2023 August-September Analysis Featured

The Batumi bridge to Silicon Valley: Georgian startups vie for chance to compete for $1 million

Batumi is more often associated with beach umbrellas, sunscreen, and fruity samosas than with high-tech destinations. But this formerly sleepy Black Sea town is now securing a place under the sun as not only a holiday getaway but also as a second tech hub in Georgia’s growing startup ecosystem.

The most recent edition of the Georgian Startup Summit & Startup World Cup Competition in late May, presided over by Silicon Valley and other investors, is yet more proof of Batumi’s growing prominence within Georgia’s startup ecosystem. Eleven startups, Silicon Valley and other investors, development experts, and hundreds of guests gathered in Batumi for a packed weekend of world-class expert panels on startups, VC and angel investing, networking, and how VC trends are changing the priorities of global development.

Weekend MC, Startup Grind Chapter Head and AmCham Board Member Colin Donohue opened the event with a nod to the changing perception of Batumi, noting a few years ago that “it would have been hard to visualize what it would be like to host investors from Silicon Valley in Batumi. But now it’s becoming routine. It’s often what people think of when they think of Batumi. That doesn’t happen in every municipality of a couple hundred thousand people.”

Co-CEO of US Market Access Center Chris Burry confirmed, noting that “an interesting thing is happening in Georgia right now. We’re seeing momentum in startups, more and more interesting companies are coming out of the ecosystem. Now the question for Georgia is increasingly – how do you make the transition from being a startup, to being a scaler?”

Contest participants

Eleven teams tried to answer this question during the weekend’s pitch competition. The hopeful companies included:

  • Arena Games, a Web3 multiplayer mobile games platform connecting game developers and players in a simple and safe mode.
  • Artisio, which offers a complete front-to-back auction management software solution and online bidding platform.
  • AWork, a job-seeker application matching employers and potential employees.
  • Calen AI, an AI-backed conversational appointment funnel.
  • Cargon, an online freight forwarding solution that connects shippers with carriers.
  • DataMind, a data management system for banks.
  • Elven Technologies, which builds flameproof battery enclosures for EVs and energy storage.
  • Kernel, which builds intuitive financial management tools for SMBs in South Asia.
  • Kikliko, a search platform for GIFs and memes with sound.
  • Kovzy, which provides a direct digital ordering & payment platform for restaurants.
  • Wempler, a platform that connects a one-time task poster and a task doer to one another.

Artisio took first prize, winning company founder and CEO Berdia Qamaruli and his team a ticket to Silicon Valley to compete in the global finale for a $1 million investment prize, and to pitch in front of 2,000 top investors and influentials in December. Founded in 2020, Artisio provides front-to-back auction management software solutions and an online bidding platform that helps businesses run online auctions and streamline auction back-office processes. It can be used for managing, monitoring, and analyzing all aspects of online auctions in real time.

Artisio CEO and Founder Berdia Qamaruli

Qamaruli told Investor.ge that despite the fact the SWC Grand Finale in December will be the largest pitch event he and his team will have participated at, they have “very high expectations. The last two years have been very successful for us, and I believe we’ve a good chance of winning the Grand Finale. [Our] product is unique for an industry that has been severely underdeveloped when it comes to incorporating new tech – and we’ve brought a solution to the market that satisfies the requirements of auction companies and allows them to accelerate their growth.”

The event in Batumi, Qamaruli noted, was a great opportunity for all sorts of start-ups to meet and practice their pitches. “It was very well-organized by Startup Connect, and they deserve a lot of credit for that. I also want to tell Georgian start-ups that it does not matter how small you are, or how early stage you are. Just go for it. You may have an idea which is so unique that the judges may just go for it. And most importantly – think global. Georgia is a small country, but it can produce world class start-ups. We’ve seen this in the past few years.”

Kernel CEO Beka Dalikashvili

The pitch event recognized several other winners too. First runner up was Kernel, a platform for simple invoicing and digital tools. Kernel CEO Beka Dalikashvili explains his team is targeting the burgeoning Indian market – “something bigger than anybody in the region has stumbled upon – where new laws are trying to bring in businesses from the shadow economy to boost state revenue.” Kernel, Dalikashvili says, aims to help these businesses in this transition by assisting them with their business management needs. As for the event, Dalikashvili notes he was considerably impressed at the increased level and quality of the startup pitches this year.

Startup Grind Chapter Head and AmCham Board Member Colin Donohue speaks at the event.

Elven, the second runner up, strives to “protect human lives and property” through its innovative fire-proof material, which is capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures. Elven is quite literally shooting for the moon – well, Mars – where it one day hopes to see astronauts sent in spacesuits made with materials produced by Elven Technologies. Until then, the team has its sights set on protecting people here on Earth, where lithium electric vehicle (EV) batteries still have a tendency to cause fires given the limitations on the physics of their design. Elven hopes to use its proven insulative material to add a protective layer to EV batteries and prevent explosions from causing massive damage. Elven CEO Vamekh Kherkheulidze told Investor.ge that this is “our desired impact on society, to protect lives, and it is something that really makes us stand out.”

Coming away from the Batumi pitch event, Kherkheulidze tells future startupers to be ready to not walk in a straight line towards their goals. “Be ready to move in zig-zags. You are going to run up against issues, and moving stubbornly straight ahead will not work. Deal with the problems as you encounter them, and adjust your approach accordingly.”

Partner at Pegasus Tech Ventures Bill Reichert (left) handing the Startup World Cup – Georgia trophy to pitch contest winner CEO of Artisio Berdia Qamaruli (right).

Local students and future startup founders accounted for a considerable contingent of event participants. One of them, attending in full uniform, was maritime navigation student of Batumi State Academy Giorgi Turmanidze, who told Investor.ge he dreams of beginning his own startup to better integrate digital services and devices into ship navigation systems. He said of the weekend: “The panel discussions were very valuable to me, as they covered a lot of problems I have begun thinking about. When you want to set up a new business, it’s all about problem solving, fully exploring the situation. And the speakers set out a number of ways and strategies for doing just that.”

This event was organized by Startup Connect, and made possible with support from the EU, the Georgian Innovation and Technology Agency (GITA), USAID, and the UNDP’s Mayors for Economic Growth program. Thank you to Batumi State University, Batumi City Hall, Startuperi, the Batumi Hilton and our volunteers for hosting the event.