TechCrunch Euro Tour 08: Yes, even Belgium has startups

A couple of weeks ago I headed over to Belgium as part of my ongoing TechCrunch Euro Tour, to get a taste of the local web/mobile entrepreneur community just in time for Father’s Day (BTW, come to the London and Helsinki events soon). I hooked-up with another TechCrunch writer, Robin Wauters, and organiser of the Plugg conference, who had kindly arranged a TechCrunch Belgium meetup in Gent. Gent is quickly becoming one of the main places to startup in that country, as it’s a short drive from Brussels (which has the main airport and the excellent Eurostar), but Gent is cheaper, somewhat prettier and is a big university city with lots more potential talent to draw from. The startups each pitched their wares and here’s what I found. [Apologies for the delay in posting this, I’ve been visiting tech companies in China, of which, more later]. Thanks to Bart Claeys for the photos, below.

Adhese Control
Adhese has come up with a way of tracking the rich media ad campaigns increasingly littering the Web. It can tell you where your Flash creative is appearing and what people are doing with it, even if it goes through a network like Doubleclick. It will report impressions and clicks and interations like numbers of mouse rollovers etc. Interestingly, it will also track Flex / Air apps. You just add a small line of code to the banner or app. The cost is impression based. [Crunchbase]

In May this year Attentio, which develops technology in the social media analytics (sentiment, topics, & brand profiles), won €1.5Million in backing. Their showcase blog trend search is very interesting – here’s TechCrunch’s trend graph. Their Attentio Brand Dashboard (SaaS) is sold through advertising and PR agencies which use it for issue detection, influencer identification, marketing ROI and basically to understand their word of mouth brand. Their main differentiation is being able to do this across European languages and sources. The average selling price is Euro 15-25,000 per year. They have deals now with the likes of Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Lexus. It’s an interesting market – similar trend tracker Umbria was acquired and TNS bought Cymfony. According to Gartner the “Social media analysis” industry will be worth $3bn by 2013. But of course, at the end of the day this is still anapp that has to be sold by humans, rather than scale virally across the web. [Crunchbase]
Casius is a service aimed at home owners who want to find trusted tradesmen, but they’ve been a long time coming. They raised EUR4m in 2000-2004 but burnt the lot, did an MBO in 2005 and since then are generating EUR6m per year in revenue from their service in Belgium. Tradespeople pay to go on the service and are matched to customers, not unline the UK-based I rather wonder why it’s taken them so long to really get going and question the strategy of “getting big in Belgium first,” but the model seems predicated on local salesforces selling the service into the trade. That doesn’t scale too fast. And I hate their .com home page. Village People anyone? [Crunchbase]

CityLive want to launch an MVNO in Belgium called GloweMe which is basically Blyk but with mobile web adverts instead of SMS. Blyk, if you recall, offers a very cheap mobile service aimed at the youth market in return for their opting into targeting advertising offers and campaigns. Citylive think it can pull off a virtually free MVNO by allowing users to market the service to their friends in exhange for credit. Think Multi-Level-Marketing but in mobile. It must be said that ideas for MVNOs are not normally pitched at events like this, but I guess you’ve got to start somewhere. Odd place to start though. CEO Frank Bekkers “is an expert in MLM”. Ah…. [CrunchBase]

Contact Office
Self funded and profitable since 2003 they are a SAAS service for 450k users. It offers a full-blown suite of products like shared calendaring, contacts, shared bookmark, IMAP client, pretty much you name it. It has a sophisticated Ajax front end, drag and drop, Java backed end and was developed for modular integrations. You can manage your data (emails, contacts, meetings, documents, tasks) in this “virtual office” from anywhere. When I asked what the exit was for this business, the answer was “a trade sale”. Ultimately this is basically the opposite of Web 2.0 – lots of apps wrapped up instead of best of breed allowed to flourish as independent apps. But they clearly have a business with customers and revenues, so you can’t knock that.[Crunchbase]

Their pitch: The Credit Crunch means you need to do great marketing. You need to attract customers and retain them. But it seems one company’s giveaway is another company’s gift. So this is a “B2B Craigslist for offers”. One business has a giveaway that is another business’s potential offer to get new business. So businesses trade these items. It sounds like it could work. Maybe. Just as well they are staying in consulting, while waiting for some kind of critical mass to develop.[Crunchbase]

Mollom is a web site and protection moderation service which comprises some of the people who came up with the Drupal content management system, which is impressive. Right now they are concentrating on developing Spam filtering systems for companies, and they have already signed up a number of large players like MTV. It’s a hosted service with an open API. They don’t believe spam classification is binary ( in the same way Akismet does). Although they use Captcha’s only 4%of visitors have to fill out a captacha. So far they have blocked 30m spams on 3,000 sites. There is also a further model here which is bubbling up the best content – because if you can find the worst (spam) you might be able to find the best. It’s a Freemium model and they are self-funded. I think this has long legs. [Crunchbase]

Coming from the premise that most jobs sites suck and don’t appeal to the new online generation, IStockCV will publish your CV in many languages and allow you to upload a video CV as well. It’s a social network for CVs aimed at new generation used to doing things like a Seesmic video. They have also Integrated Tokbox so they can do live meetings. Promising. [Crunchbase]

They bill this as “Microsoft Access on the Web” or the missing Microsoft / Google app for databases. Still in demo mode, MyOwnDB is an open source database application you can download and run on your own server or have your data stored on one of their servers. Competitors would include Dabble, CouchDB or EditGrid, but the difference is that it’s open source and you can use it right now. They says CouchDB is too technical for the average user. And MySQL is a great database, but if you want to share data you still have to develop a product doing that. They are aiming at the installed base of Microsoft Access business users. The two guys behind it founded [Crunchbase]

With the quintessential Web 2.0 “r” in their domain, these guys are attempting to build the “largest database of events going on in Europe”. Their point is simple: Eventbrite have ticketing but no content. Eventful has content but not ticketing. Happenr combines both and is focused on European events. It will therefore compete with Amiando in Europe. An iPhone app is on the way and they have seeded the engine with lots of events organisers. It ended up getting some traction on TechCrunch. But clearly work is needed on the database if this is to be truly Pan-European. A search for events in Birmingham, considered to be the UK’s second city after London, turned up results listed as being in Edinburgh and some that didn’t mention Birmingham at all. However, I can see a need for an engine like this – especially one that can track the myriad number tech events across Europe. (Disclosure: One of our writers, Robin Wauters, is an investor and acting as head of marketing in his limited spare time). [Crunchbase].

Radionomy allows users to set up an online radio station. It features pre-programmed music shows, libraries, the ability to upload your own music library (apparently they will be paying licenses for all this music, even the stuff users upload). Aiming for 200,000 stations and EUR63m in revenues – quite a tall order as right now they have about 1,000 stations and are aiming for 4,000 by the end of this year. This sounds like an attempt to create reach across a long tail of user generated radio stations and monetise accordingly. Radionomy shares revenues with their DJs based on audience. It sells 4 mins of advertising per hour compared to 18mins for commercial raido. They wan to create the Long Tail of radio. They have about a million euros in funding. However they have “20,000 on the waiting list” which rather puzzled me. If this is Web 2.0, why should there be a “waiting list” at all? [Crunchbase].
“Tag your favorite music by sending us an sms while you’re listening to the radio, at a concert or wherever you may be. By collecting these songs they become instantly available to share with you’re friends, and also give you the opportunity to purchase or to see upcoming concerts.” On first inspection this appears to be a clone of Shazam, but this is more like a service aimed at event organisers and radio stations so they can monetize live events, improve reach and ticket sales and get feedback. Sounds like a good business, but may not scale that fast in its present incarnation. [Crunchbase]

Profiled on GigaOm earlier this year, this Alcatel-Lucent internal startup is an RFID tag reading system designed to plug into the growing movement of the “internet of things”. This makes sense – we interact with 3-4,000 objects a day. With around $10 million in corporate funding, tikitag is a set of RFID- and Near Field Communication-enabled tags and a standards-based reader which uses both the ID of the tag and the location of the tag reader. Anyone can use it and they are selling the $50 hardware starter kit on Amazon in the US. It will be 24 euros in Europe. A tag could activate an iTunes song or a poster – you name it. There have been other proprietary attempts like this but a standards-based approach may win out. With the world seeded with Titkitag’s, Alcatel-Lucent will sell subscriptions for business users to link their applications with consumers, thus helping their own equipment business. This is also a “Long tail loyatiy systems for tiny companies”. All they need now is for consumer to “get it”… [Crunchbase]

The Tunz boss decided not to show up for the pitch, but at least his employee did his best. This is a mobile wallet/payment system. You can pay anyone with a mobile phone number and receive payments via SMS. Think paypal for mobile. Started in Jan 2007, Tunz will also integratae loyalty points, has viral distribtuion, and the clients money is always redeemable through bank wire. Use your iPhone Safari navigator to visit to access a version of optimized for your iPhone to access your account history, manage your alias, and recharge your wallet using your credit card. They only operate in Belgum but in January next year they want to expand. So far they have 3,500 users using it at places like the Carrefour supermarkets.[CrunchBase]

They bill themselves as “more than just online file backup”. You can also synchornise with your PC, share files or edit and save your documents. So far they have 40,000 users with little marketing and just won a Series A funding round. The focus is security and piracy as against other file storage networks. It’s based on Sun and Oracle platfroms and also offers a business version for small busineses. Their argument against Silicon Valley startup Dropbox is that with Yuntaa you can do that and other things.[Crunchbase]

Lastly, I also bumped into these guys, who didn’t pitch, but looked interesting:

This is a Web-based secure knowledge sharing platform with some social tools. You can share and manage bookmarks, documents and files, e-mails, contacts, microblogging. Apparently not so much like Huddle or Basecamp (project management) as “knowledge sharing”. Competitors might be Connect Beam, which is social bookmarking in the enterprise. Started in January they have a team of 15 and are backed by EUR500,000. At the moment they have 1,000 users with one big client and can’t say who it is, although there seemed to be hints that it was a global consulting firm. My stumbling block with KnowledgePlaza is that they have to sell the service into clients, which would slow adoption. But each to their own.[Crunchbase]