Yesterday was GeekNRolla, an event put on by TechCrunch Europe which brought together entrepeneurs all across Europe with start-up technology companies. It was a day full of talks and advice from already established companies, discussion and start-ups looking for funding making quick three minute pitches to a panel of venture capitalists, kind of like a geeky Dragon's Den.
The talks were interesting, with Google EMEA letting slip that it ponied up "too much" dosh for its first ever UK acquisition, Plink - who in turn said they owe their success to Seedcamp. Panelists and indeed guests drove from all over Europe to get to GeekNRolla and show off their thoughts and wares.
One who couldn't make the trip in person, owing to that big pile of ash in the sky, was Danish entrepeneur Tommy Ahler. He made the first talk, just about, via a Skype link up that went hilariously tits-up. As he began talking about 'exit strategy,' the link-up cut out and he promptly exited. When Tommy finally got back, the feed was interrupted by a mysterious stranger called 'Turkeychops' calling. Who IS Turkeychops!?
The overall event was a huge success. The conference room of the new-ish Park Plaza hotel in Westminster was absolutely packed to the brim and the atmosphere was great. Mike Butcher did a great job of chairing the event and stopping panels from getting too pitchy. Roll on next year's GeekNRolla. In the meantime, check out a video of a definite crowd favourite, 'Why app developers should look beyond the iPhone' at the Techcrunch site here
What we were there for though was to check out all the startups. It's always refreshing to be around so many people going against the grain and trying to make their own mark on the world with a new product. Without further ado, we give you the startups:
Cortexica - Cortexica is a mobile visual search company. The CEO opened strangely by saying that he is not an alcoholic. The technology is all developed by a group of boffins at Imperial College London - the official spiel for the technology, says Cortexica, is "next gen fully automated computer based vision platform" - catchy. The company showed off its technology with a visual search wine price comparison application for the iPhone called WINEfindr. You point your camera at the label of a bottle of a wine, the app will identify it and provide other prices. We think the idea of pulling your iPhone out to take a photo of a bottle of wine when you're already IN a supermarket is limited, but then Cortexica says it is not about making apps, it just wants to make its technology more widespread.
The CEO says that it's definitely not out of the realms of possibility for it to have facial recognition tech within a year. The problem is, visual search is advancing so quickly already, with proof from the Plink lads, who happened to be in the audience and were probably feeling pretty pleased with themselves.
Cutefund.com - This is a mutual fund website, with no fund manager. Instead, groups of investors decide where your money should go, which stocks need to be bought and which need to be sold. While it's an interesting idea, we can't imagine that many people jumping to put important financial decisions completely in the hands of faceless internet investors.
Decibel - Decibel's aim is to work on collecting lots and lots of metadata and attaching it to audio tracks. Think about ID3 tags for MP3 files, but way more extensive. The example given was a track labeled 'Mozart' isn't good enough as he has been dead for years and it was actually performed by a given orchestra, so the metadata would instead show you the composer, the orchestra and all sorts of other information, which you could then click through on to get recommendations for other music in the same genre, by the same orchestra, or jump about to discover new music. It's a great idea but a very hefty project and still six months away from being truly workable, says Decibel. It is already in talks with labels and distributors and has been in the works for 4 years.
DriveK - The DriveK guys had driven all the way from Milan to get here, which is appropriate as their product is car-centric. At first it looks like another price comparison website, but interestingly, in the vehicle market, this area is largely untapped. There are loads of services for insurance, as anyone who has had that bloody Go Compare man's song stuck in their head (or indeed, Sheila's Wheels) will attest to. They were kind enough to give us a beta pass around the site, and it looks comprehensive, works well and is put together nicely. Users can search by all sorts of different parameters, for example by make, by what kind of car they're after (coupe, micro car etc.) , body style, engine, compliance, fuel type and seats. It officially launched its English private beta at GeekNRolla. As well as selling cars, it will soon aggregate all the car news and stories you could want.
GameCreds.com - GameCreds.com is a kind of social network for PC gaming geeks. It works somewhat like Xbox Live achievements or PS3 trophies, letting you show off what you've done in the gaming world and boasting your work live on your public profile. It seems to be gearing itself mainly towards MMO games such as World of Warcraft, with cool features such as raid-planners on calendars that you can share with your guild. It will try to make it easier to find team mates and likeminded gamers so you don't have to put up with loud-mouthed ten year olds on pubbie servers. It is currently in private beta, but promises to launch its public beta soon.
Gigaboxx - There is already pre-launch talk on Facebook about Gigaboxx and speculating as to what it might be. We can reveal that it is an interesting new way to download music with an integrated social side. Artists sign up - Hugh, co-founder and ex-EMI man tells us there are some big artists on board already - and make live recordings of their tracks available to fans at the venue they're playing at. This makes for different and unique playlists that get saved to a users profile, as a setlist could be different from performing in Birmingham and London. It will sell to fans using bluetooth, sms and QR codes, who can then make their own profile - while some said that it shares similarities to MySpace, we're assured that the artists will still own all of their tracks rather than Murdoch's hidden agenda of acquiring the licenses to literally every song upload on his site. Gigaboxx has substantial funding already and a significant history in music - its staffers have worked with giants such as David Bowie and Iron Maiden. One to watch.
Graph.me - We're not quite sure of Graph.me's potential, for either an active userbase or for making money. It's a really cool idea, and you can check out the public beta here. The idea is that you can make personalised graphs and charts as well as engaging with other users to vote on polls, which will eventually make comprehensive graphs that cover trends and answers. The site looks great and works smoothly, but we have no idea where it can go from here.
iGlue - Hungary-based iGlue got the biggest laughs of the day of all the pitches, by cheekily saying the F-bomb in front of a bunch of rich-as-anything venture capitalists. It was also one of our favourites of the day. iGlue is building a huge database full of information, images and video around the web. When running iGlue, you click 'annotate' in your browser and it will transform all sorts of keywords into clickable links. For example, if you hover your mouse over a keyword like Madonna, you'll get a brief biography of the person which you can then click through to get even more information about her and media. It works as a kind of layered Wikipedia for websites. You can check out how iGlue works on its website, here. Our only concern is that the task of building its own database is absolutely gargantuan. Another one to watch, for sure.
LinkCloud.org - Currently in 'private alpha,' LinkCloud is here to change the way we use bookmarks (i.e. rarely). Its founder says that the way we use links is clumsy and boring, which is why we often don't bother. LinkCloud works in a similar way to a customised Google homepage, that is, you can push links around and put them where you want on your homepage. It's a visual thing, with logos replacing text bookmarks. But what happens when a site doesn't have a logo that you immediately recognise? Sure, it will work fine for sites like YouTube and Wikipedia, but for lesser-known sites you want to go back to a logo might just be confusing. In his demo, he first asked the audience to put their hands up when they found Wikipedia in a bookmark bar full of text links. He then asked people to find the Wikipedia bookmark based on LinkCloud - response times were very similar.
Musiio - Musiio is another music tech start-up. This one promises to be a great way for users to experience music and for artists to make cash compared with other streaming or download options. It aims to bridge the gap between streaming music and artist/label revenue by allowing bands to make tracks available to listen to, for free, but only for a set number of times. The artist and label itself would decide how many times a user can listen to a track. After that, the user must buy it. It promises to support artist-selected charities, and run without banner ads and without a subscription fee, relying solely on user support for artists. Listeners will also be able to share what they like with other friends using the service, as well as discover new music by what Musiio promises is a 'sophisticated search.' There is an extensive rundown of what Musiio said at GeekNRolla on the website, here including information on its business model.
Pownum - This is a way for users to rate organisations, any organisations, based on their experience with them. All content is user submitted, and there is an iPhone app available at the moment, with the site going fully live this coming Monday. The idea is that it creates an overall reflection of peoples attitudes towards organisations. It is heavily safeguarded, with moderators checking up on anyone who rates the same company in 24 hours, and it will bring down the mighty banhammer on anyone who so much as drops the F-bomb once. We guess iGlue won't be fans.
SongHi - While these days every teen is probably dreaming of being on Big Brother, SongHi is trying to claw back the idea that teens should be dreaming about being rockstars again. It's a game that lets players make music within a virtual world, kind of like Habbo Hotel with tunes. Artists who own intellectual property rights to their stuff can log on too, and have fans actively interact with them. It is seeking agreements with record labels right now, and says there's probably potential for a mobile app too. Here's a video of how it would look:
Stripped Finance - Another finance startup. Stripped Finance works as a kind of social network where users can interact with finance professionals, all who have to undergo an authentication process. Fund managers, account managers et al will all have roles on the site. The website is here
BONUS! Field Connect - Field connect weren't giving a talk at GeekNRolla, but we got chatting to them and thought they have a great idea. It was founded in Australia and has just started London operations recently to get a foot in the door of the European tech scene. It's an application that allows for a business to maintain contact with field workers easily and streamlined through their phones. It promises to scrap the need for a lot of paperwork and, simply, get things done a lot quicker through its application: cutting down on time by integrating its four different accounting functions. It's not vertically aimed, with uses ranging from electricians to system integrators. There's no contract or pre-agreement needed, and you can check out the website here.