Instead of writing a wrap-up of our August 29 Demo Day ourself, we’re more than happy to have Jonas Knipper, founder of Stackademy and witness of the Demo Day proceedings, write up his view of things. Thanks, Jonas!
Even with no fat lady singing, this summer’s Berlin Startup Academy batch well and truly concluded with a Demo Day at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin’s former Staatsratsgebäude of the GDR government.
Underneath picturesque wall paintings depicting the merry life in East-German socialism, five BSA companies came to pitch their products and services, after being guided to razor-sharp business models and presentations by Christoph Raethke over the course of three months.
These were the startups in order of pitches, including my own subjective comments.
Zefly wants to take content discovery to new levels. Instead of having publishers use algorithm-based solutions to display related articles that keep readers engaged, Zefly’s browser extension allows anyone to create new links and annotations for articles they read online, which are then displayed to other Zefly users reading that exact article.
While Zefly is likely to face an uphill battle in reaching a sufficiently large number of users and in extension of crowd-created links and annotations, it also has a strong focus on quality and relevance in comparison to algorithmic approaches – it may just be my browser cookies, but 90% of those automated recommendations seem to involve prostitution scandals, former child actor celebrities and “nine ethnic dishes that aren’t so ethnic”.
The move to mobile in news consumption will change the market dynamics in one way or another, so that Zefly may need to find ways of extending its approach to the smaller screens.
The team still showed ambition and its “F*ck the algorithm” battlecry stuck. For now, Zefly aims to reach journalists and NGOs eager to promote high-quality related content to their audience, and has plans to add an iTunes-like content store at a later stage – unlike the App store, starting with quality may turn out to be a good choice.
Videoly targets the large number of online retailers that all depend on converting visitors into buyers to get a return on customer acquisition efforts. Their approach: Automate the matching of products on the one hand and review or “unboxing” videos created by buyers around the world on the other to make product videos available to every retailer instead of just giants like Amazon. Apart from giving potential buyers more reason to click the purchase button, the Videoly videos also reduce returns by taking out the surprise for buyers.
Videoly has built a proprietary process where videos are automatically identified on third-party platforms like YouTube, then pass a quality assurance via Mechanical Turk and lastly are added to a product page, all with no extra effort on the part of the retailer even for thousands of products. The team brings together years of experience working at Russia’s search giant Yandex and Finnish agency Futurice, and has managed to bring in pilot customers Jolla and HifiSound.de, who pay a fee per product and month that gets monitored by Videoly.
2014 was the first BSA batch that included a social business, namely volunteer matching service Proboneo. Founder Claudia Leißner retold her experience of working for a cash-strapped kindergarten looking for a way to redo their playground, until an architect friend of hers decided to donate his time and plan out a play area that is still being used today. With that in mind, Claudia noticed how more often than not, few Germans follow through on their intent to volunteer, even though the country is very volunteer-friendly and more and more employers are looking for ways to give back and allow their employers to become active in their community. Consequently, Proboneo positions itself as both a professional development and a philanthropic service that benefits the volunteer, their employer and the non-profit alike.
Participating non-profits pay a fee equivalent to ca. 5% of the value gained from a volunteer’s work, and Proboneo also offers consulting and specific matchmaking for corporations. With Claudia’s background in management consulting at McKinsey clearly showing in her goal-getting attitude, she has already brought in a range of illustrious backers, from BMW Foundation to Allianz and Vodafone and Proboneo is now looking to expand from so far 80 supported projects to more than 3,000.
Medizintechnikmarkt represented the disruptive company in the batch: co-founder Sebastian “Doctor” Winkler (he actually holds a PhD in Laser Physics) made his case for taking on the very opaque market for medical equipment and supplies. Traditionally, manufacturers rely on an active sales force that goes out and woos doctors, who in turn have had few ways of comparing prices for lasers, chairs and other equipment that generally sells for several thousands of euros up – a run-of-the-mill dentist chair for example represents an investment of EUR 40,000.
Medizintechnikmarkt now levels the playing field in an industry that is cash-rich and large by making the product search easy. Manufacturers who join Medizintechnikmarkt to list their products then pay a commission for every sale made on the platform.
To market their service to doctors looking to save a buck or two, co-founders Sebastian Winkler and Oleg Ishenko so far have built out their search engine marketing expertise, focusing on endoscopes in an MVP-style approach. With a wide range of equipment and supplies still untapped, Medizintechnikmarkt has lots of room to grow beyond the niche and save doctors money in the process.
Descape is on a mission to reconnect people with their childhood dream jobs, from firefighter to archaeologist, and offers time-limited “descapes” to anyone looking to swap the office desk with work in one of their fields of passion for a while.
Descape lists out jobs from working on a horse ranch to coffee roasting and gin distilling, and makes booking a Descape as easy as booking a vacation. The founders previously worked in ad agencies and for a geo data startup and received their first bookings immediately after being featured in a radio interview. With P2P traveling and accomodation growing as big as it is, Descape looks to join the movement and also seeks to bring in companies on a mission to improve their employer brand by letting employees go on Descapes.
Jonas Knipper is the founder of Stackademy, a Ruby on Rails bootcamp whose core program teaches ambitious students how to build web applications from start to finish using the Ruby on Rails framework, all within 11 weeks of full-time learning in Berlin.
For questions and comments on this article, find him on Twitter at @jdker.