft’s BizSpark program, which offers free software, development tools, and technical support to startup companies around the world, is reaching out to the recently announced finalists. As my colleague Greg Huang has reported previously in Seattle, Microsoft’s BizSpark was conceived with the goal of helping regional software economies—as well as getting Microsoft technology into the hands of the best young developers out there. “It shows this is just getting momentum from other partners,” Kashyap says.
—Another partner that has increased the QPrize’s visibility is the Demo technology conference, which showcases new products developed by startups and established companies alike. The Grand Finals Competition for the QPrize will be held at the end of February during the Winter Demo conference in Desert Springs, CA. The conference, organized by the media and event company IDG, offers some added benefits. The QPrize finalists will be able to set up a booth in the Demo exhibit hall and also get an opportunity to make an on-stage presentation about their technology to the Demo audience, “which is great,” Nagraj says, “because you get to present without having to pay.”
—Even the regional competitions that led up to the finals generated a strong response from the participating startup companies as well as venture capital investors in the U.S. China, India, Israel, Korea, and Europe. “The [local] VCs are telling us this is great for them because we’ve done a lot of the work in terms of selecting the companies,” Kashyap says. “And the entrepreneurs are telling us this is great for them, even if they don’t win, because they’re getting to talk to VCs, and they’re senior VC partners and not junior associates.”
—Perhaps as a result of the increased exposure and attention, Kashyap says all the finalists in the 2009 QPrize competition succeeded in raising additional funding after the QPrize was awarded to Panoramic Power, an Israeli wireless, smart grid startup.
This year Qualcomm is awarding a total of $750,000 in convertible note financing, meaning the winning companies in the competition get a cash loan, which can be converted at a later time to preferred shares of the startup company during its next round of equity financing. A listing of the six finalists, which were announced last week, is available here.
“VC funding in regions outside the United States is still very much lacking,” Kashyap says. “The whole idea here was to help entrepreneurs who have very little access to capital.”