At the end of Techstars’ 13-week startup accelerator program, it’s traditional to have a Demo Day. It’s six minutes for the startups involved to show off their progress and shout about what their hard work amounted to during their time in the program.
Yesterday was that day for the Techstars London 2014 intake and 11 startups took to the stage in a bid to spread the word, and perhaps even secure funding from the gathering of VCs in the crowd.
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With polished pitches and not a technical gremlin in the house, all 11 startups delivered their presentations flawlessly, but with the dust now settling, it’s time to meet our favorites on the day.
Zzish. It’d be difficult to guess what Zzish does from its name alone. Aside of being a bit odd to say if you try and pronounce both Zs. It also sort of sounds like IM slang for someone saying they feel a bit sleepy.
Nonetheless, what Zzish actually does is provide a tool set for developers to build their own mobile educational apps. See, you’d never have guessed that.
As well as providing the basic tools for building educational apps, Zzish offers a suite of analytics and an adaptive algorithm to keep things interesting and on track.
The company’s CEO Charles Wiles said the market is on course to be worth $38 billion by 2020, of which 40 percent or so will be via mobile. If the company can convince developers that its tools really are 50 – 80 percent more efficient in terms of both time and cost (than developing their own proprietary systems) then Zzish has a chance of taking a slice of this potentially lucrative market.
Right now the company is looking to raise a £500,000 seed round, of which it has already secured £300,000.
Learning was a bit of a theme for our choices from this batch of Techstars’ latest crop, but rather than general educational apps, Lingvist is looking to shake up the language learning market on smartphones and tablets.
Founded by ex-CERN particle physicist Mait Müntel, one of the team members responsible for discovering the Higgs Boson, Lingvist is promising to tackle the challenge of language learning from an altogether more scientific angle.
As such, Müntel says Lingvist can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to learn your chosen language and that in just 30 hours you can go from being a beginner to having almost an intermediate level of knowledge. Ultimately, it claims to be able to teach a new language in a total of 200 hours.
Clearly, it’s a big market. There are entrenched big-money players like Rosetta Stone to contend with, as well as the other end which has free services like Duolingo. Overall, Müntel said the market is worth a whopping $58 billion, of which a little over $3 billion will be spent on mobile.
While it’s got big ambitions, there’s still more fine-tuning to be made if the past few months are anything to go by – during the program, the company said it has doubled the efficacy of the language learning platform. With yet more work, that can surely be improved further. And while the thought of endless tweaking is perhaps not what Lingvist wants to be thinking about on ‘graduation day’, the team will no doubt be spurred on by the fact that it has already secured a seed round of more than $1 million.
Everyone knows that email is a pain, and that there are a whole bunch of companies out there working on trying to make it a bit more manageable. Among them is Spatch, which set out to build the ultimate email client and then instead decided to focus on building a system to create structured data from each and every email.
What that means is that it can scan your messages, identify intent and surface any seemingly key, actionable phrases for you to quickly deal with. It’ll also present you with buttons at the top of the app for quickly responding or exporting these parts of emails into a to-do list, the company’s CEO Mick Hagen explained. And unlike many other services which require both sender and receiver to be users of the same platform, Spatch provides benefits even if only one party is a Spatch user.
If both people are Spatch users, however, it promises even greater functionality and interoperability – one of the benefits of turning emails into structured data sets is that it offers an easy way to connect with the wealth of services already out there, and thereby doesn’t require users to migrate to yet another productivity service.
Hogan said Spatch is in the process of raising “a large seed round” and that big name companies, including Facebook, SwiftKey and Skyscanner have agreed to give the service a test run, which isn’t bad progress for a company that only started some nine months ago. Nonetheless, email is an area of focus for lots of startups, so creating a multiplatform offering and scaling the user base quickly will be key to avoiding relegation to ‘another email app’ status.
Interestingly, Hogan said that while the company was originally based in San Francisco, he’s keen to stay in London for “a year or two” due to the “infectious” startup atmosphere, providing the company can find the right financial backer, of course.
Proximus is another company working in a hotly contested area, but rather than email it provides technology for tracking customers in physical retail stores, primarily supermarkets at this point.
With a tag line of “analytics for the real world”, it’s not really hard to guess exactly what Proximus offers its customers but it’s the simplicity of implementation that stands out for me.
In essence, it provides full in-store tracking of customers- what they looked at, how long they looked at it, whether they bought that item, what they looked at next, a heat map of the journey through the store, that sort of thing – but where rivals tend to require specific apps or technology (iBeacon, for example, would require the user to have an iPhone and an app), Proximus simply attaches a tracker to shopping carts and baskets. This simplicity means the shopper doesn’t actually have to do anything.
Currently, it’s being trialled in some European Carrefour stores and Nisa has agreed to test it out in the UK.
Proximus is now looking to raise €300,000, and has already secured €100,000 of that figure so far.
Avuba is a mobile-first banking service. Not to be confused with a mobile payment processor or budgeting app like BillGuard, Avuba is a fully-fledged “pan-European virtual bank”. What this means is that, as well as keeping abreast of your incomings and outgoings, you can also do things like pay your rent or other bills with connected accounts in the click of a button. BillGuard, by contrast, is a read-only service that lets you review charges, but not initiate payments.
The company is banking on (*ahem*) a simple sign-up process and UI to help draw in big numbers of users quickly. Simply enter your phone number or scan an ID card and your real-life bank card will arrive within 24 hours and you can complete your sign up.
Naturally, the company says it has all the relevant regulatory avenues covered and while there will always be some inherent resistance to managing your bank account via a mobile app from some people, Avuba says that 80 percent of people who download its app go on to complete the registration process.
Nonetheless, with notable rivals like Simple in the US, Berlin-based Avuba will need to make inroads quickly to gain the trust of a wider user base, or another competitor likely will.
Smile Mom is a essentially a mobile-oriented social network for finding like-minded parents in your locality.
Headed by Korea’s all-time number one Unreal Tournament player John S. Kim, Smile Mom is already available to download on iOS and Android devices and provides an easy way for moms with young kids to meet other moms with children of a similar age. As well as providing a social element, Kim explained that the network is also a valuable source of information from moms as new parents can quickly post questions to get feedback from other moms.
Handily, there’s also a system allowing users to buy and sell old baby gear, so some of the initial costs of parenthood don’t have to be quite as daunting, perhaps.
While Kim says there are around 50 million moms with young children in Europe, most of the current users of the platform are actually in the US. Since joining the Techstars program three months ago weekly active users of the platform have grown more than 300 percent.
It’s no use having users if they don’t actually use the platform though. Kim says that 95 percent of questions get answers and that half of those are answered in seven minutes or less.
Again, while pregnancy and parenthood is a lucrative and popular area for businesses, Kim says that rival services tend to focus on the pregnancy itself or have websites and networks that aren’t really designed for mobile users.
Smile Mom is looking to raise another $1 million having already raised $1.5 million in its seed round.