Oxygen Ventures brings some fresh air to Australia’s #Startup Community

Last week, Larry Kestelman’s new investment vehicle, Oxygen Ventures gave 5 local startups the opportunity to bid for a share of A$5 million in funding at the inaugural Big Pitch night in Melbourne (#thebigpitchAUS).


The Judges at the Big Pitch


The #Startup Contenders

Drawn from over 300 applicants, the hopeful candidates (in alphabetical order) were:

Bluesky  Shopping portal for leading fashion and lifestyle brands.

ECAL On-line event and brand marketing calendar launched by E-DIARY.

etaskr Enterprise productivity solution that allows employees to ‘bid’ for in-house projects based on their expertise.

KartSim New go-kart game for PCs, from developer Black Delta.

WeTeachMe Booking platform for short-courses and special interest classes.

After each contestant made a short presentation, they were questioned by a panel of judges, comprising CEOs, entrepreneurs, corporate advisers and business development experts from a range of well-known organizations. Most of the questions related to the startups’ revenue projections, funding requirements and growth opportunities – but some were grilled in more detail about their business models and financial performance to date.

How did the participants fare on the night?

The Joint Winners were ECAL and WeTeachMe – with the People’s Choice Award (based on audience votes) going to KartSim.

My sense is that ECAL came out on top (with A$2.5m of funding) on account of their early success in signing up a number of high-profile sporting franchises in the USA and Australia, demonstrating their growth potential – otherwise with 1 million users, but only $440,000 in revenues, you’d have to think the business model would struggle.

WeTeachMe was successful in attracting A$2m in funding because the business model is simple, it falls into the growth category of lifelong learning, and the platform had already achieved significant productivity gains for its commercial clients. Plus it has the potential to scale up and go international.

With KartSim, I admit I have no interest in computer games, but it would seem to me that with a headful of (virtual) Steam behind it, the developers might be better off tapping into crowdfunding opportunities, as the early interest suggests ready and eager buyers out there, enabling a successful commercial launch without giving up any of the equity.

Feedback from the panel on Bluesky suggested that despite offering a ‘one-stop-shop’ for consumers, the margins generated from the sales commission model would be insufficient to cover fulfilment costs (so it would only ever be a transactional purchasing platform); nor would the retailer aggregation model ever be allowed to encroach on brand or retailer loyalty schemes, thereby limiting the options to develop added-value services for customers.

As for etaskr (which I have featured before), it is still one of the few B2B startups that I have seen, which may make it appear less attractive to potential investors, since there seems to be some wariness around anything that is not consumer-focussed, or that does not play in a 2-sided market. Personally, I think this type of productivity tool is just the sort of tech startup that we need as it taps into the technological, organisational and demographic changes facing the modern workplace, and current attitudes towards job structures, collaboration and employee engagement and retention.

Footnote: What is ‘Disruptive’?

Interestingly, one of the Big Pitch sponsors was Uber (current darling of the startup community – if not of taxi drivers) which has been making presentations around town on what it takes to market a disruptive startup.

For me, there are three key attributes to a #disruptive startup:

  • Technology
  • Business model
  • Market engagement

A business like Uber ticks all three boxes – its proprietary technology comes in the form of the algorithms that track things like customer usage and vehicle capacity (not so much the apps which are similar to other peer-to-peer and #sharedeconomy solutions); the business model is rather like a network of city franchises (a common global platform with local autonomy); and the disruptive market entry strategy is designed to by-pass highly regulated industry structures – although Uber also likes to stress that it is working with taxi regulators.

Of the five startups that competed at the Big Pitch, only etaskr brings an element of disruption, because it is using a technology solution to challenge traditional notions of what a job is, and allows companies to tap into in-house resources that they might not otherwise be aware of. KartSim has some proprietary programming, but at the end of the day is just another computer game. WeTeachMe and Bluesky are trying to bring operational efficiencies to disparate markets, but they are both broker-aggregators, and don’t appear to have proprietary technology or unique business models. And ECAL is a neat content management solution to a problem that companies have been aiming to solve in other sectors – such as travel, education and health services – although it is not trying to break the existing market nexus between suppliers and customers.

But full marks to Oxygen Ventures, its partners, sponsors and the participants themselves for bringing a fresh perspective to the startup pitch night experience.