SeedcampWeek09: Recession-era startups emerge blinking into the light

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Seedcamp, the European-wide programme for tech startups, has opened its annual week of supercharged mentoring for its final list of 20 startups. There are other startup programmes and competitions in Europe but Seedcamp seems to have cornered the market in that scare resource: smart European tech CEOs who can mentor new startups. Put simply, if you’d thrown a grenade into the Costa Coffee at University College London today much of the tech startup scene in Europe would have been wiped out. Which would be a pity. But back to the startups: What are the trends this year?

It’s safe to say the “quality” of the startups is somewhat higher this year. This is not to play down last year’s vintage – however, it’s clear that many of the teams have come to the event much more fully rounded as companies and products. The last couple of years of Seedcamp has tended towards cloud-based companies which are trying to shoot for the moon. The next Twitter. The next Skype. The next Google. That sort of thing. And in the first year they were mostly companies from London. Now, they are literally from all over the EMEA region.

Also, this year, the phrase “revenue” was uttered to a high degree during the pitches, and many of the businesses are aimed at solving users’ or company time, money or both – in other words this is your Recession-Era Seedcamp Week. I counted at least two Travel startups. Mobile startups were thin on the ground, but they were about saving time or money. “It’s all websites not widgets” said one mentor I spoke to, in a side-swipe at Web 2.0 boom-era startups. That pleased him. Another wanted to see more that “changed the world”. You can’t please everyone.

Seedcamp Week 2009 Day 1 Highlights from Seedcamp on Vimeo.

It’s worth pointing out also that the slight ambiguity of past Seedcamp years has now gone. Seedcamp T&Cs now state that a startup cannot go into the programme unless they will take the investment offered. To remind you, that’s 5-10% equity (stakes are flexible) for a 50,000 Euro investment. That’s totally fine. They’ve assembled an awesome network of mentors. It would be a huge waste of everyone’s time if a startup got all that great advice and then effectively threw it back in the faces of the organisers and didn’t take the investment. However, that does leave the way open for an event or a programme or something to create a competition where there isn’t the obligation of investment, but a different kind of business model in Europe. But for now Seedcamp has the run of the place, and their networked model is paying dividends. [Update: After some feedback from some VCs I think there’s another point to be made here: Seedcamp sees lots of quality businesses as they guarantee funding. Another network like it would only be able to compete if it could replicate similar investor or CEO access. That could be tough]

Anyway, without further ado here’s our rundown on the companies (we’ll be adding logos shortly).

Advertag – London, UK.
The pitch: The problem is that classifieds advertising doesn’t work [Ed – says who?). Craigslist is very good as is Oodle, AdTrader etc. But most classifieds have the same categorisation. This allows users to submit any advert-style listing a la Craigslist to a semantic database that produced a tag cloud based on the content. Advertag extracts data and creates tag cloud based on the advert. These emerge from the system as people add things into the database. The field changes as you click.

Boxed Ice – Bromsgrove, UK
The Pitch: Existing server monitoring products such as Hyperic, Nagios and Cacti are often difficult to install and time consuming to set up. Internal monitoring of servers tends to require dedicated hardware. But Server Densitiy is software which does the same thing. It takes a data snapshot of processors every 60 seconds. The model will be a 30 day trial for free with a paid serice of £10 per server per month. They started in February and launched a full service in June this year. Started billing customer in July. CEO David Mytton, is a second time entrepreneur – his first startup was when he was 17 and he was the lead developer of WeLoveLocal.com.

Brainient – Bucharest, Romania
This is a video tech startup which aims to help video publishers make more money with their video content via affiliate marketing. Publishers attach affiliate links to objects in their videos and the result integrates with video ad networks like DoubleClick, Brightroll, GoogleAdsense. Brainient automatically selects the most profitable ad for the publisher and takes a cut of the transaction’s value (10% – 15%). They are add in-video Polls, Chapters, RSS, etc. The team of 6 competes in interactivity with the likes of Quick.tv, Coull and Veeple, though they focus more on affiliate marketing.

Codility – Warsaw, Poland.
The Pitch: This is is a platform which assesses the programming skills of developers in a few minutes. Not unlike Trollim you create a test which coders have to pass. Developers can complete a test and even run test compilations. The recruiters get a full report on how the dev did. Effectively this automates recruitment and then saves you money.

Comufy – London, UK
Comufy says it “believes that the user should decide how, when and by whom they are contacted”. To be honest their general pitch is incredibly estoteric. However, it made sense when they demo’d an application where you basically drag an drop your contacts into various fields which dictate how they contact you. Intelligent Flatplan is a company they have installed their software which lets editors automatically inform clients when the flatplan on a magazine changes. Another example would be on a dating platform where a user determines whether to block or prioritse IMs/tweets/email from someone they like or dislike. I can see this being used by businesses though it feels like a clunky consumer proposition.

Erply – Estonia.
These guys are very into building customised ERP/CRM systems and have done a lot, but now they are trying to build all their knowledge into one platform. ERPLY is a software service that is aimed at CRM, accounting, billing and inventory management for SMEs and though in beta stage they have 200 companies using it. Their pitch wasn’t the sexiest but it sounded interesting that they had a real-time dashboard and a touch-screen Point of Sale interface with a built-in webshop and e-commerce solution. Competitors would be Xero, NetSuite, and old DOS and Windows programmes and Microsoft Excel. They won Mini Seedcamp in Warsaw.

Joobili – Budapest, Hungary
Budapest based Joobili allows events and festivals organisers to input events. Then when you want inspiration for a holiday you work out what is on when. E.g. the Easter Markets in Prague, Snowbombing in Austria, Semana Santa in Spain, or even the International Fantasy Film Festival in Belgium. There’s also a social element to it, in that you could see which of your friends were going to an event. The business model would include paid-for enhanced listings, affiiate sales etc. The famed Esther Dyson is a Seed investor and Mentor apparently. Since the public beta launched a month ago they have 1,000 European events in the database and a few partnerships signed. Competitors would be TripAdvisor, IgoUgo, VirtualTourist, TripWolf, etc, however since Joobili is focused on the inspiration stage of travel they could in theory include these “competitors” as affiliate partners. Competitor event sites like Eventful, Zvents and Happenr are focus more on local nightlife – although who knows what their moves might be next.

Kukunu – London, UK
Yes, it’s another travel startup at Seedcamp, but this one is a Kukunu is a web-app that says it will “be your own travel agent”. You plan holidays and then share via socnets. That data is then fed into their recommendation engine to help you build a trip. It works off commissions. Competitors might be Tripit, Goplanet, Tripwolf, Dopplr and Travelmuse. This was possibly the thinnest pitch of the day.

Loc8 Solutions – Edinburgh, UK.
Their desire is to make mobile apps as easy to build as WordPress apps. Their theory is that 90% if mobile apps are based on the same “Ten Blocks” of functionality. They provide an interface design tool that enables rapid development of these. Titanium, PhoneGap, Rhombile target developers with substantial experience, but Loc8 aims to be much easier. The idea is also that they would provide the paid service to allow a mobile app to sync with their service.

Patients Know Best – Cambridge, UK
There are more specialists than ever before. The NHS and other healthcare systems requires patients to collate all their specialists themselves. Meanwhile the NHS must reduce spending in 2011 and every healthcare system out there is going through this pain. Patients Know Best says it is the first company to integrate into the NHS Connecting for Health network. Though online consultations you reduce consultations by 25%. Less face to face time means reduced cost esp for routine stuff. They want to launch in the US. Jusdging by the founders this is probably one of the most experienced teams at this event.

Petsicon – Berlin, Germany.
Petsicon is a “pet disease diagnosis system”. It helps pet owners check and inform themselves about possible diseases and provides detailed information and instructions for non-veterinarians. It further helps pet owners to get in touch with each other, gives helpful advice for pet care and lets its users access a variety of other pet related services. The basic service is free for the users, the company will make money with online advertisements and special premium services which are available to the users for a small fee. They are already in German and English market and plan a Japanese launch.

Plug in SEO – London, UK.
Search engine optimisation is a morass of poor quality tools and consultants. Small businesses get lost in this. With pluginseo you add JavaScript tracking to your website, enter some keywords and your competitors. It then continually generates recommendations (based on Google and Bing guidelines) and quantifies the success of SEO efforts. The model is 3-tier freemium product with revenue mainly from premium users, obviously. They have 500 Beta customers so far.

ShoutEm – Zagreb, Croatia.
This is a sort of Ning for microblogging. Anyone can start a co-branded microbloging social networking service on this platform. It’s a way for small and niche communities to start their own private, cobranded Microblogs and Mobile Social Networks. They make money by selling their technology, premium services and custom solutions to big customers. Useful for niche communities looking for simple social networking, not something big and loaded with features. They are working on Android, iPhone, Windows mobile apps to become a full White Label mobile social networking service. So far they’ve have raised 300 000 Euros soft loan from Croatian VC fund and were a Seedcamp finalist in Slovenia.

Pearl Systems) – Bristol, UK.
Pearl manages web based Accounting, CRM and Business Software for SMEs. Yes folks, it’s another accounting bundle for SMEs. As a SaaS product, the billing is monthly, based on the Freemium model, up to £45 per seat per month. They are targeting users of Sage, Outlook, Magento ecommerce, ACT! etc.

Talasim.com – Amman, Jordan.
Billed as the Onion of the middle east. The founder says it’s “Comedy as a serious means for getting thoughts and ideas out.” This is serious stuff in the Middle East. It began as a blog 4 years ago but is now in in UGC video etc. UGC pictures are syndicated to the media. Live in 6 countries in the ME they also produce the biggest Jordanian videos on YouTube. It has 36 writers and 200,000 people in their forums generating 1m page views a month.

Teachable – London, UK.
After bootstapping for 18 months these guys sell bundles of credits for teachers to download ready-made Powerpoints, worksheets etc. Contributing teachers get a 50% share of this download income. Upload more teaching resorces and you get to download more. The issue is that Teachers don’t want to share their hard-won notes and classes ideas and people don’t have tine and the reosurces to do it, but if you get a community – especially a young facebook generation of teachers – and you have a model.

VouChaCha – London, UK.
A location based voucher delivery service for your mobile, we wrote about them recently.
http://uk.techcrunch.com/2009/09/02/voucherhub-launches-people-powered-site/. They’ve now signed LastMinute.com as a client. VoucherCodes, VoucherHub, Savoo And Savings.com are all potential competitors but their emphasis on an iPhone app (and Andorid coming) is probably going to play in their favour.

Wondergraphs – Leuven, Belgium.
This is browser based graphing. You can drag and drop algityhmns to compare and contrast data and share the graphs in public and private. They have interest from a “major” company. Thinking of SAAS or commercial license model. Team has worked for Oracle and similar.

World on a Hanger – London, UK.
The Fashion industry has to deliver on time, with geographically dispersed teams, with a lack of integrated solutions. So it needs an ERP solution for them. But it needs to be on demand / pay as you go. And SAAS. So this is a feature rich, hosted solution for fashion labels. Nice interface nice for the fashion indusry. Team has eexperience in fashion industry. CTO built Rentability.com holiday rentals site. Online Marketplace for fashion industry.

YubiTech – Ramat Gan, Israel.
This is about constantly being able to access you data and documents on a mobile Users drag and drop documents into to a wizard. They can do quick migration to any mobile OS and have a number of Israel companies interested in their solution. YubiTech Drag & Drop Wizard enables companies to smartly port their applications to any SmartPhone OS. YubiTech will be sold as a SaaS for companies, through direct sales & OEM. The business model will be derived from a licensee fee (per application, per user, per month).

Kwaga – France.
This helps you priortise email and gmail. Based on a semantic platform, Kwaga sorts your emails with easy to pick-up icons (categorization) and extracts key facts for you to prioritise. The demo looks pretty awesome and this looks like a very interesting company. It also detects “intrinsic urgency of mails”. Revenue models: Freemium and B2B.

Platogo (a social gaming network) from Austria who were winners of Mini Seedcamp program earlier in the year. Platogo applies user-generated content and community to browser-based casual gaming. Users can also be producers, creating and sharing their own game levels. Game developers also create games and get revenue shares. Revenue is driven by sales to users (e.g. in-game features via micropayments) and advertising options, both on the website and inside games. To be honest, the platform looks pretty awesome. P2P online games creation platform where users create their own levels. Very much about challenging others to play your levels, so potentially addictive.

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