When it comes to picking winners, MasterCard and Citi have a good track record — and that bodes well for Pricence, the winner of the third annual MasterCard Israel Technology Award. Now $25,000 richer, Pricence will get a coveted spot in Citi’s Israel financial technology accelerator, and have the opportunity to present its technology to top European investors at the MasterCard/Citi Accelerators in Dublin, Ireland.
One of MasterCard/Citi’s previous Award choices — KitLocate, which developed a technology to use all data on a cellphone for contextual location-based services — has had a successful exit, snapped up by international search engine company Yandex. The 2013 winner of the second edition of the now-annual contest, CallVU, is still enrolled in the Citi fintech (financial technology) accelerator and is putting the finishing touches on advanced versions of its call center technology that integrates text and images with voice calls, greatly reducing time, cost, and frustration associated with help desk calls.
Pricence, which uses big data analysis to set prices for on-line retailers — automatically raising or lowering prices to maximize revenue, based on traffic, historical data, consumer behavior, and other factors — is the kind of company MasterCard is looking for in Israel, said Andras Hemberger, Israel and EMEA country manager for the company.
“There were 54 companies enrolled in this year’s contest, all of them specifically in the fintech sector,” he told The Times of Israel during the finals of this year’s Award event in Tel Aviv. “In many countries you would have a hard time getting together 54 start-ups of any kind, much less fintech start-ups.”
Fintech is quickly becoming one of Israel’s strongest technology sectors, according to Garry Lyons, MasterCard’s chief innovation officer. Over 50 start-ups applied for the Innovation Award competition, and 11 were chosen to present their technology at the award finals in the fall.
The event was held in conjunction with Israel Advanced Technology Industries (IATI). The winner not only gets the $25,000 and a spot in the Citi accelerator — sponsored by the international banking and investment firm, it’s the only fintech accelerator in Israel — but also gets an extra $10,000 to fund a trip to Dublin, where Citi’s and MasterCard’s Innovation Labs are based. With membership in the Citi Accelerator and the trip to Ireland, winner Pricence’s executives will be exposed to the knowledge of Citi and MasterCard experts in the relevant fields and become personally acquainted with the Group’s top executives from around the world, Lyons said.
“We don’t have a research and development center in the country right now, but we come here all the time to look at start-ups,” Lyons said last May, when the contest first began. “I continue to be impressed by the level of innovation in Israel and quality of its entrepreneurs. Israel is a fantastic place, especially for things like security technology and payment technology — both things that naturally interest a company like ours.”
The 54 start-ups in this year’s contest ran the gamut of technologies, Hemberger said, but he was most impressed with the security-oriented ones, many of which had innovative ideas for protecting mobile payment systems. Those technologies instantly grew in importance last week, when Apple announced its Apple Pay system — the company’s foray into mobile wallet payment technology.
As competitors seek to ramp up their game to meet the Apple challenge, mobile wallet platform providers are going to be looking for top talent and ideas to keep transactions safe — and MasterCard, said Hemberger, would be looking at that technology carefully. If anything, the Apple announcement is a boon for the company, because Apple Pay will extend the credit card business — Pay users will be encrypting their credit card data in their Apple accounts. Enabling safe and secure transactions via Apple Pay will require new technologies of the kind available in Israel, he said.
“The number of companies that participated in the third edition of this competition — all of which had very impressive technologies — are proof that Israeli innovation doesn’t stop,” added Hemberger. “The winners of the previous competitions, CallVU and KitLocate, are making immense strides in the business sector and have formed strong relationships with MasterCard. Events like these showcase the creative thinking and support that MasterCard provides the start-up community, not just in Israel, but all around the world.”
Said IATA head Karin Mayer-Rubinstein, “the fact that multi-nation companies like Mastercard and CIti keeps coming to Israel to seek the next-generation in paymnet solution technology goes to show the strength of the start up nation brand and it’s ability to creat added value for millions of consumers around the globe.”