So Plugg, the European startups conference in Brussels today (organised by TechCrunch writer Robin Wauters) wrapped up with two overall winners of their startup competition, and if I do say so myself they were pretty worthy.
The overall winner was London-based Mendeley which describes itself as the “Last.fm for research” – in other words they are out to scrobble capture data about research papers, as well as making scientific research both social. Fascinatingly, they are setting out to make the trends in scientific research a great deal faster to analyse and expose – something which normally takes years to recognise. The startup essentially aims to enable academics to manage and share their research paper inventory and at the same time discover like-minded people and papers thanks to a recommendation and matching algorithm. The business model is based on premium features like increased upload space, working out who is reading your papers, and something they call an “iTunes for Research papers”. Corporate/ research departments are looking to license the software in-house. Plus CPM rates for research papers tend to be much higher than in consumer markets.
The audience also cast their votes in the morning session and awarded Myngle with the People’s Choice Award. This startup, based in The Netherlands, pitches itself as a ‘new way to learn languages’. Myngle was founded by ex-eBay and Berlitz language company employees and operates a platform for online language education where teachers and students can virtually connect and determine if there’s a match for an online course to start between the parties (from both sides).
Myngle’s defensability against Livemocha and iTalki is, they claim, the combination of quality teaching and community. Teachers on Myngle are ‘checked’ before going online – though that does raise issues of scalability. However they do have revenues – they ask people to pay about 300-400 Euro up front for lessons, thus avoiding the “shall I continue” question with other paid-language sites, and this means they are booking 20,000 Euro per month and accelerating.
Some other highlights of the conference included:
• Inma Martinez, digital media strategist and Venture Capital investor, who threw down the guantlet to European startups, saying they needed to ‘surf the same wave’ all the US firms surf, before it hits Europe. She also emphasised the importance of marketing and productization – something European startups are generally pretty bad at, even as they are great at R&D.
• Synthetron sounded like a fascinating way to create a crowd conversation.
• Beebole.com looked liked an interesting mashup of the Netvibes model tailored to businesses
• Senseboard was a bizarre Minority Report-style startup from Stockholm that had a hand-controller for sensing movement opposite a computer screen. Wild.
• EyeTronics scanned your face into a 3-D image which, ideally, will get inserted into games
• Silentale continues to be one of the startups to keep an eye on.
• Lisa Sounio, chairwoman of Dopplr encouraged women to get involved in startups. She’s a serial entrepreneur who used to work for iconic Nordic brands, but found the corporate companies too slow. She also called for European MPs to declare their travel plans and release the data.
• Dries Buytaert, the original Belgian creator and project lead for the Drupal open source web publishing and collaboration platform, gave a masterful speech about being an outsider on the US startup scene. This guy is rapidly making his way forward. He is president of the Drupal Association, a non-profit organization, co-founder of Acquia, the VC-backed software company which is the “Red Hat” of Drupal and is also working on Mollom, a service that helps you identify content quality and that stops website spam. And he’s in his 20s. Beat that.
• Bart Decrem, CEO of Tapulous is originally from Belgium, but now heads a company with a main-street office in Palo Alto where Mark Zukerburg will casually drop by. Decrem coordinated the creation of the GNOME Foundation, headed marketing and business affairs for the Mozilla Foundation, and founded Flock. His main message was that where as originally people thought iPhone apps would be about location services, in fact they turned out to be about disposable services and entertainment. Tap Tap was one of the most popular apps and now has 6m users and 1,000 games are completed every minute.