Seedcamp week 2011 – teams & finale

12. 09. 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve been following Seedcamp one way or another – mostly as a mentor at Mini Seedcamps, and now at Seedcamp Week – for some time now. My first mentorship was Ljubljana 2009. Two and a half years might not be much for some businesses, but the European startup community has developed and matured significantly in this short time, and of course Seedcamp with it.

Imperial College London - the venue

This was most clearly visible to me at Mini Seedcamp Ljubljana earlier this year. From 2009 to 2010 and now 2011 the rising level of quality and maturity of the teams and projects was clear and obvious to many of us who were there, and one of the dominant topics of discussion. Bringing together the best teams from all the Mini Seedcamps to London only reinforced that observation – as I’m sure many of my mentor colleagues would agree. Seedcamp as a project is growing as well, adding people to the team, money to the fund and new venues and partnerships – but you can read all about that on their blog and numerous other sources.

The emergence of Eastern Europe as a hot startup region has been acknowledged by both Fred Destin and Robin Klein.

St Robin of Klein, patron saint of Seedcamp

To me, coming from Croatia, that in itself is extremely gratifying. Only a few years ago, when discussing strategies of exporting software or services with colleagues from other companies, many commented “Hide your Croatian roots deeply, no one from the West will trust a company from this region.” While this may actually still be true in enterprise software to a degree, it gives me such great pleasure to see that in the world of startups, saying “I come from Eastern Europe” is starting to be a positive thing, implying in some way that you are “trendy” and “hot”. Of course this is a somewhat frivolous and perhaps temporary thing – but nevertheless, for so many engineers, enterpreneurs and founders from this part of the world, it’s a tremendous point of satisfaction. Just for the record, after Mini Seedcamp Ljubljana we have put together a Facebook group with most members coming from this region, and for the purposes of that group and this discussion I’d like to state things more precisely. From my point of view, “our region” is something I call “New Europe”, and when I say that I mean a bunch of formerly socialist countries – some of which are now EU and others not – stretching from our #EstonianMafia friends in the north to Turkey down south and including former Yugoslav countries but also Austria. Austria has – of course – centuries of tradition and heritage to share with all our neighbours, but more importantly great ties are developing  between the startup community of Vienna and all of us others in this “New Europe” region. In any case – if you want to join our “New Europe Startups” group on Facebook – welcome!

As I’ve mentioned before, a basic distinction could be made this year amongst the projects which were in already well-defined and well- populated areas and those that were breaking new ground and / or attacking new spaces. Mind you – going into an already established area isn’t bad in and of itself. All you have to do is beat the guys that are already there, and – it’s been done before!

Now – let’s look at some of the teams:

Vox.io wants to displace Skype as your Internet phone. With an elegant concept and super simple interface, they generated not only many favourable tweets (“This is the future of communications!”) but more – as I’ll explain later in the post. The VoIP space is crowded and hot, and Skype is certainly not sitting on its laurels, so Tomaž and his teammates – freshly transplanted to San Francisco from lovely Ljubljana, Slovenia, have their work cut out for them.

“Renting is broken!” declared the Rentlord crew, promising to move us beyond real estate agents who don’t give a crap about our flats into social renting, connecting landlords and tennants directly to provide a much more efficient platform to conclude their business. If UK and other markets are anything like Croatia, I’d say that at least their battle cry is totally spot on.

Clearly startups are meant and expected to disrupt industry sectors and markets, so “this is broken” and “we will disrupt this industry” can be heard many, many times at Seedcamp and other startup events.

Another project shooting at a broken market – in this case, online dating – comes from Russia with – presumably – love… a lot of love that might be generated if Zin.gl (which I mentioned in my previous post) is really so much better than what’s out there today. I have a few friends who have been frustrated by online dating sites, so if Alexander can really make this work so much better as he claimed in his pitch, he might be on to something. I need to note, though, that I’ve heard of new dating sites quite often in the past few months – will be interesting to see who really pushes ahead of everyone else, and how this will develop from market to market as it’s clearly very local content and customers.

Tomaž and Alexander discussing how to achieve world domination

GrabCAD started as two guys a year ago. Today this online community of mechanical engineers is the third largest group of these people in the world, just surpassing the benchmark of 25,000 members during Seedcamp Week. They aren’t quite seedlings any more, having raised 1,1 M dollars from top level VC’s and angels during the summer.

Transferwise lets you do currency exchange spending less – a lot less – money on banker’s fees. During the pitch, they explained that they have saved their customers – in the very short time since they launched – more than 100,000 Euros in banker’s fees. “That’s at least one banker not getting his bonus this year” was their remark, to the great satisfaction and admiration of the money-conscious investors in the audience. “Where have you been until now?” someone shouted “I’ve been waiting for something like this forever!” What better remark could you hope from this demanding and critical crowd.

I could go on and on about the teams and pitches but the post would really be too long. So I’ll just say a few words about my – but not only mine – favourite team. Clearly I’m not objective since the Farmeron guys are from my native Croatia – but at least that’s full disclosure :-))

I first heard about Farmeron when preparing for Mini Seedcamp Ljubljana earlier this year. They want to help farmers work better and feed more people by bringing them sophisticated, yet easy-to-use and nicely presented analyitics for their farming (think Google Analyitics for your cows and corn). My first thought was – wow. What a wide open space! This was not “yet another Groupon” or a clone or lookalike of anything I’d heard of before.

Hearing their presentation then and again now I was really impressed. There are more than 160 million farmers out there who are their target audience. These guys know their farming, both from family tradition and from university studies. The web site design is simple and cool and attractive. Perhaps most telling of all, however – I was clearly not alone. In the discussions amongst mentors in Ljubljana and in London as well, and of course online on Twitter, you could see that Farmeron had gained the sympathies – and, more importantly, the business interest – of a group of hardened, experienced and often sceptical and critical people who are the Seedcamp mentors. Besides all that – the guys are really nice guys :-)) (So are all the others, by the way, so that’s no competitive advantage!)

Matija (Farmeron) and Vanja (GISCloud) - #CroatianMafia w/ investor

Coming into Seedcamp Week, they were one of the 16 teams who had already been selected for investment by the Seedcamp crew, so in a sense they were already winners and on the way to great things. As the Seedcamp blog points out, of the previous portfolio fully *90%* of companies had received follow-on funding – a superb track record.

Well… after Demo Day on Thursday we came back together on Friday to hear the final announcements. There were fewer people than the day before and the atmosphere was more relaxed now that the grueling schedule of prezos and mentoring sessions was all done.

A competition had been announced at the beginning of the week. Mentors received a form to grade the teams, and whoever we voted to be the best would get a 25,000 Euro cash prize. The second team would get 15K and the third 10K.

Straight to the point, Reshma announced the winners – the fantastic GrabCAD crew. Hardi Meybaum, founder and CEO, then walked to the stage and, without missing a beat, thanked everyone very very much and explained that, as they had already received sizable funding, they wanted to give back to the community so they would give their prize to – Farmeron!

I tweeted this feverishly on my little HTC phone and this was probably my most retweeted tweet of all time. Great move by the #EstonianMafia representatives!

Next came another announcement, which was not as spectacularly reported but was, in my opinion, just as important. Saul and Robin Klein, through TAG, offered five of their favourite teams a convertible bridge loan of €50,000 each to “extend their runway”. These teams were – you can probably guess some of them by now – GrabCAD, Farmeron, Transferwise, Fractal (makes sure your email newsletters are properly formatted) and Vox.io. Another home run for the New Europe gang!

Finally, the four teams that were not yet funded coming into the London event – Blossom, Rentlord, Appextras and Crowd – were all welcomed to the Seedcamp family as new portfolio companies.

Reshma to the exhausted survivors: "Onwards and upwards!"

All in all – a great event taking Seedcamp and all the participants – but mostly the portfolio companies – to a new level. What will be the next steps for this community? I’ll offer some of my own thoughts in the next, final blog post of this series.

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