Startups show their wares at Web2Expo Europe

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The TechWeb/O’Reilly Web 2 Expo Europe event in Berlin last week saw some Silicon Valley stallwarts come together with Europe’s Web 2.0 crowd. They were joined by a bunch of startups all trying to get some exposure to a swathe of VCs who flew in to work the halls and walk disinterestedly passed the Expo booths. This year the event was much better located and in a hugely better venue (by Alexanderplatz, the heart of the old East Berlin and near Mitte where many tech companies now reside). It was also somewhat smaller compared to last year, which made for a better event overall.

But the best buzz of the event – at least for startups – was generated most by the antics of the less formal opening day when startups came to a well-organised “Pitchcamp” to work on their pitches and showcase themselves to potential partners, investors and the press. The 12 judges assembled to be as blunt as possible about the startups were a pretty experienced bunch.

In case you hadn’t heard, many European startups don’t get a lot of opportunity for to pitch themselves, and believe me, the majority need the practice. (That’s why TechCrunch UK has been organising such events itself in the UK and around Europe). Straight after Pitchcamp was O’Reilly more “official” Startup Ignite event where six startups pitched their wares before three judges (including moi). This followed the format of judges “tweeting” their feedback in a notional 140 character Twitter. The format kind’ve worked, until my own feedback started sounding more like bad, short-form poetry… Here’s the whole 44 minute video of the session.:

But back in Pitchamp, the startups were ranked by judges. The winner ended up being Wuala, which we’ve written about extensively. In second place was Youcalc. And – can you believe it – there was a three-way tie for third place which went to Amazee, Plista and SofaTutor.

Here’s a run-down of the startups across the two events, in alphabetical order.

aka-aki
Covered here, is the Berlin-based and soon-to-launch UK mobile social network, with a mobile java app which tracks you around as you interact in the real world with other members. The app enables mobile networking via Bluetooth and there is control via privacy settings, such as transmiting that you are single only to other singles ;-). In the UK a number of startups are trying to crack this MoSoSo (mobile social software) nut such as Weglu, BuddyPing, TruTap, Next2Friends as well as Zyb and Eccosphere elsewhere. But no-one else has done what Aka-Aki has done – make the app hook into multiple platforms from Bluetooth, to GPS, to WiFi. Definitely one to watch.

Amazee
Combine Facebook Causes pages with Basecamp and the ability to take PayPal and credit card donations, and what do you get? Zurich-based startup Amazee. As well as taking donations, projects can also sell banner ad space on their home pages and the revenues are shared between the project and Amazee. The site is headquartered in Zurich and has an office in San Francisco. Amazee camp is a free offer to organisations for 6 months. Our review is here.

Buzzmedia
Buzzmedia’s Pavel Neuman, a Czech startup guy with Czech blog Buzzmedia had a tough time. He didn’t impress too much without slides, a demo, or an eloquent pitch, but he was saved by seed investment giant Yossi Vardi defending his idea to the assembled crowd. “I’ve known this guy since he was 7! He’s great!”. Unfortunately, few people know what he actually pitched, still. I asked him to email me a pitch. I’m still waiting. [Update: I found a Czech run-down of his pitch, translated: “Paul in his speech a bit lost and jerky. It wants to sell advertising on blogs and a European offer of the media, I understand only because I know and that I gave my blog like this is available.” I think only Yossi can save him now].

Doodle
Doodle is a free web app which helps finding suitable dates for group events, like an appointment, a conference call, a family reunion, etc. It’s been around for a while but is now growing at about 20pc a month and is now doing an API. I’ve been using it for a year or so personally and it works very well. Zurich based.

Floobs
Floobs, is an upcoming company from Finland, which allows users to create live internet and mobile TV channels for broadcasting live, or prerecorded shows. The service is currently in beta and is designed to be integrated into existing social networking services for lifestreaming. Right now it doesn’t have a lot to distinguish itself from other similar services and it would have been nice if they’d uploaded some footage from Web 2 Expo for starters if that’s their USP.

iDesktop.tv
I wrote about it in 2007 and it has come a long way. It’s a great way of creating custom players for YouTube videos with some 15 different players and playlist types and 300 options to customise. It’ll give a more professional look to your videos that can be created in 10 mins. Here are some examples. These guys are basically still students, so they’ve achieved a lot just bootstrapping, but it still looks more like a feature application than a real company at this stage.

Netzsprecher
Two guys with a system to allow people to use their voice to integrate voice enabled, VOIP-driven features into communities, blogs and other websites. Plenty more like them, but the team is strong enough with VOIP expertise. This is not a million miles away from Spinvox’s social approach except it use VOIP.

Plista
Plista – a TechCrunch 50 Demo-pit company – is a widget, API integration or browser plug-in which recommends content to users as they browse. No site cooperation is needed. Sounds too simple right? It follows what you like and don’t across sites. Plista’s Greasemonkey script places a ratings box on each element of a site and rates it to your preferences. The recommendation engine works across sites, so it’ll recommend content on one site based on what you told it about content you liked on another. Right now there is no Plista social network, but the idea is to launch a portal later on. The Webware blog thought it was “MyBlogLog meets Sphere, with a dash of Matchmine”. That puts it in competition with sites with other ratings systems, like Amazon, but it’s advantage is it works across these sites. Interestingly Plista hasn’t taken venture money yet and may not need it as it devotes part of its team to consulting while working on the project. Overall, if Plista can get user traction, it’s going to look very good, because it will effectively create a kind of ad-network based on recommendations.

SnipClip
SnipClip is interesting. It takes content and turns it into a game which you can then monetise – quite a trend at the moment. Their war-cry is “Paid content is back!”, for the reason being that content owners aren’t getting much money from their digital assets (then again, some content owners maybe spend too much creating it). So if people won’t pay for content online, but they are getting more addicted to social gaming then that’s an opportunity for media providers to provide content in the form of a game. SnipClip turns content into “digital collectables” which users then collect as part of a game. Here’s their demo, in Silverlight, alas.

SofaTutor
Given that the average student can pay as much as 150 euros a month for private tutoring (that’s a 2 billion Euro market), Sofatutor is designed to bring that teaching online and disrupt that market with an offering which costs 10 euros a month. Competitors like Tutor.com or TutorVista screen tutors for cheap lessons but Sofatutor instead will make, solicit and filter quality white-board style video from users to explian subjects using in-house editors. Video makers will get a cut of the revenue – a smart model. Instructional video sites like 5Min and VideoJug rely on advertising, but Sofatutor will go for a subscription fee model and aim at 6.5 million 15-year-old plus students in Germany.

SoundCloud
We like Soudcloud. This German startup that launched in October allows artists to upload a file once and easily distribute it to whomever they’d like. It’s really aimed at industry professionals, including artists, music labels, and producers and it really is done very, very well. Artists get profiles and a music widget for their tracks which allows them to open up their tracks to comments from outside visitors. Crucially, artists can specify how much control their users will have over their content. It may be hard to drag true sound technicians away from their mixing desks but there is a very long tail of music people who are going to love these tools. At the Startup Ignite event I said SoundCloud was “Cloud computing becomes a rock star, gets drunk, sleeps with a groupie and throws a TV out of the hotel window.” I meant it.

Stupeflix
We’ve covered Stupeflix since their emergence in June and Seedcamp win in September, but this is essentially like Animoto but without the wait. Stupeflix automatically generates professional looking videos out of pictures, music and videos. So a real estate agent could convert all their video for distribution onto all socials platforms. And unlike Animoto they are developing the API before the site and intend to integrate the payment system within the API, as Amazon does with its web services.

TripShake
TripShake is service for travelers where users can ask questions and receive useful information from other users to help them plan their trips. The idea is to turn it into a personal travel agent, taking the traveler through choosing and buying a trip using semantic tech. Revenues would come from transactions, affiliates, professional accounts for travel agents. Tripshake is based in London but is being developed in Italy – great to see an Italian startup for a change.

Wuala
We’ve covered Wuala a lot in the past. This is social online storage – think an encrypted BitTorrent meets a storage service. We like. After eschewing venture for a while, they are now looking for a VC round.

Youcalc
Youcalc is a “smart” widget which produces Interactive charts that “bring data to life”. It’s a widget gallery, a widget creation tool, and a community of widget users and widget developers. Think “YouTube meets graphs” – which is a pretty killer niche if you could get traction.

Txtr
Apart from the rather “add an R to end of the domain” brand, txtr looks like a really interesting platform for a niche market: Me. I love text and deal with it all of the time, and most peole don’t give it the respect it deserves. Instead they format it, bold it and generally warp it. Me, I just like plain text. So I’m excited about the possibilities. Txtr will be a “platform for connected reading”, letting you follow what your friends read, storing your private notes, and allowing allows mobile access to your text (the bit I most like) such as books, documents, news etc. Wizpac Ltd is the company behind txtr, was founded in early 2008 by a group of serial entrepreneurs and book enthusiasts, including Andreas Steinhauser and Frank Rieger, who developed what is now Nokia Maps. However, looking at the app itself it still needs work in terms of giving a few pointers about how to make it work for you best. It has lot of potential however and I am looking forward to the iPhone app in December. If they can make a “cloud” version of DevonThink with an iPhone app that syncs the text then I will be a happy man.

As a footnote, TechCrunch UK also ran an impromtu pitch at the Expo, the podcast of which is here and it featured:

Zootool – collect and share you favourite images form the Web.

Cellity – Low-cost telephone calls and text messages via free software for low-end mobile phones.

Babbel – Language learning site profiled here.

Mloovi – profiled here.

Tribax – Create your own white-labelled social network.

LearnitLists – A widget for a learning a new word everyday from your chosen language

PassPack – the online password manager

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