4YFN 2024: the entrepreneurial ecosystem puts the spotlight on AI, deeptech and climatech

Amidst the celebratory atmosphere marking the tenth anniversary of the platform dedicated to giving vsibility to the potential of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, artificial intelligence, deeptech , and climatech solutions took center stage. Within this dynamic, BBVA Spark showcased its array of solutions, bolstered by its recent collaboration with Capchase and the launch of Spark Rewards, a new ‘marketplace’ offering exclusive discounts and benefits.

From Xpanceo’s smart contact lenses to Motorola’s wearable phone, from a virtual reality set providing immersive experiences to transparent laptops, the Mobile World Congress 2024 featured a breathtaking array of futuristic gadgets, drawing in more than 101,000 attendees.

Alongisde the technological marvels exhibited at MWC, 4YFN (4 Years From Now), the event dedicated to powering startups and entrepreneurship, marked its own milestone tenth anniversary. For the second consecutive year since its inception, BBVA Spark rolled out its suite of services aimed at propelling high-growth technology-based enterprises. “Participating in an event like 4YFN presents a tremendous opportunity for BBVA Spark to engage with all stakeholders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and strengthen its position as a financial partner,” remarked Veronica Ruiz, head of BBVA Spark in Spain.

"The more visibility, the more people want to become entrepreneurs. The more entrepreneurs, the more investment funds, enriching the ecosystem"

The startups that participated in the event showcased the boundless potential for innovation and the impact of the entrepreneurial ecosystem across various industries, from healthcare to climate.

“Events like 4YFN generate significant visibility and have a positive effect on the network. The more visibility, the more people want to become entrepreneurs. The more entrepreneurs, the more investment funds, enriching the ecosystem,” explains Hector Mata, co-founder and CEO of Shakers, an online platform facilitating agile and efficient connections between companies and freelancers. “Every year witnesses a surge in entrepreneurs, startups, and funding. It’s truly remarkable,” he emphasizes.

Humanizing AI

Artificial intelligence, recognized by BBVA Spark as a key trend in 2024, has solidified its presence at 4YFN as a pivotal element, influencing the growth trajectories of entrepreneurs’ projects and presenting new regulatory challenges and opportunities.

“The concern is that a perfect storm is brewing and we have already seen worrying trends that AI can be used to manipulate us,” assures Gregorio Ameyugo, head of the Ambient Intelligence and Interactive Systems division at CEA, a leading research institution providing solutions in low-carbon energy, digital technologies, futuristic medicine, defense and security.

In the midst of these growing concerns, startups like WIVI Vision leverage AI as a tool and demonstrate a positive and constructive use of this technology: through this technology they assess, correct and improve visual disturbances. “WIVI Vision was born from an innovative technological component that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. Thanks to artificial intelligence, we have developed a scalable product that would have been unattainable before,” says Eva García Ramos, co-founder and CEO of the startup and selected by Forbes as one of the 35 leading women in technology.

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Deeptech: a key to startup differentiation

Accompanying AI as a central theme, deeptech has risen as another common theme, especially among investors. Investment in European startups exceeded $17.7 billion, up 60% from 2020, according to a Dealroom report. In line with this, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has launched the deeptech Talent Initiative, with the aim of training one million Europeans in this field by 2025.

“The deeptech sector has gained a lot of traction in the creation of startups, so we are focusing on this field,” explains Julien Macquet, associate at venture capital firm Elaia Partners. “We believe this is the best way to create real technology assets and a point of differentiation for startups. When you go deep into technology is when you get the best results,” he says.

Startups integrated in the deeptech field have demonstrated their potential at 4YFN with solutions such as the one presented by Beyond You, a gene analysis platform using AI to improve patient diagnosis, or by NanoChronia, a company dedicated to facilitating the transition to a green and carbon-free society by detecting hydrogen and related gases with next-generation graphene-based nanosensors.

Similar to Beyond You and NanoChronia, climatech startups featured at 4YFN discovered an ideal platform to showcase their innovative solutions aimed at addressing pressing environmental challenges.

Aquilino Peña, founding partner of the venture capital fund Kibo Ventures, emphasized the significance of investing in climate technology. “At Kibo Ventures, we prioritize supporting climatech companies because they offer solutions to mitigate risks such as forest fires, hurricanes, droughts, and floods.”

This investment fund is dedicated to backing companies that aim to tackle issues like climate change, assisting them in local growth within Spain and expansion on a global scale. One such example is Mitiga Solutions, a Barcelona-based company providing a comprehensive solution to aid risk managers in understanding and predicting meteorological and geophysical hazards, including forest fires, volcanoes, and rainfall.

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Looking to the future of investment

Despite the upward trajectory of AI, deeptech, and startups offering climatech solutions, entrepreneurs are grappling with the challenge of navigating growth within a complex landscape, marked by a significant decline of up to 45% in investments in tech startups across Europe by 2023, according to data from investment firm Atomico.

However, amidst this backdrop, there remains optimism, fueled by success stories like TravelPerk, which secured €95 million in funding in January 2024. Some venture capitalists are expressing confidence in the market’s resilience. “I anticipate a rebound in investment levels in the coming months and we expect that promising projects will secure funding.” Veronica Trapa, a general partner at Swanlaab Venture Factory.

"I believe that in the coming months we will see a recovery in investment levels"

However, some investors adopt a more cautious stance. “We believe that investment trends will closely follow the evolution of interest rates. Greater clarity on when interest rates will begin to decrease will likely stimulate the overall investment landscape,” remarks Martí Escursell, managing partner at venture capital firm Bonsai Partners.

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Similarly, Verónica Ruiz of BBVA Spark advocates for caution: “In 2023, investors were hesitant to divest due to low company valuations, resulting in capital being withdrawn from the ecosystem. Therefore, in 2024, we may encounter situations that are somewhat tense or complex.”

“Part of our role is always to listen to what’s happening in the world. Being able to identify what is changing, and what is beyond the state of the art. Then it’s just about activating the right funding and the right timing for the right team,” concludes Victor Drault, partner at venture capital firm Breega. In this journey towards what is yet to come, events like 4YFN continue to remind us that the combination of entrepreneurs, technology and investor support is key to creating solutions with a significant impact on humanity.

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