Startup Victoria’s #Pitch Night for #Startup Week

The grand finale of Melbourne Startup Week was Startup Victoria‘s regular pitch night held at inspire9. Six months in, and this new monthly format has become a major fixture on the startup calendar, judging by the audience size, and the range of startups applying to pitch. There are still a few teething problems (the AV quality is a bit variable, and some of the judging panels are probably too “soft”…), but it’s established something of a benchmark against which other pitch nights might be compared. This month’s cohort covered medtech, wellness and the greetings industry.

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Cardly

Cardly is an online service that allows users to send personalized greetings cards to friends and loved ones. Under the banner of “you write, we post”, customers can choose from a range of artist-designed cards, add their own message, and Cardly will then print and send the card from a location as close as possible to the recipient (currently London, Sydney and New York).

A variant on the familiar 2-sided market model, Cardly has built a community of independent artists who supply the card designs. Artists are charged a sales commission on each order, and they get their own store front on Cardly. And for anyone struggling for words, there’s a range of predefined texts and doodles.

Because this is a print-on-demand model, using digital printing, there is zero wastage (unlike the traditional greeting card industry where over-production and limited distribution are commercial headaches). However, even with some “handwriting” fonts, there are some design and user limitations, which something like the Sensel Morph touch-sensitive track-pad may be able to address?

Cardly is aiming to take a chunk of the retail market and disrupt the global greetings card industry. The judges took a slightly different view. Based on the founders’ own data, consumer customers will probably send an average of 12 cards per annum, and at $6.45 per card, it’s a tough sell. However, by looking at a lower cost per acquisition, addressing the corporate market and offering a white label solution, the business would be in a better position to scale. There was also a suggestion for an engineered viral solution to drive traction through collaborative cards, and other ideas for partnerships (e.g., gift buying services and gift cards).

Cardihab

Cardihab (“Get Back To Life”) has appeared in this blog before, and is a CSIRO spin-out that has developed a mobile support solution for cardiac patients via an app and a patient/GP portal. As someone whose father is recovering from major heart surgery, this pitch got my personal vote!

The success rate is staggering – patients using the app are 70% more likely to complete rehab. So far, four hospitals have signed up, with three more in the pipeline. As well publishing their research, the founders see Cardihab as being a broader platform for managing chronic illnesses.

Currently in the process of getting investor ready, the proposed business model will charge an annual license for hospitals, plus a per patient fee.

The judges had some questions about the potential market (“Anyone with heart disease”) and wanted to know a bit more about the bench strength of the team.

Black

Staying with the medtech and after-care theme, Black‘s modest goal is to “revolutionise healthcare”, via an in-home observation solution that scans patient movement and analyses interaction with their helpers. The scanner strips out personal data (features, attire) using skeleton tracking to monitor movement and falls, while learning from patient gestures. It can use real-time alerts to contact helpers, carers and emergency services.

The scanning software is currently trialing in casinos to refine the machine-learning algorithms, and all trials are subject to ethical approval.

Although still at a conceptual stage (in terms of health care applications), and notwithstanding privacy concerns, this project demonstrates that predictive tools will be vital to helping the elderly and the infirm to continue living independently in their own homes, which will have significant advantages to the cost of long-term care, preventative health services, patient rehabilitation and after-care services. There are doubtless other, similar solutions in development, and the outcome will likely be a mix of blended services based on ease of use, cost of roll-out, system interoperability and patient efficacy.

Honee

Last to present was the team from Honee which is bringing digital connectivity to the wellness, fitness and beauty industry. The solution they offer is designed to make it easier to discover and book an appointment for a treatment, consultation or workout session, by connecting merchants and users.

With previous international experience at Delivery Hero, Quandoo and Zomato, the founders have strong startup business credentials in adjacent markets – connecting consumers to service providers via search discovery, customer reviews, personal recommendations and proximity.  Of particular interest in this sector is the growing “wellness travel market”.

There are undoubtedly competitors already working on similar solutions; and it may just be that I’ve seen far too many pitches in the past few years, but I’m sure there was a startup out there offering a “just in time” service to help find and book appointments for personal services – Fit Me In? – and I recall another comparable startup idea for restaurants to offer last-minute menu specials via a location-based app.

Nevertheless, as we know, execution is key, and the judges asked about the huge cost to build a consumer brand – hence Honee is focusing on service providers to get their brands on line. There is an MVP in pre-launch, and Honee has built a mobile responsive website, with a grant from the Melbourne Accelerator Program.

After the vote (and thanks to technology, the results of which were available in minutes….) Cardly was declared the night’s winner.

Next week: Moving #innovation from “permitted” to “possible”

Sharing the love – tips from #startup founders

Startup Victoria, with support from inspire9, BlueChilli, PwC and the Australian Computer Society brought together a mix of expert speakers who shared their insights, experience and advice for aspiring startups. The evening took the form of a series of lightning talks, and again demonstrated the contribution and importance of the Lean Startup Melbourne Meetup events to the local startup community.

First up, Adam Stone from Speedlancer reflected on his experience of the 500 Startups accelerator program, via 6 simple lessons:

  1. Make sure you connect, network and avoid all marketing BS in your pitch
  2. Achieve the target of three growth hacks a week
  3. Work out your Unit Economics
  4. Remember to hustle – it’s important to secure market tests and investor meetings
  5. Play ping-pong (a lot)
  6. Target angel investors rather than VCs

Next, Kristeene Phelan, who was the first regional employee at Etsy, explored the theme of communication, when working with global and remote development teams:

  • Choose your collaboration tools carefully, and have a backup for your backup
  • Know your international time zones (and daylight saving changes…)
  • Compromise the scheduling of cross-border conference calls
  • Slow it down when talking live to multicultural and multilingual teams
  • Get the team together in person whenever possible, and also make time for 1:1 dialogue – face to face time is important

Then, Thomas Banks, Creative Director at the Centre for Access made a very personal and impassioned presentation on website accessibility: about 99% of websites are inaccessible to people with disabilities, underscoring the importance of having an inclusive approach to web and app design.

Geoff Dumsday talked about the significant work CSIRO is doing in accelerated innovation. Most of us probably know about CSIRO’s role in inventing WiFi and polymer banknotes. But perhaps less well-known is the fact that CSIRO work with around 1600 clients, including 350 multi-national companies, and have over 300 commercial licenses in use for technology and inventions coming out of the work their scientists and researchers do. As Australia’s innovation catalyst, CSIRO is enhancing the entrepreneurial culture through evidence-based R&D. Such as the invention of non-animal gelatine for use in biomedicine, food and cosmetics.

LIFX co-founder Daniel May pitched the need to make products that add value or make a difference to the world. As examples, he referred to his new project, AgreeTree, which is trying to take the pain out of drafting commercial contracts; and also to the work of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and how it is engaging entrepreneurs via an accelerator program.

Finally, Layla Foord from Envato covered the topic of building successful teams, especially when hiring early-stage employees. Using the theme of “pitch in, not mark territory”, she emphasised leveraging attitude and mindset over job titles.

This smorgasbord of ideas and content was a useful reminder to aspiring founders and entrepreneurs that while a great idea (backed by a solid business plan, market traction and protectable IP) will help get you motivated, the human touch is vital to gaining momentum for your project.

Next week: #FinTech – A Tale of Two Cities: Melbourne vs Sydney

CSIRO – what price #innovation?

Last week Startup Victoria invited scientists and researchers from CSIRO to come and talk about some of the projects they are currently working on. Around 400 people turned up to listen to fascinating presentations on flexible solar panels, 3-D titanium printing, flexible OLED lighting, robotics, wearable kinetic dynamos powering textile-based battery storage systems, high-speed instrumentation using FPGA, and micro-manufacturing processes.

logoFrom the outset, the emphasis of each presentation was on the practical application of these inventions. The goal of the evening was to encourage entrepreneurs and founders from the startup community to connect and engage with CSIRO’s project teams. There was an open invitation to co-operate with CSIRO, via R&D, prototyping, IP licensing and commercialisation initiatives.

The evening was generously sponsored by Cogent, PwC, Elance-oDesk and BlueChilli, hosted by inspire9, and ably compered by Leni Mayo; and in place of the usual Startup Alley was a team of experts offering free advice to startups, organised by Two Square Pegs.

As well as showcasing its latest developments in nano-technology, materials, fabrication, energy generation and workplace automation, CSIRO wanted to remind the audience that they have development and test facilities, which are available for commercial use at very economic rates to the right sort of project. It’s all part of a broader charm offensive, in part designed to raise awareness of the great innovation that has come out of CSIRO (e.g., WiFi…), in part to counter the challenges of reduced government funding ($111m in cuts over 4 years).

To me, CSIRO would appear to be pretty good value for money based on the $700m+ government contribution (which probably accounts for about 70% of current budget). CSIRO generates income from industry for research and other services, and earns royalties from patents and other IP it licenses. But its challenge is to demonstrate its true economic value, either as a contribution to GDP, or as a return on investment to the government (and to the wider community).

On the one hand, CSIRO is not an investment vehicle – yet on one level it operates as an early-stage VC fund, identifying which projects to “invest” in, and securing commercial returns via patents and other licensing streams. Nor is CSIRO a listed company, but without the benefit of its research and inventions, many companies traded on the ASX might not be as financially successful.

Ironically, CSIRO has been involved in research on the future of Australia’s $1.4tn superannuation assets – part of the effort to work out how to put these assets to better use, both to generate more sustainable income for Australian retirees, and to ensure the nation is investing in the right sort of infrastructure, innovation and international growth opportunities.

Traditionally, superannuation funds and other institutional investors have shied away from early-stage projects, especially home-grown startups, either because they are deemed too risky, or because the technology is not well understood. Yet some investors are willing to allocate part of their funds to Silicon Valley VC’s, only to see some of that money flow back into innovative Australian startups (a phenomenon I have previously described as an “expensive boomerang”.)

I’m no economist, but if there was some analysis done on the value of the “CSIRO Dividend”, it would both be able to secure current government funding, and attract long-term funding via the Future Fund or similar investment vehicle.

Post Script: Soon after this post was published, the Federal Government announced its Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda, which among other things is seeking to generate a better return on investment on for innovation.

Next week: The Three Pillars Driving the Online Economy