Qualcomm Ventures’ QPrize Contest Pulls in VCs, Especially Overseas
It’s been a few weeks since Qualcomm Ventures kicked off the fourth edition of its international QPrize competition, an initiative that seems to be taking on a life of its own.
The contest began in 2009 as a kind of global hunt for innovation—a way to find the next generation of promising, early stage companies developing new mobile and Web technologies. It is now open to startups in seven regions—North America, Israel, Latin America, South Korea, India, Europe, and China. Each regional winner gets a $100,000 loan (which converts into an equity investment), and a chance to win another $150,000 in a final round of the Q Prize competition.
The contest has the unstated benefit of helping San Diego-based Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) augment its technology ecosystem around the world. Yet the competition also benefits from Qualcomm’s global reach, which includes R&D facilities in Israel, India, and elsewhere. As a result, the QPrize has been drawing other venture investors to join in the effort, especially in key overseas markets.
That means startups competing in regional QPrize competitions are not just getting funding from Qualcomm’s investment arm, according to Nagraj Kashyap, the senior vice president of Qualcomm Ventures.
“Over the last two years, we’ve gotten a lot of interest from Microsoft in India,” Kashyap said in a telephone interview, and three other venture funds in India—Accel Partners, Persistent, and One97—have joined in the regional QPrize contest in this year. In China, Kashyap said Qualcomm Ventures has been working more closely with Sequoia Capital.
“We are playing a more and more important role [overseas] in terms of VC activity,” Kashyap said.
India and China, in particular, are emerging as important markets for mobile innovation. As Karthee Madasamy, a senior director for Qualcomm Ventures, explained in 2012: “India is the world’s third-largest Internet market with over 120 million users, of which 50 million access it through mobile devices.”
These markets also are evolving differently in terms of wireless data technologies, Kashyap said. “The kind of companies we see in India are very different than the ones we see in the United States, and China is somewhat in the middle.” Smartphones represent a small percentage of the mobile market in India, he explained, and innovation is not concentrated on mobile applications to the same extent as in North America.
Last year’s QPrize was also notable because of Harman’s acquisition of iOnRoad, an Israeli startup that developed a mobile app that enables a smartphone to monitor traffic and serve as a dashboard-mounted “personal driving assistant.” Harman (NYSE: HAR), the Stamford, CT-based maker of audio and infotainment products, purchased iOnRoad for an undisclosed price less than 30 days after it had won the overall grand prize in the QPrize finals.
The QPrize “acts as an important validation point for many of these startups,” Kashyap says in an statement. The deadline for submitting business plans is April 18, and Qualcomm Ventures says entries will be evaluated on the following criteria:
—Companies with less than $2 million in early stage funding (with no institutional investors).
—Team’s management capabilities.
—Innovative technology products and services.
—Attainability of the company’s financial projections.
More information about the contest is here.