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To drum up deals internationally, Fenox VC launches Startup World Cup with $1 million prize

TechCrunch TechCrunch 21/06/2016 Lora Kolodny

San Jose-based Fenox Venture Capital is launching a series of pitch competitions called the Startup World Cup, with a $1 million investment prize, in an effort to identify top entrepreneurial talent in 11 international markets according to the firm’s CEO and General Partner Aniz Uzzaman.

Uzzaman said talks with founders inspired the firm to launch this initiative.

“As we work with entrepreneurs outside of the U.S., we keep hearing that they want to know more VC’s and entrepreneurs here in Silicon Valley, or get connections to large corporations in the U.S. But at the same time, when we work with our portfolio companies here, we find that founders want to explore new markets and find business partners overseas.”

Fenox VC has promised a USD $1 million investment prize for the winners of the culminating event, but the firm intends to back other promising companies it meets through the competition, or may even invest more than $1 million in seed money in the winning company, Uzzaman confirmed.

Pitch competitions are nothing new. The first “b-plan competition,” then called Moot Corp., was held in 1984 at the University of Texas at Austin. Now, such events are held commonly by colleges and universities, but also by other investment firms, foundations and corporations.

Some prominent examples include the MIT $100K and the Rice Business Plan Competition for new, high-tech ventures involving students at those universities; the Hult Prize for social ventures; the 1776 Challenge Cup, a week long startup competition hosted by the D.C.-based investment firm; and competitions at conferences like this publication’s TechCrunch Disrupt, WebSummit or LAUNCH.

Of course, there are also pitch competitions on TV like ABC’s Shark Tank in the U.S. or CBC’s Dragon’s Den in Canada helping to popularize entrepreneurship worldwide.

The U.S. may see a glut of competitions, and launching a new one may win Fenox VC some skeptical eye-rolls, but these events haven’t spread to all the markets where entrepreneurs could use them, Uzzaman believes. “This platform is for startups and startup ecosystems of the world.”

Based in San Jose, Fenox VC invests on behalf of corporate limited partners only– no pension fund or endowment money is at stake in their deals. Its partners are in Fenox funds to generate financial returns, but also to find technology and services that can help them with their own business.

The firm has about 60 employees in 7 different countries today.

Fenox VC’s portfolio includes: companion robot makers Jibo; Affectiva, developers of artificial intelligence systems that can detect emotions in visual content online; Scanadu, makers of a health diagnostic device inspired by Star Trek; and Hijup.com, a fashion and e-commerce site for Muslim women.

Judges who will decide on the winning company for Fenox VC’s Startup World Cup include: Alfred Lin from Sequoia Capital, Y Combinator’s Kevin Hale, TechStars’ David Cohen and Eric Feng from Kleiner Perkins. Fenox is still looking to add judges, Uzzaman said.

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