I was scrolling down my booking.com app on the way to the airport, completely bewildered; standard hotel rates starting at 1560 Euros, 1870 Euros, 2300 Euros, 3100 Euros!!,  then went back to check the dates – 2 nights I tagged, I’m sure of that – Barcelona, 2 nights, Feb 27 to March 1, all correct.

Is there something wrong with my app, I thought? Wait, I’ll check on my phone, I always get better deals than you – my husband goes. I was certain there was a mistake. But no, his app displays the same results with slight price increase. Obviously, I was completely unprepared for my first Barcelona visit during the world’s largest mobile conference – Mobile World Congress, and my first 4 Years From Now.

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No wonder hotel prices skyrocketed. During those days, more than 108, 000 people flocked to Barcelona. Mobile World Congress is the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry, organized by the GSMA and held in the Mobile World Capital Barcelona. It spanned across nine halls and eleven outdoor spaces at Fira Gran Via and Fira Montjuïc.

Everything from connected cars, virtual reality, new handsets and ingenious app ideas to 3D printing, privacy protection and backend solutions were on display here. Is 5G our future? What’s the hype around Nokia’s legendary 3310 remake? Who’s the man behind the Pokémon Go? – these were just some of the highlights of what was buzzing during 4-day MWC conference.

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Early morning I headed towards my arena – 4 Years From Now. 4YFN is one of the conferences within the MWC platform that enables startups, investors, corporations and public institutions to discover, create and launch new ideas together.  This year’s 4YFN conference was the 4th in a row and attracted more than 19,000 visitors from 160 countries. 700 investors met up with 600 startups from all over the world. 245 impressive speakers on eight stages, altogether 150 hours of quality content to be experienced.

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An outstanding program was created, and the only regret I have is being unable to participate in all of the events, which was impossible. So in between phone calls and emails I managed to see some. What helped a great deal in terms of connecting and not missing out was the 4YFN Matchmaking App for all attendees. It seems everyone was there – from Mike Butcher, the editor of Techcrunch; Ravi Mattu of the Financial Times; Facebook and Google execs; Michael Speigelman of Netflix; Terry von Bibra of Alibaba; Fernando Fanton of Just Eat; Sir Martin Sorrell of the WPP Group to the auto industry’s giants discussing the Future of mobility, and major mobile operators hosting panels and holding workshops.

VR experience was the hottest topic – the Seat VR Experience’s line would form every morning and wouldn’t get any shorter as the day progressed. But it was sure worth the wait, as it was probably my favorite VR experience so far – although I heard Samsung’s VR experience in the main arena was the best at the MWC17.

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Browsing through the startup exhibition, I was surprised by how well the new markets were represented. Startups from Colombia, Argentina, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya, Georgia and Armenia all had amazing solutions. For example, Securella from Morocco. It’s a wearable with a panic button that alerts friends and family, community members, nearby people, the Police and emergency services in case of trouble, or Talking Bookz from Nigeria, a mobile app for reading and downloading audio books. Moreover, GetPayAd from Pakistan, a sponsored advertising service allowing low-income mobile users to earn airtime from the advertisers who wish to engage with their audience better, SenzMate from Sri Lanka, an IoT device and service for farmers that automates irrigation valves following the weather conditions on farms, and therefore improves productivity. It was wonderful to witness how “the rest of the world” countries are today competing hand-in-hand with the world’s most advanced economies, and are equally important on the world startup map.

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Numbers for corporate startups are evidently increasing in the last yeas and this was emphasized in Barcelona as well.

I am eager to see the next episode of the 4YFN.

In case you still wonder, we inexplicably managed to book the first night for 93 euros just as we landed, a hostel room with a private bathroom – probably the most expensive crappy room ever – but we were nevertheless happy, and the owner was truly welcoming. As for the second night, we decided to visit Tarrgona, a picturesque city located an hour by train south of Barcelona – for 67 euros a night, 4-star hotel.

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If you are interested, the winners of the 4YFN17 challenges and competitions are:

Disrupted by Mobile

WeFarm (London, UK) – crowdsources vital agricultural information for farmers in remote areas who lack the Internet access.

Internet of Things

hu:toma (London, UK) – offers a marketplace to create, monetize and leverage deep learning chatbots.

Digital Media

TheMotion (Madrid, Spain) – offers video technology that enables any company with a digital product catalogue to create video ads for each product in their catalogue, effortlessly and fastly.

Women4Tech’s Hack_D_Gap Global Challenge

TeamEQ (Spain) – a unique analytics real-time HR tool that increases a team’s global performance and collective intelligence.

Global Mobile Challenge (EU Mobile Challenge)

ShopBack – Singapore’s top cash-back website, offers a platform for e-commerce discovery and loyalty.

Best British Mobile Startup 2017

SafeToNet – a cyber-safety company that safeguards children from abuse and harmful content on social media.  The business uses self-learning algorithms, data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing to mimic the way the human brain works.

Helena Rosandić

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