— aleatory

Showtime In Londonderry

A few thoughts on the creations unveiled at last week’s showcase show and tell conference in the Maiden City.

First up, the keynote from NYSE (who bought up NI startup Wombat Financial Software in Belfast). To be honest the corporate speak gave me flashbacks of what it’s like to work in that dreary environment. But 500 jobs isn’t to be sniffed at, and neither is their plans to create an API for 3rd party development to offer services based on their stock ticker platform. While it likely doesn’t go far enough – I’d like to see it made public so that independent programmer/traders like myself could start playing with it – it’s a step in that direction and is to be widely welcomed.

Not so welcome was the sole question for the guy, which wasn’t really a question at all – more a plea to help all the unemployed people around Derry (not to mention “6,000 on the dole in Inishowen”…) get jobs. That was the gist of it and it sounded desperately out of sync with a new outward-looking Northern Ireland unafraid to compete with the rest of the world on merit. Host for the day Mark Nagurski moulded it diplomatically into a question about why NYSE likes NI. Hooray.

Now the startups…


Monscierge. Hyper-local kiosks for the hotel industry. Without wanting to turn this into a written word version of Dragon’s Den, I’m sceptical as to how they will break even on an apparent cost per unit of £30k.

Crowd Scanner. The creation of two Galway-based techies helps social interaction in the real world by supporting a kind of social data entry via smart phone and are also developing location-aware integration with the Facebook Graph API. Their spiel was very well executed – engaging and energised. Wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a Silicon Valley startup competition. I just wonder sometimes are people in danger of becoming ‘drowned’ in the data their smart phones are capable of providing them?

Code4Pizza. This made me hungry. It’s an impressive achievement to get lines of code pushed out just by offering up food – I’m sure a student of Maslow would have something profound to say about this – and I think it deserves greater exposure to the corporate governance sector in the UK in general. The lifeblood of such a movement is open data and if it could be sold to corporations and the public (not just government) as a corporate responsibility win then we may see activity take off. And more pizza obviously.

Onotate. A very slick web app built to serve as the graphical interface between designer and client. Annotation in the form of smileys is a very natural webby way of expressing reactions. A nice metaphor. Particularly impressed with the drag/highlight action shown in the live demo. Web design community is notoriously fickle but these guys are making the right noises.

Data Sentiment. Location-based marketing featuring bespoke branded apps on a client by client basis. Undoubtedly the big location sites are circling round very similar territory but what was interesting in founder Jase Bell’s talk was his point about the data his apps generate about customer interactions – how often they shop, what day of the week they choose to use an offer, etc. If DS can show real value in this space they may well find themselves speaking to nationwide retailers.

Sonru. Online asyncronous job interviews. One for large corporations no doubt – at least those with hundreds of applicants for each opening – perhaps as a screening method, or finding how an applicant copes with a different type of interview pressure. Down at ground zero it’s difficult to see past the power of skype for free.

AirPos. “Cash registers are the 2nd most used interface in the world after ATMs”. Owner Marty Neill & team has set out to bring the user experience for point of sale systems up to speed with a networked society. There’s no magic dust here – get the old product, wire it to the cloud and suddenly the client gains a holistic realtime view of their supply and sales. Add in mega-competitive price tag and it’s a matter of getting the business to scale fast enough before the competitors do.

Newsrupt. A digital marketplace for news. The youngest (?) entrepreneur wowed with a healthy disregard for staid corporate speak and launched into what could be described as a tirade of determined optimism and self-belief. What impressed me most was her answer to her single question from the audience ‘what is the revenue model?’. Lyra McKee batted it down with all the apparent experience of an executive on a quarterly earnings call. We’ve all been told entrepreneurs need passion – if this is correct then they also need to make it plausible – Lyra managed this to create a sense of elevated purpose around newsrupt. Listen to me I’ve got something worthwhile to say. The challenge is to make this evangelism stick in one of the most cynical industries in the world. But it’s as good a start as any.

Addendum – McKee displaying similar single-mindedness, this time on acquiring a team to realise an idea.

Clearway Med. Reducing Asthma by helping prevent mouthbreathers from mouth breathing. Full disclosure: I’m a mouth breather. Apart from feeling vaguely under threat it’s obvious there’s a problem with a solution here and they are working on achieving a defacto global patent. One of the eSynergy proof of concept fund winners.

Taxizapp. Disruptive mobile marketplace for taxis and callers. Free for callers, taxis pay a fee much smaller than the amount traditionally handed out to the big agencies such as Value Cabs, etc. I like the simplicity of this idea a lot and together with the other marketplace startup Newsrupt I’m interested in their ideas on how they can scale the userbase – the chief obstacle in making a success of both ventures and a chicken and egg scenario.

Exise. Social network client with a very impressive array of analytics and swish visuals. I get lost in the threaded conversations though – perhaps less emphasis on the ‘social network client’ end of things and more on the graphs and other metrics. Intrigued by the ideas for sentiment analysis too. Challenge I guess is to expound the benefits of the analytical features to business.

Miximo. ERM for clubs & societies. The difficult 2nd album from the makers of PollDaddy. Interestingly mentioned taking a cut of ecommerce transactions (fulfilled by Paypal) as their business model. A different angle on being the middle man from the marketplace startups – unsure how much ecommerce the organisations they are targeting actually engage in though.

EyeSpyFX. Latching onto a recent Wired theme on the rise of the wider internet at the expense of the WWW, founder Anthony Hutton describes a world were every device is connected and the subsequent need to control them centrally, as opposed to p2p. EyeSpyFX work in the niche of web cams and provide a cloud based solution that makes it easy for consumers to use remote web cams but are on the lookout for enterprise use cases.

Planzai. Project management initially for bands and delivered via following a set sequence or ‘blueprint’. Founder Rich Dale hopes to recruit subject matter experts from other industries to create similar specialised project structures. Specialisation is key in a niche flooded with competitors.

rediscOvery. AR platform to tag locations with multimedia data. Proof of concept implemented with Titanic Quarter and historical archived content. I’m sure there’s loads of these about but getting the Titanic name is a big win no doubt. First Showcase app created on App Engine!

Boomio. Freelancers portfolio site for web & print design community. To run in parallel with the Creative Boom network that aims to help those working in the sector market their services and start winning contracts. The local network aspect is interesting and should help visibility in a busy globalised market.

Cycle Send It. Budding cycle delivery micro franchise. Toying with the idea of replicating Belfast model in other cities with a £100 buy-in (+ sales commission) to network for any cyclist wanting to deliver packages for a fee. I like the potential to scale a workforce and get paid for doing so. A lot will depend on marketing Cycle Send It better than competitors.

And that was Showcase startups, or rather what I seen of them – more on the web here – Learning Pool’s Paul McElvaney on starting up one to watch in particular. In all a very vibrant and interesting day that highlighted there is actually quite a bit happening in the NI tech scene right now just below the surface. Some apps are looking for steady organic growth, others hoping to be disrupters that have the potential to mushroom overnight. Very different challenges. The case of NYSE/Wombat right at the start of the conference highlights what can be done when the technology is good enough. The rewards outweigh the risks.

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