For the right start-up, MasterCard is offering a $25,000 prize for helping the international giant improve its electronic payments and financial services. Besides the cash, the winning start-up will also have an opportunity to join the prestigious MasterCard Start Path global program, the company’s financial technology accelerator.
It’s the fourth time MasterCard is running this contest, and by now has had enough experience in Israel to know that it’s looking in the right place, according to Andras Hemberger, MasterCard Worldwide Israel Country Manager.
“Our competition brings dozens of entrepreneurs and companies with great ideas and products, and is a continuing reminder of the Israeli innovation potential,” he said. “As a company leading the innovation in the field of electronic payments, it is only natural that we again turn to the Israeli technology scene to find our partners.”
MasterCard is one of many financial tech firms and banks that have recently focused on Israel as a fintech innovation center. Firms like Visa, Citi, Santander Bank, Barclays and others have partnered with Israeli start-ups to develop innovative technologies for payments, security, customer service and other areas.
The latest edition of the MasterCard competition was launched on September 9 at the DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Conference 2015 by Kirk Donohue, Director at MasterCard Start Path. The contest is open through mid-November to applicants with new, early-stage solutions in the financial services and e-payments ecosystem. The company said it is looking for start-ups with projects that display “technological viability, business model, team experience and merits, target market and competitive differentiation.”
The winning start-up will participate in the third round of the Citi Innovation TLV, the first accelerator program in Israel for financial technologies, and will be eligible to pitch for a place in the MasterCard Start Path program. The highest-ranking three start-ups will also be entitled to one year of free membership in the Israel Advanced Technologies Industry (IATI) organization — a co-sponsor of the competition – which, said MasterCard, was perhaps even more valuable than the cash prize, at is would enable start-ups to connect with the best of Israel’s venture capital and angel investment community.
Financial technology is quickly becoming one of Israel’s strongest technology suits, according to Garry Lyons, MasterCard’s Chief Innovation Officer. In 2014, over 50 start-ups applied for the MasterCard’s Innovation Award competition, a separate competition in which companies vie against fintech start-ups from across Europe for a spot in the MasterCard Start Path accelerator.
“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,” said Lyons at the 2014 event. “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.”
MasterCard’s biggest “success” in Israel so far came in the first edition of the competition, in 2012, when Israeli start-up KitLocate was presented with the MasterCard Israel Technology Award. Last year, KitLocate was acquired by Yandex, the Russian search engine giant, which turned the start-up’s offices into its Israeli R&D center.
Start-ups have until November 15 to apply for the competition. Ten start-ups will be selected for the final stage of the contest, to be held November 30 in Tel Aviv. The finalists and winners will be chosen by a professional panel from IATI, MasterCard and a panel of judges including top figures in the Israeli technology industry. The criteria include, but are not limited to, technological feasibility, business model, team composition, target market and distinction from the competition, MasterCard said.
“Israel holds a vast number of exciting start-ups in the payments solutions, whether as a financial solution or a cybersecurity solution,” said Karin Mayer Rubinstein, CEO of IATI. “I believe that MasterCard’s commitment to the local tech scene can bring the next life-changing technology solution in the field.”