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Startups and global brands are scaling the spark at 4YFN and MWC

Last month, the twenty-third GSMA Mobile World Congress and fourth 4YFN (“4 Years from Now”) conference were held simultaneously in Barcelona.

While Mobile World Congress has been recognized for years as one of the premier platforms for global tech brands to debut their latest products, it was its startup business platform 4YFN that stood out as the real meeting place for both global businesses and tech entrepreneurs serious about their mutual future growth. For three days, among hundreds of stands and thousands of attendees, 4YFN brought the best and the brightest-eyed, the fledgling startups and the most successful legacy businesses, to present, pitch, teach, and debate on its three recurrent themes: Disrupted by Mobile, IoT, and Digital Media.

4YFN (“4 Years From Now”), the fastest growing global startup business platform has seen its future, and it’s not just for mobile startups and venture capitalists. Inaugurated in Barcelona in 2013 as a predominantly Spanish tech startup exhibition conference scheduled alongside GSMA’s Mobile World Congress to showcase the seedling projects that could soon change the world, 4YFN’s scale and reach four years later is breathtakingly breakthrough.

This year in Barcelona, 4YFN grew 56% to a fifth of the size of MWC.
MWC Barcelona 2017 drew more than 108,000 visitors, beating its previous record with 7% YOY growth. Meanwhile, 4YFN 2017 grew 56% YOY, attracting 19,523 attendees, with 47% them coming from Mobile World Congress. Indeed, in just four years, 4YFN has grown to almost a fifth of the size of the twenty-three-year-old MWC. A clear proof point that both the international startup and VC community, as well as heavy-hitting global brands, are paying attention to where the real innovators of the future are converging.

47% of 4YFN attendees were coming from Mobile World Congress

Among the startups in B2C digital applications, IoT, fintech, performance-enhancing platforms, betterment technology, and network conduits, 4YFN 2017 included stands and mainstage presentations from Best Global Brands and leading international businesses including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nestlé, and Netflix.



Drastic technological innovation in itself is not necessarily disruption. Instead, disruption is when this change—this spark, this insight, this product—circulates and is adopted among different communities, and changes the paradigm for a better quality of life. As mParticle’s David Spitz, speaking on mobile disruption at 4YFN put it: “Technologies substitute, frames disrupt.”

While products are still debuted at MWC, what drives the real business conversations is how these technologies are connecting us more intelligently and emotively in every experience in our lives, and doing so through their brands. As MWC explains “we showcased how mobile is the force behind every emerging innovation: It is simply The Next Element.”

IBM Watson was featured at 4YFN and MWC, as well as the 2016 Breakthrough Brands Report


MWC had all the might and wow-factor of demonstrating innovation through the debut of new products and experiences around VR/AR, robotics, drones, and artificial intelligence spaces. The Congress fulfilled its annual promise of giving the professional and aficionado the equal chance to be among the first to experience the future, including emotionally cognitive clothing that changes style with IBM Watson’s intelligence and Marchesa’s elegance, Sigfox’s IoT covering the globe, and Philips’s 4G light poles with Ericsson. High-quality enjoyment was not in short supply either, from Samsung’s VR amusement rides to the premium connected automotive experience of Mercedes-Benz in its E 300 Coupé.

Mobile World Congress 2017 fired up the debate on net neutrality, declared war on roaming charges, pushed the future toward 5G, and gave visitors an AR experience of how it’s achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals through mobile. All this is to say that MWC is still the mainstage from which the boldfaced history chapter titles of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are being announced.



Both startups and legacy brands know that disruption is synonymous with breakthrough growth, and yet each have unique challenges and complementing strengths on the road to achieving it.

Tech startups are born with idealism. Theirs is a commitment to a promise, an idea that they believe will change the human experience and the world for the better. Engrained in the DNA of startup culture are key values that many of the most successful, powerful businesses often find themselves lacking.

1. Constant collaboration.

2. Passionate debate around questioning ideas and authority.

3. A willingness to try things and fail big in order to learn from your mistakes and improve.

4. Creativity that puts the value and emphasis on the creation process, not the final product.

5. A brand promise that is synonymous with the company’s purpose.

6. Generosity and ‘Coop-etition.’

Yet when start-ups grow—often at breakthrough, break-neck speed—they too risk losing sight of their promise, or of how to apply it to scale and communicate it clearly to wider external and internal audiences. Their culture of collaboration, meritocracy, debate, and fearless innovation becomes threatened. It can be challenging to fuel creativity with more stakeholders involved, and easier to just do minimal software or product updates.

Recap video from 2016 Breakthrough Brand Seenit



According to Barcinno, 4YFN 2017 Barcelona is “the fastest growing tech event in Europe,” with attendees from 600 startups from Spain, Korea, the UK, Germany, and the US—as well as over 700 VCs, corporations, and public institutions. And this September, it will expand with an inaugural San Francisco 4YFN event alongside the Mobile World Congress Americas debut. This annual exhibition conference has evolved into a vibrant business community, whose home is wherever it hosts its events—and major brands are both paying attention and accelerating this growth.

It is an understatement to say that 4YFN is impacting the world, influencing startup culture, education, Mobile World Congress and the hundreds of leading global brands and businesses who dedicate formidable budgets to GSMA’s events. The “center point for innovation and guidance surrounding startups,” as MWC describes 4YFN, has broken through as the definitive meeting point with global brands serious about investing in both a better future and their business growth. As startups and legacies open their dialogue and strengthen their collaboration, all of us as professionals and human beings can look forward to more brands that are authentic, differentiated and relevant—whose every experience fulfills the promise of why they exist and want to grow, that a more insight and purpose-driven world is possible.


Executive Director, Global Marketing & Communications
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