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  • Writer's pictureThe Citypreneurs Team

Young start-up entrepreneurs propose sustainable innovations to impact Asia-Pacific cities

Seoul (ESCAP News) – An annual start-up competition has brought together 175 young entrepreneurs from 35 countries to offer innovative solutions for pressing sustainable development challenges facing Asia-Pacific’s cities around healthy and inclusive ageing, skills development, and green consumption and production.

Organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA), World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization (WeGO), Seoul Metropolitan Government and Seoul Digital Foundation, the third Citypreneurs competition included a Policy Interface for innovators, policymakers, investors and civil society to explore how to strengthen the innovation ecosystems for entrepreneurship and the SDGs as well as ensure effective impact measurement and monitoring of start-ups for the SDGs.

Two tracks were offered in the competition. The Seed Track for early-stage start-ups working on prototype development and the Growth Track for established start-ups looking to scale-up. 30 finalists were given the opportunity to pitch at this year’s final round in Seoul.

In the Seed Track, taking the Grand Prize Seoul Mayor’s Award was Hand It Back to Nature (HBN), a start-up providing 100% biodegradeable food grade eco-friendly straws to foster a plastic free and composting-focused environment. First Prize WeGO Secretary General’s Award went to Damogo, a start-up offering a platform that connects food store owners selling surplus food to consumers seeking quality meals at discounted prices. Second Prize ESCAP-ENEA Director’s Award went to Life Chair/10’s life vest, a start-up redesigning safety equipment. In the Growth Track, the Investor’s Pick Awards went to Yolk and n.thing, and the Grand Investor’s Pick Award was given to Breeze Technologies, a start-up providing hyperlocal urban air quality data based on affordable sensors and other public and private data sources like satellites.

“By drawing attention to these socially-minded innovations, we hope others will feel inspired to not only devise fresh approaches to solving urban challenges, but also adopt and attract support to upscale and achieve greater impact, and ultimately accelerate progress towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda,” said Mr. Ganbold Baasanjav, Head of ESCAP East and North-East Office.

"Citypreneurs is an excellent example of citizen participation solving sustainability challenges. We are happy to find growing interest not only from the innovators' circles, but among investors—we hope Citypreneurs will continue to help find meaningful and worthwhile opportunities for our investing partners, to make the 2030 Agenda a reality,” shared Mr. Bonian Golmohammadi, Secretary-General of WFUNA.

Mr. Kyong-yul Lee, Secretary-General of WeGO said, “The Citypreneurs model is a perfect synthesis of tech and innovation, start-up ecosystem building, and policy discussions, that serves to strengthen cities' ability to solve their urban challenges and become smarter and more sustainable.”

Young people constitute the most urbanized generation to date. 60 per cent of the world’s youth - some 700 million young people - reside in the Asia-Pacific region, making them the key to unleashing the region’s next economic miracle. The challenges that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to address, from inequality to climate change, will also ultimately impact youth the most.

“Through partnership building among start-up ecosystems and meaningful policy support, we hope to empower youth entrepreneurs to accelerate achieving the SDGs with their innovative and scalable solutions to development challenges across the globe,” said Ms. Hey-Jin Park, Communication & Partnerships Specialist at UNDP Seoul Policy Centre.

“We believe that it is time for smart technologies to give us a better life that is happy, healthy, and eco-friendly. The leading engine of this revolution is young entrepreneurs. Through this event, we hope many start-ups are creatively inspired to address urban challenges with digital technologies.,” said Mr. Han-Seok Ko, President of Seoul Digital Foundation.

Winners from the competition received KRW 25 million in awards from the UN and Seoul City Officials, over USD$50 million in investment opportunities, go-to-market consulting and impact guidance, as well as pilot and research and development opportunities with cities.

Established in 2017, Citypreneurs is the only international start-up competition focusing on SDG challenges in the local context and partnering with City governments to turn winning innovations into practical solutions.

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