Pitch X’s Winter Solstice

The latest Pitch X event, organised by Academy Xi and hosted by YBF Ventures, was held a few days before the (Southern hemisphere) mid-winter – there may not have been any mulled wine, but there was still a warm atmosphere on a cold and wet Melbourne evening. The judging panel was drawn from YBF, Melbourne Angels, Linfox and Clearpoint Ventures.

The usual format applied: 11 startups were each given 90 seconds to pitch, followed by a 90 second Q&A with the judges. The top three were then brought back for a 5-minute pitch, and 4 minutes of Q&A.

The pitches, in order of presentation were (links in the names where available):

Startup 101

A self-styled online startup school, targeting university students and recent graduates. The core premise is that entrepreneurship is not being taught to undergraduates. The judges asked about the MVP, which was not clear, nor was there a breakeven forecast based on the number of students. The founder is offering a freemium model, based on memberships and services. Looking $500k for software development and marketing in China (a key demographic for this business).

Studio Ninja

This is a cloud and mobile PaaS solution for professional photographers. I first covered Studio Ninja in late 2016, when they pitched at a StartupVic event – and it’s great to see that they have managed to bootstrap themselves this far.

Professional photography is competitive, but margins are low. Studio Ninja offers an end-to-end platform for scheduling, contracts, payments etc. They have now integrated with Xero, QuickBoooks, Google, PayPal and Stripe, and have built a community via their chat app, Facebook group and Instagram account. At a basic $29.95 per month, they now have 4,000 paying subscribers, mainly in Australia, UK and US. but need to reinvest in product development, scaling and building further efficiencies. Users are offered a 30-day free trial, with an average 25% conversion rate, thanks to the hook of discounts for early sign-ups, plus a referral program.

RoamingDuck

Calling itself the “Uber of travel”, RoamingDuck offers travelers access to curated itineraries, based on their personal preferences. Using freelance resources (along the lines of Upwork and Airtaskr), the service uses a travel planning dashboard on which the customer and the curator can collaborate. With a quick turnaround, RoamingDuck can help customers build and review an itinerary within 12 hours. With the ability to consolidate and share, the content is easily accessible to users, who can plan anything – even supporting “self-plan” users with a search function.

Freelance curators come from the ranks of existing travel bloggers and services like Travelo, and are subject to a vetting process. There is also an escrow system, so freelances only get paid when the customer is satisfied. Normal travel agents are quite restricted on what they can access or offer, and services like Skyscanner are great for searching individual fares – RoamingDuck is solving the planning issue, and building the itinerary. Asked whether RoamingDuck can support actual bookings, the founder will likely implement this via APIs.

Wastr

According to the founder, households waste about 20% of the food they buy. Wastr is an AI-powered app that is designed to help consumers use what they purchase, rather than letting to go to waste. The solution allows subscribers to scan their grocery receipts, and in return they will receive recipes, notifications on expiry dates, plus other reminders. The app is offered under a freemium model, with a paid service starting at $2 per month.

VRWalker

Described as “VR for your foot” (or the “mouse” for VR), this is a motorised shoe device that allows wearers to experience”walking” within VR applications, without actually moving.
It’s an idea that has been around for a while, but the founder claims to have filed key patents. The shoes work on the concept of intuitive locomotion (linked to the dantian, or our centre of gravity), and are intended to be much cheaper and much more convenient than existing treadmill-based solutions. The founder hopes to have a working prototype by the end of this year. Likely customers will come from areas like construction, engineering and gaming. The judges asked about how insurance would be handled, and the device could be bundled with existing VR headset devices.

The Nurture Project

The Nurture Project is designed to teach life skills to deal with anxiety issues, which according to the founder, affect 30% of the population. Unlike other solutions, this treats the causes as well as the symptoms, using a well-being model built on 5 core pillars, and delivered via a 12-week online program. It is currently aimed at women in their 30s and 40s.

Natural MedTech

Designed to boost the immune, hormone and nervous system naturally, this has come out of a CSIRO project, with a scientific basis that has been peer-reviewed.

Magicast

This is a decentralised online podcast recording and editing service. Existing podcast software is either too complex, or too expensive. Instead, Magicast uses web-based programme development, publication and distribution, offering a two-sided marketplace for content, sound effects, music etc. The judges asked about international competitors, given that podcasting is very much a cottage industry, with relatively few barriers to entry.

Turtle

Something akin to an Uber courier service, Turtle enables customers to obtain goods from overseas that are not available where they live. Targeting expat and diaspora populations, the platform has an escrow function to provide a level of trust. It was not clear who would be responsible for tax, customs and quarantine issues.

Young Shaman Foundation

Having run a number of leadership development retreats on country for women in indigenous communities, the founder is now seeking funding to develop and extend the program she currently offers.

SecureStack

Helping companies to secure the cloud, with a focus on cyber security, the founder pointed out that key problems are caused by “cloud sprawl” – the uncontrolled proliferation of content, services and applications hosted and running on cloud-based servers. Using a proprietary cloud infrastructure security design, the startup has already secured two clients and $100k in revenues. Now looking to raise $2m, for an 18-month runway, in order to gain 100 clients. The solution is agnostic as to which cloud service clients use. Traditional cloud management and compliance is saturated, whereas SecureStack’s value proposition is in the security layers.

After much deliberation, the winners were:

1. StudioNinja
2. RoamingDuck
3. VR Walker

Next week: The Metaphorical Glass Jaw

Startup Vic’s Impact Pitch Night

Due to my personal travel commitments in recent months, it’s been a while since I attended one of Startup Vic‘s regular pitch nights – so I was pleasantly surprised to see that these monthly events continue to draw a solid crowd. As with last year’s impact investing pitch night,  this event was co-sponsored by Giant Leap VC (part of the Impact Investing Group), with support from LaunchVic, who played hosts at the Victorian Innovation Hub.

As usual, the startups pitching appear in the order they presented:

Vollie

This is an on-line platform or market place for helping charities to find skilled volunteers for project-based assignments, mostly involving digital, marketing, technical, professional and advisory services that can be delivered remotely (rather than on-site or in-field).

The founders described the benefits to corporate clients in meeting their CSR goals. These companies either “sponsor” their employees’ time and/or donate money – to be honest, it was not entirely clear how this part worked. And of course, being a two-sided market place, Vollie also charges charities on a per project basis.

According to the presenters, there are 56,000 charities in Australia, and so far the platform has generated $360,000 in “value”.

However, Vollie only assists the charities with project on-boarding, whereas the NFPs themselves are responsible for actual project delivery.

While acknowledging the appeal to Gen Y/Z volunteers, the judges were interested to know how much personalisation the platform offers, and how QA/QC issues were handled. Having served on the board of a NFP myself, I appreciate how much more complicated it is to manage volunteers – from police checks to insurance, from training to risk management.

Cyber Clinic

Claiming to provide easier access (and a better user experience) to therapeutic clinic services, Cyber Clinic enables people to find a professional therapeutic counsellor or psychologist that matches their needs. Essentially an on-line directory for mental health care (part of the growing number of telehealth providers), the service matches clients and counsellors, connects them for sessions that can be delivered remotely and at times that suit the recipient, and measures the results.

Partly developed in response to the high incidents of mental health issues presenting to GPs, delivery of counselling services is via secure video conferencing and consultation, backed up by a dedicated app. The service is designed to run on even low-bandwidth connectivity, making it accessible to regional and country users.

The guiding principles are cost, access and trust (service providers are vetted before being admitted to the platform).

The judges were interested to understand the founder’s patient acquisition strategy, which involves connecting with government agencies, healthcare providers and corporates (e.g., as part of their EAP services) – so it’s clearly designed as a B2B model, plus a direct to market, public-facing website. The judges also wondered about customer retention when measured against outcomes.

STEMSparX

With the declining levels of STEM participation in high schools, STEMSparX is designed to engage younger students by bringing STEM education direct to their doorstep.

The service combines an AI-assisted on-line learning interface with practical DIY kits. Designed around the Arduino Open Source Ecosystem, the business model is based on a B2C subscription service. The founder is a participant in Melbourne University’s MAP programme, and has been running pilot project workshops and developing an engineering curriculum.

The judges wondered how STEMSparX would compete with the likes of Code Academy, and how effective a direct-to-consumer model is, unless it was combined with a channel strategy involving communication with parents, schools and public libraries? Plus, how does a service like this compete with other distractions such as online games, video streaming and social media?

Amber Electric

This alternative electricity seller is offering retail customers access to real-time wholesale prices. By only charging customers a $10 monthly service fee, Amber claims it can pass on the true wholesale price, based on 30-minute price resets (reflecting actual market supply and demand), rather than the fixed rates and price bands that traditional electricity retailers charge.

A key aspect of Amber’s business is the availability of renewable inputs (Australia has the largest % of renewables in the national grid – excluding WA which is not part of the grid…). For example, the increase of solar-generated energy from domestic sources (household rooftop panels) that can be fed into the grid can have an impact on the average unit cost of electricity from non-solar sources, and some resulting market distortion.

The judges were keen to know if Amber applies price loading to take account of passive consumption, and whether their revenue model allows for feedback funding into additional renewables? Another question was whether Amber customers will experience considerable price spikes during the summer spikes?

Currently, Amber is only available to people living in the Sydney metropolitan area, and who do NOT have solar panels (due to the issues of feed-in tariffs?). So, very limited access at present – but clearly a disruptive model that threatens to undermine the highly regulated retail market.

It’s fair to say that Amber ticked the box for most people in the audience, as it won both the Judges’ prize, and the people’s choice.

Next week: Startup Vic’s FinTech Pitch Night

StartupVic’s #Pitch Night for October

The crowds are getting bigger, the list of sponsors is getting longer, there’s a new logo, and they’ve even managed to (sort of) fix the PA system. The Startup Victoria monthly pitch night is now a firm fixture on Melbourne’s Meetup calendar…

Image sourced from Startup Vic's Meetup page (Photo by Daniel)

Image sourced from Startup Vic’s Meetup page (Photo by Daniel)

As usual, there were 4 startup pitches, and I’ll comment on each in order of their presentations:

Next Address

This Ballarat-based startup has built a P2P website that offers “direct to market” property sales, removing the need for traditional estate agents. Recognising that the real estate sector is still ripe for some digital disruption, Next Address is challenging the commission-based fees and cost++ price markup on services that many estate agents charge their clients.

They have established an affiliate programme, and generated some positive media coverage, but have yet to complete any sales. Charging a fee of around $549 to vendors (there is a sliding scale), compared to similar competitors priced at between $800 and $2,000, Next Address is also offering a Facebook package.

I think it’s fair to say that this pitch did not come across as one of the strongest or most compelling presentations at these pitch nights (possibly due to some stage nerves?). There were also questions among people I spoke to about market traction, the customer acquisition model and the conversion process.

Given that there is a lot of competition within real estate listings and aggregation (often backed by major media companies), and given that many vendors still prefer to use the auction process, it was difficult to see how Next Address can cut through, unless they focus on a point of differentiation: geographic market, property type, price range, marketing support or add-on services.

However, the founders must be doing something right, as on the night they managed to attract the attention of a senior executive from a well-known real estate listings website.

DragonBill

DragonBill is an invoicing and remittance solution aimed at sole traders and micro businesses, which has featured in this blog before. The focus is on helping clients manage their cashflow and providing them with a level of financial literacy and education.

Since launching, DragonBill has found a substantial niche market among sporting clubs and associations, in large part because 50% of club members are also SME owners. They are continuing to build partnerships with accountants and are now starting to market themselves via co-working spaces.

Further ahead, there are plans to build some sort of superannuation offering, given that many SME owners and sole traders may not be making sufficient contributions to their personal funds. There are also regulatory changes in payroll administration following the roll out of SuperStream by the ATO.

The judges were interested to know what plans DragonBill has for international growth, and whether the platform can output financial and tax reporting for accounting purposes – both of which are under consideration. Meanwhile, DragonBill was recently shortlisted for an award by VISA.

Spee3d

In short, this business supports “3-D printing of metals at production speeds“. Using a proprietary “Lightspee3d” technology, the goal is to offer a low-cost, high-speed solution for full-scale production output, not just prototypes and medical devices. Primarily manufacturing in copper and aluminium 6061, current output is 100g/minute ( expecting to soon reach 250g/minute), and the maximum size is 300mm x 300mm x 300mm.

For the technically minded, the additive process is described as something like “bugs hitting a windshield”. It does not use any gasses, and deploys a “line of sight” process, meaning that some hollow objects are possible. The business has picked up a Bosch Venture Award.

Targeting products traditionally fabricated by sand casting, Spee3d is working with clients who have a preference for low-cost powders, initially within the university market, then the auto industry. They are also aiming at new products, and not parts manufactured from existing casts that have associated sunk costs. There was quite a lot of excitement around this pitch, judging by the number of questions it prompted.

Foddies

This startup is launching a fructose friendly food business, offering products, recipes and outlets (shops, cafes, catering) that can also appeal to people with other food allergies and dietary requirements. If, like me, you were unaware of the “Low FODMAP” diet,
it was researched and created in Melbourne (Monash Uni), and from my initial reading, it has some similarities with diets designed for people needing gluten-free, lactose free and low GI solutions.

Admittedly not the first to market, Foddies claims to be the first to develop a holistic solution, which includes a wholesale strategy for ready-made meals, a cafe franchise and an online store. Next, they plan to work with airlines and hospitals. Although building on their social media engagement, the biggest challenge, when asked by the judges, was the lack of public awareness or education on the Low FODMAP model.

From a personal perspective, I appreciate the importance of helping people with food allergies or intolerance to manage their condition through appropriate diet. But I can’t be alone in thinking that the higher reported incidence of these complaints may be due to multiple factors such as the increased use of chemicals in the environment (especially food production), the lower resistance in our immune systems caused by too many antibiotics, and our over-reliance on certain strains and varieties of crops. More research is called for.

So, after a very mixed bag of startup pitches, the winner was Spee3d, based on the audience and panel voting.

Next week: Richmond 3121

The convergence of #MedTech – monitoring, diagnostics, remediation

Earlier this year, I participated in MedTech’s Got Talent, a competition for medical technology and biotech startups, organised by STC. Now, HCF in partnership with Slingshot have announced a similar accelerator program, called Catalyst. Launched at a recent meetup event hosted by Startup Victoria*, Catalyst is the latest industry initiative to lend support to the growing #MedTech sector. It’s fair to say that the sector is not without its challenges (regulatory compliance and IP protection being foremost), but there is substantial investor interest given the potential for growth and widespread application of the resulting technologies. I also see that there is increasing convergence in respect to some of the digital products being brought to the market – through the use of wearables, mobile apps and analytics to deliver monitoring, diagnostic and remedial solutions.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.10.47 PMAt the Catalyst launch, three #MedTech founders discussed their startup experiences and offered some insights to budding applicants. Jarrel Seah (Eyenemia), Phil Goebel (Quanticare) and Leonore Ryan (Cardihab – Cardiac Rehab Solutions) covered the product development process, being part of an accelerator program, and the specific challenges of medical technology.

There was  broad agreement that Australia (and Victoria in particular) has a strong and successful history of #MedTech development and innovation. There was also a sense that the future funding of telehealth services will be key to the sector’s development, especially the shift from “fee for service/solution” to “fee for value” models.

Aside from the regulatory and IP challenges, two of the biggest hurdles for #MedTech are the customer complexity, and procurement models, which can be summarised as follows:

Who Pays? Is it the clinician, patient or carer? Who, in effect, is the customer?

How Do They Pay? Each State has its own procurement and hospital funding models, plus there is the interplay of private health insurance and providers.

During the product development process, the founders stressed the need to manage expectations for an MVP, the use of customer discovery interviews, and the importance of making clinicians part of the solution. There is also a problem with data gaps (e.g., hospital re-admissions), and the requirement to establish patient trust: while the software, data and apps can support more meaningful consultation, there still has to be some human component to foster behaviour change. There was also a comment about marketing for tomorrow’s market, not the current state.

Having each been through some form of accelerator program, there was common agreement on the benefits:

  • Access to networks of mentors and strategic advisers
  • Help with navigating the regulatory landscape
  • Options for one-off funding to help convert trials to customers
  • Ability to focus on the project, along with peer stimulation, and a sense of urgency

Each of the three startups mentioned here deploy some combination of smart phone technology, sensors and analytics – just as Dr.Brand does, which featured at the recent Future Assembly. The notion was reinforced most recently at Swinburne University’s Design Factory Gala NIght which showcased, among others, innovative #MedTech student projects that utilise a mix of digital display/visualisation, wearable devices, mobile apps and analytics to address three key cognitive-related issues: patient falls in hospitals, dementia, and Asperger syndrome.

Previously, I have described health as one of the three pillars of the digital economy. Furthermore, the future of #MedTech (as distinct to biotech) is going to be built on the combined deployment and integration of smart sensors, personal devices, artificial intelligence and machine learning to monitor, diagnose and remediate behaviour – not necessarily to cure the patient, but to overcome physiological challenges and age-related conditions.

 

*Apologies – normally I acknowledge the Startup Victoria event sponsors – but since the team have been doing such a great job in securing new supporters, there are so many to mention!

Next week: There’s an awful lot of coffee in Japan (but not much espresso….)