Mastercard Canada hosted its Next 36 Mastercard Challenge in partnership with Next Canada, inviting six up-and-coming Next 36 startups to pitch and answer questions to a room of Mastercard executives.
For the past three years, Mastercard has hosted the Challenge as a way to connect with startups on the ground by promising mentorship. As Mastercard issuing account management VP Chris Conant put it, it’s also a way for the organization to scope out possible opportunities that might be a fit for Mastercard.
“[Mastercard president] Brian Lang has set us up here in our space so that everyone is innovative. You have the opportunity to work with different groups, you’re not all segmented into your own little divisions,” said Conant. “The people that we hire here are all extremely smart, outgoing, innovative people. And MasterCard is a leading innovator in the world, so I think hiring the right people with that innovation mindset just gives us the ability to talk about innovation with [anyone], whether it be a big business or a startup.”
While Mastercard would seem obviously beneficial for FinTechs, Conant said that they have expertise in other areas that can help any startup, which is why the Challenge is open to every vertical.
The pitching startups included Vue, which allows users to scan and compare online ratings of beauty products in AR; Propel, which leverages underused hotel and condo pools to build a marketplace for private swim lessons; Sprout, a financial management app targeted to millennials; Robot Playtime, which aims to get children interested in STEM by turning phones into programmable robots; Aquova, which offers a water treatment system for mining institutions; and Pierre.ai, which uses AI to generate customized product recommendations for small retailers.
“I think we obviously have an expertise in payments, but we also have an expertise in digital and developing new technologies. I think any business that’s starting out now is going to have a payment component, and it’s going to have some sort of technology component,” said Conant.
Tackling payments was certainly the case for Propel. “We use Stripe, which sounds like a great payment processing gateway, but it takes about four percent of our bottom line which is actually quite a bit. As we grow, we’ll be cording different payment gateways and asking what’s the best we can do,” said Propel founder Kiel Olver.
Conant says that many of questions startups had for the mentors were conceptual, like whether their idea was on the right track, or if they’re pitching in a way that makes sense. It’s in line with what Olver believes is a “founder-building” philosophy of Next Canada.
“Obviously, every accelerator wants to give you great connections, but everything we study and do, is [about] quick questions about who you are, what are your values, what are you passionate about, and how can you apply it?” he said.
The winning startup will receive a Mastercard Priceless Cities Experience, which includes a spot in the Mastercard box for a 2017/2018 Toronto Raptors game with Mastercard execs.
“NEXT Canada is lucky to have engaged partners like Mastercard supporting our young entrepreneurs,” said Jon French, director of marketing and communications at NEXT Canada. “Receiving quality venture feedback from seasoned business leaders is priceless, and allows our founders to look at opportunities through a corporate lens they may not have previously been considering.”