Australian edutech startup Inkerz, which facilitates collaboration between teachers and students through a digital pen and online platform, has taken out bronze prize in The Next Unicorn, a Chinese reality show dubbed a cross between The X Factor and Shark Tank.
The show, which began screening on Chinese business network CBN on the weekend, called for applications from startups around the world, with Inkerz and fellow Australian startup Stashd among the 60 flown to Shanghai in January to multiple panels of judges comprised of Chinese investors and business leaders.
Vahid Kolahdouzan, cofounder of Inkerz, said the startup was encouraged to apply by 23seed, a Chinese VC firm which has been working with Fishburners founder and early PayPal investor Peter Davison, also a judge on the show.
Through this Australian connection Kolahdouzan said a number of muru-D graduates were invited to present to the show and Inkerz, which has been active in the Chinese market since its early days, made the cut.
While the $2.5 million investment prize went only to the top company in the show, Kolahdouzan said the exposure generated from taking part and the conversations he was able to start with investors judging the pitches have been invaluable.
“It was kind of expected from the beginning that the Chinese companies would take out the top prizes and the investment, since it’s a Chinese show, but getting bronze among all those international companies is a big achievement,” he added.
The structure of the show saw the participants whittled down to the top six, with the top three of these then going on to the grand final. Inkerz and Stashd both made it to the top six, receiving bronze medals for their effort. With both making it further than the other international startups in the competition, Kolahdouzan said it’s clear Australia is doing well globally.
“It gave us a boost of self confidence, especially competing with companies from Israel and the US, top companies, because it showed that while these guys are doing well, we were able to compete against these guys and we scored better,” he said.
Looking ahead, Kolahdouzan said Inkerz will be looking to expand its presence in China. Part of muru-D’s second Sydney intake, it raised $470,000 in a round led by two Taiwanese investors early last year and announced it had $1.8 million in revenue under contract after signing a major customer out of China.
The startup, which launched as vClass and rebranded to Inkerz last August, also signed two major partnerships last year, with Shenzhen Yifang Digital Technology and Shijiazhuang Dazhong Network Communication.
With Shenzhen Yifang Digital Technology manufacturing tablets, stylus pens, home automation and smart wearable devices, the Inkerz deal would see the startup’s collaboration platform incorporated into each Yifang device sold around the world, while Shijiazhuang Dazhong Network Communication was appointed Inkerz’ exclusive distributor in Hebei Province.
According to Kolahdouzan, one of these partnerships is going well and will continue while the other is dropping off; the startup is also working to secure other potential partners and is in the process of raising money in China.
While Inkerz has invested a great deal of time in the Chinese market and its success on The Next Unicorn showing the opportunities for the startup there are huge, Kolahdouzan said the team has also been looking to the US, with the relative ease of doing business there compared to China a big draw.
You can watch Inkerz on The Next Unicorn here.
Image: the Inkerz team.