Dozens of (mostly) European companies showcased their new consumer web applications at Innovate 2006 in Zaragoza, Spain this week. As usual with conferences like these, the companies were young, rough and hungry. And I see a lot of potential with at least a few of them. I’ve summarized my favorites below and look forward to profiling these individually.
Also, I’ve taken a few days to hang out in London with entrepreneurs. If you are here, we are having an open event on Monday, May 22. Details are here.
The prevailing topic of conversation at the conference was “Can Europe become more like silicon valley?”. I’m not an expert on this topic, although I’ve lived in London and Copenhagen and have spent a lot of time in Europe over the last few years. But I do have a number of observations. These are generalities, and some of them are applicable to certain geographic areas. The UK, for example, seems to be doing better than the other European countries when it comes to encouraging startups. And a lot of cool stuff is coming out of France even though starting and running a company there is, to say the least, daunting.
First, entrepreneurs in Europe are not revered in the same way as the U.S. Many people in Europe consider entrepreneurs to be greedy and arrogant, trying to reach above themselves. That has to change. Entrepreneurs tend to ignore risk/reward ratios, drive economic growth, bring new jobs to a country. They should be encouraged, not socially chastised
Second, the complexity of creating a corprate entity, hiring employees and raising capital needs to be reduced. It’s simply too hard to create a company and get started.
Third, taxes must come down, or entrepreneurs will continue to flee to the US and elsewhere.
So back to the main reason for this post…here are my favorite companies from the Innovate 2006 conference:
ReadSpeaker is a Spanish company. They provide websites with a plugin that creates a “say it” button on the site. Press the button and the page is read to the reader. Highlight text before pressing the button and just that text is read. Lots of supported languages to choose from.
vPod.tv is headquarted in Paris and Madrid that is yet another video sharing site. I’ll be writing more about them later today, but there is something realy special here. They have a fantastic monetization product, and they are doing things with Flash that I haven’t seen anywhere else. vPod.tv is a company we’ll be hearing a lot more about in the near future. Founder Rodrigo Sepulveda Schulz snagged me after a couple of cocktails at the end of the conference and recorded a videocast here where we discuss the new TechCrunch design, among other things.
Wakoo is a Paris-based company that is going to offer a web chat product for blogs and other websites. It’s pretty slick. Compare it to Mobber, 3Bubbles and Gabbly. This is an unproven market, and there are lots of competitors. The Wakoo site is in French, which will make it impossible for them to enter the U.S. market, but gives them a clear advantage with French bloggers and other French websites.
Australia-based Digislide isn’t a web application, but I loved watching their presentation. They’ve created a tiny projector (for power point, movies, whatever) that can be built into a cell phone or laptop computer. They are signing licensing deals now and expect to see it in consumer electronics products soon. It’s tiny, silent and totally cool.
Clicmobile, headquartered in Paris, is Myspace on your phone. I saw a demo of their mobile social network and came away impressed. No idea if this stuff will work in the American mobile market, but I can see both social and enterprise applications for this. Currently in beta.
Feefo, based in the UK, is an open feedback forum that allows buyers to leave feedback on sellers, and for that feedback to be included on the seller’s site via an API. I don’t think they’ve nailed the product like Rapleaf has (for example, a seller has to join before feedback can be left), but I like the space.
Violet, based in Paris, has created a consumer gadget called Nabaztag, a plastic, 23-cm-tall white rabbit with a constant wi-fi connection. The device provides vital daily information like traffic reports and the weather. It also moves its ears around and has these fascinating blinking lights. I want one.
Tariq Krim, the founder of Netvibes, was at the conference demo’ing his product, and he also participated on a panel that I moderated. It’s an ajax home page that is distancing itself from the crowd. My original profile on Netvibes is here. He was definitely the toast of the conference.