October 20, 2014

Double Dip Recession Or Thriving Entrepreneurship Eco-System?

Britain’s economy, like many other Western countries, looks precarious. The solution to the malaise is in building a thriving entrepreneurship eco-system. With that core belief, we have been working with various players in the country to stimulate entrepreneurship in the United Kingdom.

With new businesses and new entrepreneurs increasing in number and energy level, London’s Old Street in Shoreditch has even been nicknamed the Silicon Roundabout in parody of, or tribute to, Silicon Valley. Universities and colleges like London School of Economics, King’s College, Imperial College, Oxford, Cambridge, and University College London, all have entrepreneurship clubs to provide networking and encouragement.

Incubators like TechHub offer regular gatherings, in an effort to simulate the high velocity environment of Silicon Valley, and stimulate similar levels of activity locally.

At 1M/1M, we have run several contests this year sponsored by A&N Media, part of DMGT, Britain’s largest media group. A&N Media’s audience includes 130 million consumers, and the company is interested in working with entrepreneurs with aligned online products and services that can monetize this audience better, while stimulating entrepreneurship in Britain. The prizes for these contests were 1-year scholarships to the 1M/1M program.

I heard ten pitches from UK entrepreneurs in person:

Drummond Gilbert, goCarShare

GoCarShare is aimed to connect drivers with paying passengers who wish to travel the same way, allowing them to share the journey costs. It uses Facebook to connect users with friends of friends and a rating system to help create a trusted community. GoCarShare will take a commission of 15 % of the paid transaction between the passenger and driver.

Will Hodson, Platter

A cross between Instagram and Pinterest for food, along with other features such as micro blogging, vertical search, and so forth. Will proposes to use affiliate marketing as a way of monetization similar to what Pinterest is attempting.

Shara Tochia, Fitness Freak

A bookable Web platform that allows users to search for and book fitness classes and activities. It also integrates with booking partners to offer an easy-to-use service and a review platform for journalists and users.

Zoe Peden, Insane Logic

An educational iPad app called MyChoicePad. It uses symbols and sign language with speech to enable choice and communication for children and adults with learning or communication difficulties.

Steven Lucero, PopUpShopUp

A social media for popup shops, restaurants, cinema, entertainment, charities or any and all temporary retail events, utilizing a curated member-based website, weekly email newsletter, mobile application and check-in technology. PopUpShopUp aims to become the marketplace for consumers to visit to learn about all popup events first in London, then throughout the UK and finally, in the top 100 urban areas of the world.

Hire Space

A website that allows you to find, book and pay for publicly available space online. Hire Space works with a diverse range of venues, from schools to private function venues and provides a platform for the sale of associated services such as catering and entertainment.

Jonny Britton, TimeMaps

A company that makes digital history maps to illustrate events over time. The company sells to schools, homeschoolers, parents and other educators all over the world.

Jason Cooper, Simplytics

A mobile advertising engagement analytics model to help better measure user engagement with ads.

Neill Watson, Enjoy!

Karoke, a Facebook game that taps into the vast pool of singing fun that dominates prime time TV.

Jack Tang, Thestudentjob.com

A social-network-based job portal connecting students with local employers looking for casual staff on a one-off or part-time basis.

The winners of the contest were Enjoy! Karaoke, Thestudentjob, InsaneLogic, Platter, and goCarShare.  Then, we co-hosted an online pitch fest with Imperial College, London, where we also listened to multiple interesting pitches:

Christopher Corbishley, Imperial College

London pitched Print AdExchange, a marketplace for buying and selling last minute print ad inventory for newspapers, magazines, etc. Chris points out that the media world is moving away from print advertising, and all advertising technology emphasis is now on the Internet. However, print is still a very large business, and there is an opportunity to apply technology to make that business run more efficiently. Nice analysis!

Michael Newman, my1login

An identity-management solution to address the problem that each of us has:  numerous varied usernames and passwords that we have to remember. A widget to preserve these in a secure place would be highly desirable. Everyone from Facebook to Google to Microsoft wants to own the single identity space, though. Challenging business.

Yvonne Biggins, Movellas

A community for writers that nurtures them to publish fiction and non-fiction and leads them towards becoming published writers. The community already has a fair bit of engagement. Millions of story views have taken place. The big question Yvonne needs to wrestle with is the monetization model.

Bruce Hellman, uMotif

A website and mobile app for monitoring diets, medications, and other health related items. The ‘quantified self’ movement has taken the e-health world by storm. Bruce is attempting to break into this extremely crowded market.

Print AdExchange and Movellas won that day.  We co-hosted a similar session with the London School of Economics Entrepreneurs and European Student Startups, and A&N media awarded scholarships to the most promising entrepreneurs:

Joseph Virgili, RedEddy

A marketplace and cloud-based platform for engineering simulation and modeling software. The segment is dominated by CAD vendors like Ansys and Dassault at the high end, as well as MathWorks. Joseph sees an opportunity for bringing a significantly less expensive offering to market.

Abhishek Garodia, PlayEnable

Effectively could be described as OpenTable for gyms and sports venues. Consumers interested in booking slots at gym-classes or on tennis courts, squash-courts, etc., would do so through PlayEnable. The challenge, however, is that they would need to convince every single gym / venue owner to install their software. Tough proposition. It took OpenTable a long time and huge capital to get there.

Patrick Danielm, Locus

A location-based service that helps people connect physically at venues like university libraries, museums, sports stadiums, etc. I am of the opinion that this product could be brought to market as custom apps by some of these major venues as well.

Vyacheslav Polonski, Cloudmarks

A bookmark aggregation service that collects your bookmarks across various browsers, networks, etc. Currently, the revenue model for the business is not fleshed out sufficiently. Quite possibly, the real customers of the offering would be media companies trying to understand which of their links are being widely bookmarked and shared.

The winners of the contest from the UK were Locus and Cloudmarks.  Our Kings College pitch fest featured several promising new entrepreneurs:

Dr. Dele Omotosho and Michela Menting, Happerture

A vertical ad network for healthcare mobile apps. As a concept, vertical ad networks have been quite successful, with companies like Glam Media, Travel Ad Network and Adify leading the pack. Happerture’s presentation, however, had other elements of a review site and a storefront for mobile healthcare apps, which confused the pitch somewhat.

Brian Pietras, SpareSquare

A marketplace through which consumers can rent out storage space to students and professionals. This is a concept that we have seen before as well, and in fact, we’re seeing quite a trend in the domain of ‘marketplace for sharing.’ The success of Airbnb in renting to travelers has created variations of the concept in domains such as storage. It is definitely a reasonable and viable concept with many early players vying for market adoption.

Yetunde Murphy, Appsy

An outsourced mobile app development company. Now, speaking of a competitive space, this one is not competitive; it is hyper competitive. It is, obviously, a viable business, but one with not hundreds but thousands of competitors in it.

Timothy Armoo, Doodlar

A marketplace for urban designers to sell their T-shirts and other fashion merchandise to consumers. The closest comparable company to the concept is likely Etsy, although Doodlar’s focus is not on fashion. The judges found the idea compelling.

John Hazell, Netcopy

A service through which publishers with significant paper archives can turn those archives into digitized, subject-specific articles that can be published online to harness additional search traffic. The A&N Media judges validated the concept on the spot saying that they have a similar effort under way, although not exactly the same.

Ali Ahmed, Lutebox

A social shopping site with a special emphasis on video-based collaborative discussions and screen sharing capabilities. Ali has gathered a good number of retailers and has started monetizing through an affiliate model whereby retailers receiving traffic through the site fulfill the orders. Again, an interesting concept targeted towards women 22-44 to begin with.

The winners of that contest were: Brian Pietras, SpareSquare; Timothy Armoo, Doodlar; John Hazell, Netcopy; and Ali Ahmed, Lutebox.  In addition to these relatively early stage companies, I want to also introduce you to LanguageLab, a company that is already quite successful, generating $5M+ in annual revenue. The company is co-founded by Shiv Rajendran and David Kaskel in 2005, the company focuses on digital learning for languages in an interesting yet contextual virtual environment.

LanguageLab teaches English in more than 70 countries using audio-visual virtual environments. Currently Language Labs caters to large corporations including Chevron, DHL, Emerson, Air France, the British Council, and more.  Language Labs is growing at a rate of 300-400% per year, and taps into a consumer market of a billion individuals wanting to learn English. It is fitting that the English teach English to the world!

The UK is in dire need of economic regeneration, and a concerted effort at entrepreneurship development is the only way this would happen. We are happy to help!

British Landscape Photo via Shutterstock

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Sramana Mitra


Sramana Mitra Sramana Mitra is the founder of One Million by One Million (1M/1M) initiative, a virtual incubator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategist who writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy.

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