#Startup Victoria’s Pitch Night – @ParentPaperwork takes the honours…

The repositioning of Lean Startup Melbourne as Startup Victoria continues apace, with a formal Pitch Night hosted by Inspire9, sponsored by Bank of Melbourne, Bluechilli and The X Gene, and featuring an expert panel.

The 5 plucky pitchers were (in order of appearance):

  • Arts ‘n Smarts – An early childhood learning platform, offering a subscription service comprising monthly home deliveries of craft materials for use in structured play activities. The business has identified strong channel potential via play groups, partnerships with content providers and craft suppliers, and cross-over sales from the gift and baby/toddler markets. However, the panel felt that the subscription revenue model needed more analysis, and there was a risk that they were “pitching to the converted” – that informed parents would already be engaged in their children’s learning activities.
  • CreoLud – Custom 3-D printing for Dungeons & Dragons figurines which aims to fill the design gap between concept and production. Given the somewhat esoteric nature of fantasy board games, it was unsurprising that the panel were a little perplexed by this pitch. However, quoting some McKinsey research suggesting there is a $16.2bn global market for broader physical gaming and figures markets, this pitch could represent just the start of a growth trend in customisation and personalization, leveraging 3-D printing technology.
  • ParentPaperwork – Online student consent form service for schools that uses standard e-mail templates, a secure website and real-time reporting. By adopting a SaaS model, the business eliminates the need for software installation, app downloads, or social network registration processes. Although each State education system has different purchasing models for schools, the panel clearly recognised the potential to scale the product and take it overseas. However, there were concerns about privacy and confidentiality issues; and while there may be a crossover to the school enrolment process, another similar local startup, CareMonkey is already gaining traction and incorporates permission slips into its solution.
  • YourGrocer – This home delivery service for local suppliers has been featured in my blog before and continues to grow its customer base and weekly revenues at a steady rate. The combination of local shopping with added convenience is very appealing, but the panel quickly challenged the business to specify how it will grow out of its single-suburb service, currently based on a sole delivery van and driver. There appears to be some “creative tension” about how to expand the business beyond the borders of Brunswick – the choices being either to hire more full-time drivers, to build a franchise network, or to establish a marketplace of independent owner-drivers.
  • StageLabel – Describing itself as “a crowd-funded label bringing democracy to fashion…“, this online venture recognises the high failure rate for new designer labels, but is banking on its market disruption strategy for success. The business model is to test and validate new designs in pre-production, then gain funding to go into production. The business will also offer strategy sessions on pricing and production, and take a lower sales commission on successful projects when compared to the traditional retail mark-up. With over 80 designers already signed up, partnerships with fashion schools and launch events at Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, the business is hoping to outmanoeuvre competitor betabrand which only produces own-label designs. In their feedback, the panel concluded that the idea represented “high effort, low volumes”.

On the night, the audience voted ParentPaperwork as the winning pitch, earning them a chat with Square Peg Capital, mentoring from two panel members of their choice, and temporary co-working space at Queens Collective. The successful team graciously acknowledged that all 5 teams had collaborated to help each other hone their respective pitches, and no doubt there has been a huge amount of individual effort and collective goodwill in helping to bring these startups to a wider audience.

FOOTNOTE:

This meetup was just the latest in a growing number of pitch nights coming out of the local startup scene (in the wake of similar events such as the AngelCube graduation nights, Melbourne University’s Accelerator Program, and Oxygen Venture’s BIG Pitch). If you don’t happen to live in Melbourne, or can’t get out in the evening, you could always tune into “That Start Up Show”.

 

 

 

 

Demo Day for MAP’s Class of 2013 Startups

The Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) supported by University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering and Faculty of Business and Economics is only in its second year, but already shows signs of becoming a leading incubator of new and emerging entrepreneurial talent in the burgeoning Melbourne startup community.

Last week was Demo Day (a.k.a. pitch night) for the 6 successful teams who were selected from over 50 applications submitted for the 2013 program. Presenting to an audience of fellow entrepreneurs, potential investors, program mentors and “interlopers” (a term used by Dr Charlie Day in his introduction), each team was invited to present the fruits of their labours from the 3-month accelerator program.

To kick things off, there was a quick update on the Class of 2012, including the team behind the new Omny audio app, which offers curated audio content.

From the Class of 2013, first up was 2Mar Robotics, who are developing a remote-controlled robotic arm, aimed at helping people with quadriplegia or with restricted arm movement and control. An earlier, voice-operated prototype proved unstable due to interference from background noise, but the team, led by Young Australian of the Year 2012, Marita Cheng (and founder of Robogals) have already secured a number of pre-orders for the latest version, which they hope to ship in early 2014. While it is understandable that the team would want to keep key commercial aspects of their project confidential, the less-than-open responses to audience questions about product costs and market pricing created the impression that the team are still developing their business case.

The next project, also healthcare-related, was from Cortera Neurotechnologies, who specialise in remote monitoring sensors for epilepsy patients. The team’s goal, using highly developed neural interface technology, is to significantly reduce the risk of infection caused by major invasive surgery for the 30% of epilepsy sufferers who are unable to take medication. Despite some theoretical discourse and good-natured banter with the audience about cyborgs and mind control interfaces, the team (which is divided between Melbourne Uni and UC Berkeley) is well on its way to securing prototype funding.

Client Catalyst offers digital marketing services for SMEs, via mobile websites and integrated search solutions. Given that nearly half of all mobile searches are for local services, the solution has targeted the trade vertical (plumbers, builders, electricians, etc.) which accounts for about 25% of the SME market. Claiming much lower customer acquisition costs for their clients (compared to traditional classified directories), and a very high client conversion rate, the team has established a solid subscription business that more than covers their primary input cost of paid search terms.

By using highly intuitive data visualisation and enhanced search, the team behind The Price Geek claim to have established a major competitive edge over other price comparison sites, in their bid to help you “find out the market price for anything” (although currently, it really only covers tech devices, sneakers, and Tiger Woods memorabilia…). They have built affiliate programs with multiple merchants, giving them more market sources, more contributed content, and more data analytics. The site has already picked up some strong media coverage, and in future, The Price Geek plans to offer price comparison for cars.

Before commenting on Ebla, a self-publishing platform for lawyers, I should declare an interest: I previously worked for the legal information division of Thomson Reuters, including the Westlaw online service. So, IMHO, anyone who is attempting to bring a new technology solution to informed legal commentary and analysis deserves a lot of credit, especially if, as intended, the service empowers individual lawyers to showcase their expertise in a collaborative and adductive environment. Contrary to some popular misconception, the legal profession (along with financial services) was one of the first industries to embrace the digital age*. Yet consider this: the sheer volume of legislation, case-law and commentary; the complexity of the material and its many idiosyncrasies (e.g., case citation systems); the proprietary nature of much document drafting; and the “knowledge is power” approach to researching obscure precedents before facing your opponent in court – all these factors tend to work against the notion of knowledge sharing and collaboration among lawyers. (I have heard of some law firms that embed deliberate mistakes in their commercial drafting templates, to deter plagiarism by their competitors if the originals were to fall into the wrong hands.) Access to the site, which is still in Beta, is by invitation only, and will offer a freemium subscription model.

The last team to present was SwatchMate, with a Bluetooth-enabled reader that helps users to “capture the color of any surface” (or “Shazam for color”). I have to say that when I first saw this team present at a Lean Startup Melbourne event earlier this year, I was somewhat sceptical about the product, as they seemed to be focussing on the paint market (both trade and DIY customers), yet didn’t appear to realise that most people only paint their home once every 5-7 years. However, I am pleased to report that SwatchMate have since lifted their game, by identifying strong opportunities among designers and creatives, brand managers, the cosmetics industry, and even TV and monitor calibration. With linkages to major design software, as well as to leading colour and paint catalogues, SwatchMate will offer an integrated solution once they go into production. Meanwhile, they are planning to launch on Kickstarter, and are a finalist at next week’s Melbourne Design Awards (plus shortlisted for the Sydney and Brisbane Design Awards)**.

Applications for MAP 2014 close on April 24, and there are also opportunities to participate as a mentor (full details not yet available).

* Lawyers love their technology: The Wang word processing system was eagerly adopted by law firms in the 1970s and 1980s, for its ability to support complex document formatting. Online legal research tools like Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis were launched in the 1970s. Some of the first CD-ROM and web-based law publications in the 1990s deployed specialised html coding and Boolean logic designed for legal search and retrieval purposes. Many law firms use sophisticated knowledge management systems to capture the in-house expertise of their lawyers. Court reporting and litigation support tools have been using advanced voice recognition, extensive text parsing and real-time data capture and processing for many years.

** Declaration of interest: I am currently involved with the Design Awards, although I have no say in the selection of shortlisted entries or finalists.