7 Marketing Secrets from 500 Startups Demo Days

Have Fun, Get Deals Done – The Future of Marketing is the Brand Experience

Pitching to top Silicon Valley investors like Tim Draper is nerve-racking. It helps when he’s dressed in a superhero costume.

From Valentine’s Day-Themed (Batch 19) to Summer of Love-Themed (Batch 20), 500 Startups Demo Day is more than a pitch day, it’s a festival where everyone has fun and gets deals done.

Here’s a look back at lessons we’ve learned from the last 7 Demo Days, and how 500 Startups stumbled upon creating the unique pitch day in Silicon Valley.

1. Listen to Your Audience

Back in the day, 500 Startups Demo Day was pretty basic (see Batch 8):

500 Startups Founding Partner, Dave McClure, speaking at 500 Batch 8 Demo Day (back when the most colorful thing at Demo Day was Dave’s language).

During Batch 13 Demo Day, things got a little bit more interesting.

It all started when I bought Dave a unicorn hoodie for his birthday, which happened to coincide with the Batch 13 Preview Day (an invite-only sneak peek to Demo Day). To our surprise, many investors and founders in the audience loved Dave’s unexpected fashion statement, talking and tweeting about it.

Dave noted the audience engagement and decided to wear the unicorn costume again on Demo Day. He also encouraged Founding Partner Christine Tsai, a former ballerina, to wear a rainbow tutu. Again, the response was extremely positive at Demo Day. Silicon Valley Business Journal even dedicated an article to Unicorn theme.

The lightbulb turned on, and we saw the potential marketing value in bringing creativity to our Demo Days. But it wasn’t a mere fluke — we listened to the audience feedback, saw the marketing value, and applied it.


2. Turn Challenges into Creative Advantage

When planning for Batch 14 Demo Day, we found out the only day the venue was available was the day before Halloween. We were not happy. Typically we tried to plan our events around major holidays, like Halloween, assuming people would be busy attending their own company parties. We were worried about not having enough investors attend our event, but we couldn’t change the date. So we decided to exploit the timing instead. Thus, Demo-Ween was born.

In our past Demo Days, we always focused on the pitches, not wanting to take away from the big day of our batch companies. However, the thematic timing forced us to look at the Demo Days from a different angle. We decided to make Demo Days more entertaining. We added the Halloween theme to our Demo Day, aka “Demo-ween” — presenting the content in a new form. The new form of Demo Day allowed startups and investors to dress up, have fun, and get deals done together.

As a result, the Demo-ween not only helped us maintain the previous demo day attendance, it also attracted more international investors than ever before (50% increase). By presenting the content in a more engaging format, we turned a challenge into our competitive advantage.

The first Demo-ween was so successful, we decided to make it an annual theme. 

3. Use Product-Launches to Rejuvenate Your Brand

In 2016, we started adding speciality tracks to our seed program, starting with a Fintech track in the Batch 16 program.

In order to highlight our new Fintech focus, we made the Batch 16 Demo Day poker themed. In order to create an authentic experience, the 500 events team hired a top poker player to give attendees poker lessons and play blackjack. Founding Partners Dave McClure and Christine Tsai also dressed up for the poker theme.

Partly in thanks to a successful Fintech-Themed Demo Day, we saw a 23% increase in Fintech applications to the following batch.

4. Embrace Company Culture

During the Batch 17 program in June 2016, the 500 team and batch companies attended the San Francisco Pride Parade. Pride inspired us to redefine the meaning of “unicorn” at 500. In tech, a unicorn company means a billion dollar company valuation. We decided that being a unicorn also brings about a sense of love and unity. We are not only about making profits and increasing portfolio company valuations but also about celebrating people and culture.

The momentum of the Pride Month continued into our Demo Day planning process. We wanted to use the upcoming Demo Day as a platform to promote 500’s company value of embracing diversity and inclusion. We chose the theme “Beauty & the Geek” based on our B17 tracks Fashion & B2B and decided to break down gender stereotypes by having Dave dress up as the “Beauty” and Christine the “Geek”.

After Demo Day, Microsoft offered to sponsor our efforts to advocate diversity in tech by supporting our Unity and Inclusion Summits. Our open and embracing culture has attracted a very diverse group of companies. In our latest batch, Batch 20, 36% of our batch companies were international (from 10 different countries), 20.5% of companies had at least one female founder, and 25% of companies had a black / Latinx founder.


5. Make It About Your People

At the end of the Batch 17 Demo Day, a flash mob of the 500 team appeared from the audience and started dancing on stage with Dave. The big screen started playing videos of venture capital investors and founders of successful 500 portfolio companies around the world wishing Dave a happy birthday. The B17 Demo Day happened to be Dave’s 50th birthday and our 500 family planned a surprise for Dave.

The Demo Day birthday surprise is just one example of the many things that we would do simply because we care about people. We build the 500 brand by connecting with people on a personal level.

6. Create Positive Emotion

From the previous Demo Days, we began to see that themes created a supportive environment for founders and investors to develop relationships. For Batch 19, we chose a Valentine’s Day theme because we wanted to bring more emotion into the experience.

We dressed up our founders as Cupid (Christine) and the Queen of Hearts (Dave) and decorated the stage with all shades of pink and hearts. Investors could give batch companies Valentine cards that said, “I have my eyes on you!”.


7. Leverage Culture & History

Our Batch 20 program was based in San Francisco around the same time as the city’s 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” – the 1967 summer event that drew nearly 100,000 young people to the city’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Starting from early spring 2017, streets in San Francisco were decorated with the “Summer of Love” theme. We decided to do the same theme for our Demo Day to pay tribute to the city’s history.

With flowers, rainbow-colored lighting and our emcee in a Grateful Dead bear costume, this Demo Day brought a sense of nostalgia to the city many 500 Startups team members call home.


Our Demo Days are instrumental in building the 500 brand. We strive to create an organic ecosystem of investors, founders, and corporate partners by providing meaningful and engaging content to our audience.

If your goal is to stand out from the crowd and flaunt your unique brand to the world, don’t forget to incorporate these 7 Marketing Lessons from 500 Startups Demo Days:

  1. Listen to the Audience: Gather feedback from your audience, catch the opportunity, and act on it
  2. Reframe the Challenge: Look at the problem from another perspective and turn challenges into advantages
  3. Inspire with your products: Rejuvenate your brand with new products
  4. Embrace Company Culture: Integrate the company values and culture to create a powerful marketing message
  5. Focus on People: Build a people-centric ecosystem to organically grow your business
  6. Engage your audience with Emotions: Create Positive emotions to Drive Connection and Awareness
  7. Integrate Art into Business: Leverage the power of culture and history in your marketing

500 Batch 22 begins July 24th, 2017 in San Francisco.

Click Here to apply for our the Batch 22 Seed Program.

More from Yiying Lu: 


Yiying Lu is award-winning bilingual (English & Chinese) artist and designer. Born in Shanghai China, Educated in Sydney Australia & London UK, now based in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, she currently is a Design Lecturer at the NYU Shanghai Program on Creativity & Innovation. She is also an individual creative consultant who provides talks & workshops for global startups and corporate innovation teams on design thinking, entrepreneurship & creativity. Her projects have been featured in many publications, including The New York Times, Forbes, NBC News, TIME, CNN, BBC, San Francisco Chronicle, TechCrunch, Mashable, and The Huffington Post. She was named a “Top 10 Emerging Leader in Innovation” in the Microsoft Next 100 series. For more from Yiying, you can follow her on TwitterLinkedin and Medium.


Announcing Diversity Scholarship for VC Unlocked with Stanford CPD

Diversity is in our DNA 

Anyone familiar with 500 Startups knows diversity is one of our core values. 

We are concerned with the current “mostly male, mostly white” panorama in the VC world. According to TechCrunch, only 7% of senior partners at the top 100 venture firms are women and less than 1% are black or hispanic.*

At 500 Startups, our team comes from more than 20 countries, and we have invested in startups in over 50 countries. About half our team is female, and more than half are people of color. About half of us like peanut butter and jelly; the other half thinks disco dancing is still cool.

We look and act different from most other venture capitalists, and we kinda like it that way. Our founders are also diverse; we work hard to discover and invest in people who come from many different walks of life.

The most diverse (and the craziest) team of unicorn hunters in Silicon Valley

Diversity Multiplier Effect

In the past, we have offered scholarships to VC Unlocked to people traditionally overlooked in the VC world. Their participation in the program helped them catapult their careers in venture to success. Here are just a few examples:

Arlan Hamilton – Arlan became the first black woman to launch a syndicate on AngelList after participating in our program in 2014,  Her fund focuses on  black, latino, gay or female entrepreneurs.

Katherine HagueKatherine launched Female Funders after taking our program. Its an online community where female angel investors can get inspired, learn, network, and invest. The organization’s mission to empower 1000 women to make their first angel investment.

Pocket Sun and Elizabeth GalbutAfter meeting each other in our inaugural 2014 class, Pocket and Elizabeth co-founded SoGal Ventures, the first female-led millennial venture capital firm.

Pocket and Elizabeth, co-founders of SoGal Ventures

We are proud of all of our past scholarship recipients, who have used the knowledge and network they acquired in the program to really start tipping the scales in the venture ecosystem. 

We want to continue to be part of the solution.

Scholarship Details

This year, we will once again be offering ten 12K scholarships for VC Unlocked: Secrets of Silicon Valley Investing.

We run this two-week executive education program for investors in partnership with Stanford Center for Professional Development. It will take place July 24 – Aug. 4th, 2017 in Palo Alto, CA.

The scholarships are earmarked for accredited investors who have been traditionally under-represented in the VC industry, especially women and/or ethnic minorities.

We are looking to identify individuals who will use the knowledge learned in the program in order to build diverse innovation ecosystems in and around their community.

To qualify, applicants should fill out the main application form as well as the additional scholarship application on the program website: education.500.co/stanford. The scholarship application requires a short essay and a video about participation in the program will benefit the applicant’s community. 



Recently, a 500 colleague posted this on social media:

“Diversity and equality is NOT about women who succeed because they sacrifice everything else so they “have nothing else to do but work”. It’s about EVERYONE stepping up to the plate and pitching in. So we as a society don’t ever have to choose life OR work, but rather being able to do both well.”

This colleague isn’t a parent, nor is he planning to have kids anytime soon. Yet he still felt adamantly about the importance of gender parity and acknowledging that it’s everyone’s responsibility.

Breaking down barriers is tough. Many companies make the mistake of dismissing diversity early on, only to realize later how foundational it is to their success or failure. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that makes a company diverse. In order to have a meaningful impact, companies should value diversity and inclusion from Day One. This applies to how they design their parental leave policy.

At 500, our policy is 12 weeks of fully paid leave for all parents in the U.S. Parents can choose to take this leave consecutively, or spread it out through the first 12 months after birth. Despite the fact that only 21% of the 500 team are parents, we know that may change. In fact, in 2017 alone, there will be 8 babies born on the 500 team. We feel strongly about supporting our team and making sure they have time to recover, bond with their families, and find their bearings as they get used to a new normal. Given how crazy this period can be, we also feel that making that time fully paid is important. The last thing new parents need to worry about is whether money is coming in the door. The sad reality is that in the U.S., only 13% of workers have access to paid parental leave, and the U.S. trails 41 other nations in not mandating paid leave.

Admittedly, we’re aware that our parental leave policy may pale in comparison to other companies or even national leave policies worldwide. As 500 grows, we aim to keep improving upon our parental leave policy as well as all of our company offerings. Also, given that we’re a global team spanning 23 countries, we’re working hard to be mindful of different standards in each market and balancing that with 500’s core values.

We also feel that it’s important to acknowledge the fact that many men and women share in childcare responsibilities. Especially in this day and age, where nearly 50% of women are the breadwinners​, and there exist many different kinds of parents and parental relationships — two moms, two dads, single parents, co-parents, and so on. At the end of the day, regardless of one’s orientation or identification or relationship status, parents are parents. And that was the motivation for making it 12 weeks across the board, rather than separating maternity vs. paternity.

There’s a good amount of research out there that shows generous parental leave policies have a significant positive impact on employee retention and morale. While some companies (particularly startups) worry that the added costs are detrimental, the reality is that such costs pale in comparison to losing talent outright. Moreover, it’s an excellent way to attract great talent. People want to join teams where they’ll feel supported. For parents, that means not having to “hide” the fact that they are parents or worry about being judged for doing what they need to do for their kids.

The boys enjoying La Jolla Beach

Truth? When I was pregnant (both times), I experienced a lot of anxiety about how it would impact me professionally. I worried about being hit with the Motherhood Penalty, how my colleagues would perceive me, how others in VC would perceive me, how I’d juggle running 500 with raising kids. I remember cringing when people would ask me whether I’d be returning to 500 after I gave birth. The first few months postpartum were incredibly challenging, and it took awhile before I felt like myself again. While everyone’s experience is different, my own experience certainly was instrumental in shaping 500’s parental leave policy. I didn’t want others to feel as anxious as I did, nor did I ever want them to worry that they’d be treated differently at 500. That isn’t the kind of culture we want to build.

Restroom signage at the 500 offices in SF and Mountain View

It was important to us to create a parental leave policy that echoed our core values. Diversity and inclusion is not just an attractive tagline for marketing purposes. It is evident in everything we do — our team, our portfolio investments, our parental leave policy, our office restroom signage (see above photo). We work hard and attempt to do the impossible, yet we respect the fact that we’re all human and are constantly juggling our professional and personal lives. We’re committed to creating an inclusive environment where talented people are empowered to do amazing things, yet don’t feel torn about having to choose between work and life.

Like one of our EIRs delivering a fireside chat while feeding his 5 week-old son.

500 EIR Chris Neumann’s baby bottle of choice is Lifefactory

Thanks to my 500 colleagues for their feedback on this post, particularly Elizabeth Yin, Dave McClure, Clayton Bryan, Kelsey Cullen, Monica Matison, & Chris Neumann. Special nod to Tim Chae for being that “500 colleague” I quoted.

VC Unlocked with Stanford CPD is Back!

Applications are now open for our highly sought-after Venture Capital Unlocked investor education program.

It will be held July 24th – August 4th in Silicon Valley.

An early admission rate of 21K is available through May 1st for a limited number of spots.

Apply Here

Venture Capital Unlocked: Secrets of Silicon Valley Investing is a two week executive level education program in which participants get an inside look into 500 Startups’ investment playbook and gain firsthand access to top Silicon Valley VCs, angels, startups and entrepreneurs.

Hear from past participants on why they decided to take the program and on their favorite VC Unlocked session.


The program is taught by our highly experienced 500 Startups partners and Stanford faculty who specialize in venture capital and innovation. 

Our guest speakers have included VCs like Jason Calacanis (Inside.com, Launch),  Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures), David Hornik (August Capital), Judith Elsea (Weathergage Capital), Tim Draper (DFJ), Jason Calacanis (Launch, Inside.com), Aydin Senkut (Felicis Ventures), Jeff Clavier (SoftTech VC) and Mari Baker (Clayman Institute, Stanford).

Tim Draper addresses the class

For a limited time, accepted applicants who confirm and secure their spot by May 1st will have a 3K reduction in tuition. We are accepting applications here: education.500.co/stanford

Over the two weeks, program participants refine their investment theses and frameworks with insightful feedback from 500 Startups partners, Stanford faculty, and their peers.

Investment Thesis Feedback session
Investment Thesis Feedback session

They screen real startup pitches at our investor-only Demo Day and assess startup deals together. They dive into the dynamics of fundraising as well as the legal and financial aspects of deal-making.

Surprisingly for many, the relationships formed with the other participants often end up being the most valuable element of the program long after it finishes.

Our 100+ alumni have started funds together, shared and co-invested in deals, and serve as LPs in each other’s funds.   


You can see more details in some of our past blog posts:



If you are interested in joining, apply now. Spaces are limited.

Apply here.

Batch 20 triples down on FinTech and Digital Health, Takes on Uncle Sam with GovTech

500 Startups’ 20th program (B20) in Silicon Valley starts at time that will be remembered across the world. Only three days after a new (and highly controversial) United States government administration has taken power and Silicon Valley is preparing for a Trumpocalypse.

Seeing this regulatory disruption as an opportunity for private sector tech companies, B20 includes GovTech (13.6% of B20), FinTech (27%) and Digital Health (15.9%).

In total, there are 44 companies in the four-month program that will run from January to May. Popular technology trends — including SaaS, marketplaces, AI/bots, big data, analytics, devops and hardware — also remain prevalent in the seed program formally known as an accelerator but continually geared towards scaling companies with early traction.

In total, 36% of the B20 are international representing 10 countries. Canada comes in first in terms of founder representation. Israel is a close second. Founders in B20 also hail from Thailand, Hong Kong, Latvia, Estonia, Brazil, United Kingdom, Nigeria, and France.

B20 is also a diverse set and has 20.5% of companies with at least one woman founder, 11.4% of companies in with at least one black founder, and 13.6% of companies with at least one latinX founder.

Programming continues to be focused on growth, fundraising and storytelling in B20 with a few specialty events, including the notorious Marketing Hell Week, the second B2B sales summit, and a new two-day, intensive fundraising boot camp.

For specific companies in the batch, General Motors is also getting involved and offering exclusive mentorship and access to the automotive industry.

Here’s the full list of companies published in TechCrunch.

Applications for the next program (B21 in Mountain View) are being accepted here.

picture1Pictured above: our SF Seed Program Team

Announcing: 500’s Women Invest Initiative

500 Startups has always been in the business of challenging conventional wisdom in the venture capital industry. Since our inception, we’ve focused on taking our expertise wherever there is talent. That’s taken us to some flung corners of the earth and compelled us to look in oft-overlooked places in our own communities. We’ve baked this diversity into our DNA, trying our hardest to be champions of the world, not as it is, but as we’d like to see it.  

Don’t be mistaken. We don’t do this for charity, or to boost our social profile, or even to make ourselves sleep better at night (although those are obvious benefits.) We do it because it just makes sense. We do it because it makes money. Diversity is the lifeblood of innovation in the 21st century.

Peter Thiel asks “what valuable business is nobody building?” in his book Zero to One. He posits that many of the world’s largest tech companies are built on unconventional ideas about how the world works. To tackle today’s problems and create tomorrow’s biggest companies, we’ll need complex solutions; solutions incubated by people who look at problems from unconventional angles. We’ll need investors willing to invest in those solutions and products.

In 2016, we ran a number of investor education programs with the goal of reaching the next generation of angels, fund managers, and lawyers in the venture capital industry. While we experienced wide–ranging diversity in our last Deal Camp program, we were disappointed that our class consisted of just 15% women. In 2017, we’re pushing towards more gender equity by announcing our Women Invest Initiative for the upcoming Venture Capital Unlocked: Deal Camp program. Deal Camp is a four-day course focused on the legal mechanics of deal making for investors who want to improve their ability to define, negotiate, and execute early-stage investments. We’re offering a 25% discount on the Deal Camp program fee for any woman who recruits another woman to attend the program (Application Deadline: Monday, January 23rd). Both women must identify each other in their applications and attend the program for the discount to apply.

We don’t want the conversation about diversity and inclusion to be relegated to small bubbles on the internet. We want to see change. So, if you’re in the LA area this weekend. Please join us for our Unity & Inclusion Summit. It’s a one-day event bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and the tech community to talk about the current state and future of diversity & inclusion. Details on the summit can be found here: http://bit.ly/500diversity.

Header image courtesy of wocintechchat.com.

What does unconscious bias mean for entrepreneurs, investors, and the tech community?

Guest blogger – Rory Gerberg, Partner at Refound

Bias at work

Every second your brain is flooded with 11 million bits of information, but it can only process 40 bits consciously. To cope, the brain uses mental shortcuts to instantly identify which 40 to notice and remember. These mental shortcuts function like a newsfeed algorithm that filters your lived reality: there’s way too much information out there, so rules of thumb determine what comes on your radar in the first place.

These mental shortcuts or rules of thumb let you focus on the job. But the drawback is that they can cause you to miss important information. This is why after an investor meeting, one investor confident in an entrepreneur’s capability is ready to invest, while another concerned about market prospects isn’t ready to jump the gun. The same goes for entrepreneurs pitching to investors–you might think you nailed your pitch, but your co-founder thinks it didn’t go so hot.

Bias about people

For teams, the most detrimental category of biases are your beliefs about people.  Your ability to communicate and collaborate at work is hampered by how you see social identity groups. Social identity groups include gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, religion, age and class. These biases filter what you notice, hear, and remember–and what you don’t. When a person’s actions are consistent with your bias toward that group, you are actually more likely to remember it. For example, given the bias that women are ‘less financially savvy’, an investor will more vividly remember a woman entrepreneur’s discomfort with her financial models compared to a male entrepreneur in the same position. When both Joe and Barbara are confused by the numbers, Barbara’s confusion will remain etched in your memory.  

For colleagues on the receiving end, biases can create experiences of exclusion. This exclusion decreases the likelihood that excluded colleagues will be creative, speak up in a meeting, or take professional risks. They’re bad for company culture, and they’re bad for your bottom line.

Internal organizational dynamics

Unconscious bias is everywhere. By definition, startups endeavor to create innovative solutions to problems, disrupting the status quo. Given the startup ethos, it is tempting to conclude that startups must be ahead of the game in tackling bias. But in fact, the opposite is the case: a startup’s organizational structure–or lack thereof–makes it even more prone to bias. With few, if any, established standards for conducting business, there is greater opportunity for bias. Bias is more likely to occur in situations of ambiguity, where employees either have increased discretion or are applying a set of rules for the first time. Without established rules of thumb that indicate how to act and respond at any given point in time, biases can inadvertently become a fallback for team interactions.

Questions to ask to start uncovering unconscious bias in your organization:

  • Onboarding: How do you welcome a new member of your team? When does an employee feel like a “culture fit”?
  • Team bonding: How do you bond with your team? What activities or locations do you frequent?
  • Daily decision-making: Who do you consult when making decisions? Who takes the most air time in meetings?


Investors aren’t immune either from unconscious bias faux pas. Initial meetings between investors and entrepreneurs provide only a bird’s eye view of a startup’s team, business model and product.  Investors must make an evaluation based on highly limited information, and often that information is based on uncertain financial data and market conjecture. In early stage investing, there is a strong role of intuition: their “gut feel” about entrepreneurs, the market, the product. In the end, a significant part of the decision to invest in an early-stage startup is the decision to invest in the founding team. And that isn’t an objective evaluation. Rather, it opens up space for investors to fall back on biases. Investors can be influenced by biases about the entrepreneur ranging from salient social identity categories, to seemingly irrelevant characteristics like the geographic distance between the startup and the investor. Generally, the need to make hasty decisions based on limited data leaves investors in a situation ripe for unconscious bias.

Additional questions investors should ask before deciding on a second meeting:

  • What are your biases about the entrepreneur’s social identity group?
  • How has the entrepreneur demonstrated preparedness, commitment, and trustworthiness?

Both entrepreneurs and investors need tools to bust unconscious bias at work.


How do you bust bias in your organization? Find out at the Unity Inclusion Summit (Get 15% off with RoryVIP) for a chance to meet 1:1, or learn more about Rory Gerberg’s work on unconscious bias here.


rory-refound-professional-headshotCreating diverse teams and inclusive organizations is at the heart of Rory Gerberg‘s work. At Refound, Rory designs and facilitates unconscious bias workshops for clients across all sectors—from tech startups and large corporations to nonprofits and public sector agencies. With a master’s degree from Harvard, she has also advised educational institutions and foundations on gender-sensitive program implementation and sexual harassment response strategy. Originally from New York, Rory moonlights as a salsa dancer and looks forward to her next backpacking trek.  Follow Rory on twitter

Can Muslims in Tech Fight Rising Islamophobia in the United States?

Guest blogger – Dustin Craun, Founder and CEO of Life Beyond Borders

As we enter a new political era built on a combination of misogyny, racism, and fear-based politics, I think of an unlikely hero, Muslims in tech. Muslims in tech in the United States and around the world is one of the biggest stories not being told. Muslim technological talent, founders, and venture capitalists play a central role in the majority of tech ecosystems around the world. This is true of the tech ecosystems in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Atlanta.

There are an estimated 300,000 Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area, and according to one study upwards of 20% of them work in the tech sector. According to research that we will release in the coming months via Ummah Wide, a digital media company I started to tell stories that transcend the borders of the global Muslim community, hundreds of Muslim founders across the world (the majority in the United States) have raised billions of dollars in venture capital investments for their startups and exits worth tens of billions of dollars. Despite these numbers, as well as the fact that Muslims make up large populations at every major tech company in the US, Muslims in tech still face discrimination on a daily basis. Even microaggressions, like questioning people’s faith or asking inappropriate questions regarding terrorism, have a profound affect on the Muslim community. Because of these discriminations, Muslims feel the need to hide their identity as a Muslim (even at the founder level), often times can’t find a place to pray at work, and Muslim women feel unsafe wearing and keeping on the hijab. Publicly hiding one’s Muslim identity can also take the form of people changing their names at work. Muhammad becomes Mo, or in the case of the owner of the NFL franchise the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shahid Khan becomes Shad Khan.

At another level of the discrimination conversation has been the recent discussion around whether tech companies would help build the proposed Muslim registry being talked about by the incoming administration. With push from groups like MPower, and Color of Change the majority of major tech companies (excluding Oracle) have responded that they would not.

One of the craziest things to me about all of this, as someone who has lived in Muslim-majority countries around the world, is that for American companies, this is not a population they want to discriminate against. In fact, American companies are already making billions of dollars off of Muslims globally. Muslims today make up nearly one-quarter of the world’s population, and by 2050 (according to Pew Research data) there will be nearly 3 billion Muslims, totaling 30% of humanity.

With my company, Ummah Wide, we publish an annual story on the 50 top global Muslim Startups. This story has resonated so deeply with Muslims that it has been translated into six languages and republished around the world. The global Muslim market is one of the largest emerging economies in the world with current spending equaling $1.8 trillion dollars and expected to grow by 5.8% on average over the next 5 years, according to the research firm Dinar Standard.

A recent Mashable article about the United States based Muslim startups explores how “ignorance and fear are big obstacles for Muslim startup founders.” While this may be true for US-based venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and beyond who are missing opportunities to invest in Muslim company’s, Muslim startups are finding major funding around the world led by venture capital funds in Malaysia, the Gulf, and Singapore. This is a quickly maturing startup space with innovative young entrepreneurs as well as seasoned serial entrepreneurs building companies that are growing across borders and developing this global Muslim market. Recently US based Affinis Labs, joining with Elixir Capital (US), and MAVCAP (Malaysia), announced a $250 million dollar global VC fund targeting the Islamic economy. For Silicon Valley, the time is now to play catch up with global firms as the 500 Startups partner Khailee Ng stated recently about Muslim startups in South Asia, “I need to be very interested in investing in Muslim tech startups to be a good investor in this region…If anything, I’m just playing catchup.”

While there is growing investor interest, this is a complex, global emerging market representative of both local economies and diasporic populations who live across borders and whose reach can allow products to grow beyond traditional markets. To best articulate the scale of the emerging global Muslim startup ecology it is best to break it up into 4 areas:

  1. Muslim leadership is prevalent in global tech ecosystems

Muslims entrepreneurs play vital roles in regional startup ecologies around the world from Silicon Valley to Istanbul, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Bangalore, Singapore, Jakarta, London, Berlin, New York City, Casablanca and in dozens of other cities and startup communities. In Silicon Valley alone there are tens of thousands of Muslims embedded in every layer of the tech and startup community, including entrepreneurs with major exits like Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, as well as major players in VC firms, like Mamoon Hamid, co-founder of the VC firm Social + Capital, Qasar Yunus, COO of Y Combinator, and Omar Hamoui, Partner at Sequoia Capital.

  1. Companies and startups that focus on Muslim majority populations and use Muslim-centric branding win

Companies around the world know the importance of creating products for and catering to Muslim markets. Uniqlo created a modest fashion line designed for the Asian market, Marks & Spencer introduced the burkini, and Dolce & Gabbana launched the abaya. Whether it’s creating modest fashion options, or developing advertising campaigns for Ramadan, this is, simply put, a market that can not be ignored by global companies. However, this isn’t new – local companies in Muslim majority countries go above and beyond to market to Muslims, like Careem for example, the Dubai based Uber competitor, who offered free rides to the Mosque in their cars during Ramadan in 2015. The US is the one that needs to play catch up.

  1. Muslim startups should focus specifically on Muslim consumers

This is the area we focus on in our 500 Startups article, where we look at Muslim-centric products that can be created by any entrepreneur, regardless of faith, who sees the global market opportunity. While many of these companies show the real potential for what companies in this space can grow to, it can also be one of the hardest types of startups to get funded. As of today, the largest companies in terms of investments and growth are modest fashion companies like Modanisa (Turkey), Hijup (Indonesia), and Fashion Valet (Malaysia), as well as Halal food companies like Saffron Road (US) and The Halal Guys (US). We believe a third major sector will emerge over the coming years in Islamic FinTech, with early stage companies growing in the space like our company Salaam Bank (US / Malaysia), Finocracy (Dubai), Investroo (US), and Ethis Crowd (Malaysia).

  1. Social enterprise products are rising in Muslim majority countries that use aspects of Muslim branding focused on western markets

There are also an emerging set of companies who are making an impact on Muslim majority markets where products are produced, branded, and sold in Western markets with positive representations of Muslim cultures and values. A great example of this is Port of Mokha, the coffee company founded by Mokhtar Alkhanshali, who is focused on transforming the coffee industry in Yemen, and who recently had their coffees featured at Blue Bottle. Other examples of this include the wide range of social impact companies focused on global refugees like Rumie and Techfugees.

If the tech community wants to stand for the values it preaches, it must take a collective stand against Islamophobia and racism broadly, while also recognizing the major role Muslims play in Silicon Valley and Tech ecosystems around the world. This can take many forms ranging from blocking government requests for data that could be used to police Muslim and other vulnerable communities. To companies conducting research and reviewing hiring policies with special attention paid to how interviewers are responding to job candidates who wear hijab or who are visibly Muslim. Tech companies must also make training on religion and multifaith dialogue a central part of their larger diversity training and discuss issues of Islamophobia in the workplace as a major component of this.

For Muslims in the tech ecosystem in the United States and around the world, the value we bring must not continue to be under-appreciated. In the political era we are entering Muslims in tech can play an important role in combating Islamophobia not only within the tech community but rather within society at large. To do this we must not be afraid to be unapologetically Muslim and have the hard conversations that are necessary for creating a more just, unified and inclusive society for all.


Learn more about being Muslim in Tech at our upcoming event: Unity & Inclusion Summit Los Angeles with 500 Startups & Microsoft. Get 15% off with “DustinVIP”


Dustin Craun is a social innovator, writer, digital strategist, community organizer, and educator. His writings on race, philosophy, and Islamic spirituality have been published in academic journals and popular publications.

He is the founder & CEO of Life Beyond Borders a digital production studio focused on product development, content and digital strategy, design, and video production. With LBB Dustin has launched three portfolio companies: Ummah Wide, MPower Change, and Salaam Bank, an Islamic finance and banking FinTech platform. Follow Dustin on twitter
*header image courtesy of Samuel Corum – Anadolu Agency


#AnotherOne: 500 Startups Announces Batch 19 🔑

It’s that time again! Announcing our latest Mountain View cohort, Batch 19, with 44 companies.  

Earlier this year, we experimented with vertical tracks to be able to provide greater value to companies, in particular, categories of interest.  These tracks have allowed companies to receive additional categorical mentoring and networking opportunities.  This year at 500 Startups, we’ve held specialized tracks in Health, Fintech, B2B, and Fashion & Beauty.  In Batch 19, we are, again, running tracks in B2B led by Robert Neivert and Fashion & Beauty led by Tanya Soman.  #MajorKey

500 Startups has always invested in a lot of B2B companies — in fact, many of our top performing companies in our portfolio, such as Intercom and Talkdesk are B2B companies. One of the biggest challenges for B2B companies — especially enterprise B2B — is sales.  How to hire salespeople?  How to close deals?  How to negotiate proposals?  This is what our B2B track focuses on so that we can help founders with a great B2B product take their traction to the next level.  

500 Startups has also invested in a lot of fashion & beauty companies including Ipsy, Le Tote, TheRealReal, and Tradesy.  We see a real opportunity in this space because few investors have historically understood or invested in it.  But, with the rise in some of our high flying fashion & beauty companies, investors and corporates are beginning to take notice. #BlessUp In this track, we provide both growth guidance to help our companies increase their users and revenues and also help connect them with relevant larger industry players.  

At 500 Startups, it’s important to us to continue to push the startup ecosystem to be more inclusive and diverse, so we actively scout great companies from everywhere.  This batch was no different, and we are proud that the diversity of our founders remains strong:

  • 29% of companies have at least one female founder
  • 49% of companies are international
  • 13% of companies have a black founder
  • 9% of companies have a LatinX founder

International countries represented:

  • Nigeria
  • India
  • Jordan
  • UK
  • Hong Kong
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Brazil
  • Spain
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Palestine
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden

Learn more about Batch 19 below. #WeTheBest 

For investors interested in attending Demo Day B19 you can register here. See ya there! And applications for Batch 20 are now open. Apply here.

Aella Credit

Aella Credit provides instant credit solutions to Africans by eliminating standard loan applications and enabling employees to borrow at competitive rates through their employers.



Almabase makes fundraising easier for schools by helping them engage their alumni effectively.


Ambience Data

Ambience Data provides live, accurate environmental insights worldwide to manage pollution health risks.



The first marketplace using intelligent technology to assist medical suppliers to validate and to assign reliable distributors with the least amount of time and at half of the cost, plus providing access to all medical tenders and news online.



Baloonr removes bias from group work and decision-making.



Donate spare change automatically from everyday purchases to your charity of choice.



Cardlife helps businesses to take control of their subscriptions with the vision to be the one stop shop for everything SaaS subscriptions.



ChangeJar is a mobile cash payment platform for retailers who want more transactions with higher margins.



ClaimCompass will get the airlines to pay you up to $680 for your delayed, cancelled or overbooked flight.



CloudCoffer is a plug-and-play network security device that shields businesses of any size from external and internal hacking with the most scalable and affordable network protection in minutes.


Crema Co

A marketplace that gives coffee drinkers access to rare coffees from small-batch roasters.



One-stop Event Management Platform for Corporate Events.


Fingertips Lab

IoT device allows you to engage your phone while driving, eyes free.



Flye allows real-time engagement with customers in geo-fenced areas & provides social media analytics to brands – no hashtag needed.



Fuel delivers nutrient-customized meals tailored to your unique body, fitness and biomarker data.


Fuel For Clover

B2B payments platform for retail petroleum merchants that decrease interchange cost and increase card security.



Gestoos is a computer vision software platform that enables camera (sensor) equipped devices to see and understand human gestures and movements with a level of accuracy never before available.



Gluwa is a blockchain-powered banking platform to send and receive money automatically and privately for businesses.



GymHit is a proactive business management platform for fitness businesses that is introducing a virtual manager for workflow automation for everything from automated booking to billing.



A text-based home manager and dashboard for homeowners designed to increase the quality and simplicity of home services.



Motion sensors for Boxing and MMA that recognize which punch is being thrown and at which speed it’s thrown.



iControl replaces paper with an app at construction sites, saving each construction manager time by generating all their daily reports.



IDwall is a B2B solution that builds trust by verifying documents, identity and doing background checks in a reliable and scalable way.



Like GPS does outdoors, InnerSpace’s instant mapping and location platform transforms the human experience indoors and captures the data on how people interact indoors. We’re driving a fundamental shift in the way that people experience, understand, and create their indoor spaces.



Kompyte is competitor tracking software that alerts you in real time when your competitors make changes to their websites, products and digital marketing campaigns.



Never lose your child again with Kiband, a line of child wearables that sync with your smartphone.



An online legal marketplace connecting attorneys with curated freelancers for legal jobs and project-based legal services.



Mashvisor helps real estate investors quickly find traditional and Airbnb investment properties.



Emoji Marketplace for independent designers and studios from around the world.



MyFavorito is a CRM platform for the B2C world, used by brands and retailers to increase loyalty, sales and growth.



Solving the urban housing problem through affordable communal living.



OWLR is a mobile-first platform that transforms your off-the-shelf home security cameras into a smarter, simpler and safer home monitoring system.


Park Evergreen

Park Evergreen is a B2B platform that allows companies to offer unlimited monthly parking to employees across a network of parking lots in their city.



Pawprint is an app that helps pet owners find and book quality veterinarians.


Pluto AI

Pluto is an AI-powered analytics platform that water companies use to prevent water wastage, predict asset failures, and avoid expensive operations/maintenance costs.



RocketBolt provides easy email & website tracking to help you discover your next big sales opportunity.



An innovative platform for companies to seamlessly search, publish, and pull insights from curated social media images to increase audience engagement, while fairly compensating the original content contributors.



ShearShare connects salon owners to stylists to fill empty salon chairs.



Sickweather is the Doppler radar of sickness — allowing parents, patients, and providers to check for the chance of sickness as easily as they can check for the chance of rain.



Tagove connects sales and support teams to online customers through live video chat and co-browsing with plug and play installation.



TalentBase is a Payroll and HR software targeting growing businesses across Africa.



The first platform for truly interactive video, driving 10x more engagement by providing freely navigable video, enriched with contextual contents.



UNICORN is a stylish skincare brand for men.



Beauty Subscription Service & Digital Playground for Multicultural Millennials.


500 Startups Announces 18 New Investments in Latin America

Today we are announcing our newest LatAm Accelerator Batch, a program based in Mexico City which focuses on startups in LatAm and Spanish speaking regions. This is our 6th LatAm batch and we’ve invested in 91 companies to date through the program.

Alongside this news, we’ve also opened a new LatAm HQ in Mexico City with an expanded team!


After receiving over 408 applications for the current LatAm program, and conducting over 100 founder interviews, 500 Startups chose 18 high potential teams to participate in the program. Each company receives $65K in investment, and joins for 4 months of working side-by-side with support from 500’s team and global family of mentors.

Among the 18 startups in Batch 6, there are companies from Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Colombia, covering industries including e-commerce, education, SaaS, food tech, logistics, government services, tourism, amongst others.

The program covers legal, product, marketing and growth, and finance among other critical themes that founders must master. The program also includes dedicated sessions with specialized mentors each week, and brings in local as well as international expertise.

Additionally, it is currently running in 500’s new LatAm HQ in the Juarez neighborhood of Mexico City, a space that was remodeled over the past few months to be the home of our growing Latin America operations. The space is designed to offer a workspace for startups, as well as an event space that accommodates up to 150 people.

Our LatAm team is growing with new additions Didier Quiroz and Daphne Salinas who will work as Associates to the LatAm fund. Didier and Daphne will be working alongside Bedy Yang as Managing Partner, Santiago Zavala as Partner, and René Lomelí as Director of Operations.

latamteampic(Left to Right: Daphne, René, Santiago, and Didier)

And now, we’re proud to announce the 18 newest companies to join the #500Strong family!


#LOOKEA – Ready to shop style inspiration destination for consumers who love fashion and lifestyle products. The company creates high quality leads for fashion e-commerce sites and brands. Moreover, they allow users to upload their own photos and their algorithm identifies and recommends similar fashion items they can buy.

Asistia – A health platform where you can hire high quality caretaker services for elderly citizens and schedule recurring daily or weekly visits. The company’s allow caretakers to log in the beginning and end of a service and also post notes relevant to the service.

Backstartup – Professional accounting and legal services made for startups. The company focuses on having all their clients investment ready, from having all legal and accounting matters up to date and ready for due diligence to helping founders understand and negotiate investment terms.

Buenchef – Delivers recipes and all the ingredients the client needs. Redefining weeknight dinner. The founders have a successful previous experience in the food delivery space with an exit and now are trying to improve and solve

Cívica Digital – has develop digital tools to strengthen citizenship and for governments to have the appropriate feedback on the services they provide to the community with the intent of improve them. The company also works with NGOs in order to improve many aspects of society.

CuidaMiMascota – Allows users to find high quality and trustful pet sitters near them. By scheduling a service, the company connects you to one of their many sitters and helps you coordinate the service in the easiest way possible, so your furry friend is well taken care in your absence.

Deporprivé – Sport-specific flash sales website where members receive exclusive access to sales from top sports brands. Each week there are specific sales ranging from running shoes to training equipment and technology.

EasyPoint – Receive e-commerce products in a network of pickup points over neighborhood stores

EcomExperts – Suite of tools to help online sellers manage their account, thus making them sell more and reduce costs. Moreover, the company offers analytics for clients to have insights on their business.

HostTonight – Service that allows new and experienced Airbnb host to delegate the property managament and take full advantage of the Airbnb model without the pains and problems associated with it such as key exchange logistics, cleaning services and negotiation with guests.

HoyPido – Is a Blockchain-inspired FDN (Food Delivery Network). By analyzing the excess capacity of small kitchens, the company incorporates them to their program and use that excess capacity to provide standardized meal to workers in near by businesses.

Impulsando Academy – Is offering specialized content and skills. The company’s educational platform provides live and recorded sessions so students can learn as better suits them. Moreover, the company is focused on providing personalized experiences so all their students get most out of their lesson.

LocalAventura – Online platform that allows travelers to search, book, and pay for tour with passionate local guides in Latin America. The company simplifies the experience of traveling to the region offering a truly personalized offering catered to you needs and taste.

LECO – One stop solution for lens users. Through their Platform users can access their correct prescription and order the visual solution of their choice either contact lenses or glasses whenever and wherever they need it.

Tarefa –  Is working to give any student timely answers to the questions on topics such as math and science. Through their educational platform the company connects students with teachers to solve their must burning questions. Also, the company is developing software that will allow to solve some of these questions without a teacher

TipiTop – End-to-end service to sell or buy pre-owned cars in a reliable and easy way. The company is growing a network of certified mechanics and sellers that verifies every car that goes through their platform, assuring the quality of such an important acquisition.

Yaydoo – Through their network of suppliers the company is creating and On-demand procurement assistant that resolves all the needs of a business reducing work and logistics to ensure that companies have everything they need for their daily activities.

Yetcargo – Allows companies to ship their product at affordable prices by allowing them to use the excess capacity of shipment and delivery trucks.


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