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Seven top start-ups from the fields of big data, cloud computing and mobile business competed against one another at the European final of the IBM SmartCamps, which was held on 8 November at Palais Auersperg in Vienna. Each start-up had five minutes to present its pitch. After that, the participants had to answer questions from the jury about the marketability, technology and appeal of their products.
In the end, the five-member jury made up of IBM managers and representatives from the business community came to a unanimous decision: The Shopa shopping network from Great Britain and the Home Power Station by Nova Lumos from Israel will represent Europe at the worldwide final in the US. Shopa also impressed the audience, winning the People’s Choice Award by a considerable margin. Unfortunately, the efforts of the Austrian participant LimeMetrics fell short of the mark.
“Share products and earn cash” is the idea behind the British start-up Shopa. The idea is just as simple as it is promising: By recommending a product to their friends – either via e-mail, social media or blogs – users can earn a commission on the sale price if the product is actually purchased. In order to ensure that the system can determine who sent the invitation to purchase the given product, the link to the item on the Shopa web site is configured using a URL shortener. Shopa wants to use this win-win idea to take digital word of mouth to a whole new level.
The ever-growing Shopa database already contains about one hundred million products from the world’s biggest brands. The challenge that Shopa will have to tackle in the coming weeks and months is the secure handling of the enormous volumes of data, as Janes explained: “When money is involved, everything has to be one hundred per cent reliable. Because users and sellers have to be able to trust our service.”
Solar power through microfinancing
The second ticket to the worldwide final in San Francisco went to the start-up from Israel. Nova Lumos took on quite a challenge with its idea: It wants to democratise the energy supply in areas with little infrastructure. The company plans to use a small solar panel to supply the roughly 1.5 billion people who do not have access to a power grid with electricity.
“The concept is similar to the system here in the European countries,” explained Nova Lumos founder Nir Marom to futurezone, “We don’t have to go out and buy a whole power plant in order to be able to use electricity. We also only pay for the energy we consume. In the same way, we will provide people in rural, developing areas with a small power station – in exchange for a small provision fee – and the users will only pay for their actual energy usage.”
The “home power station in a box” will be distributed in close cooperation with telecom companies. “Mobile communications providers love the idea. On the one hand, because they see a new business model and they expect to be able to use it to secure competitive advantages. On the other, because our idea optimally complements their lines of business,” said Marom.
Everyone’s a winner
There were no losers at the IBM SmartCamp in Vienna, because even reaching the European final is a major success. “We established lots of contacts and got helpful feedback from the excellent mentors, which we will incorporate into our concepts. Even though we didn’t win, it was still a very positive experience for us overall,” said Reinhard Nowak, founder of the Austrian start-up LineMetrics, summarising the company’s participation in the IBM SmartCamp.
According to the organiser, this was also the goal of the event, at which networking and gathering experience were at the very top of the agenda. The SmartCamps are part of the IBM Global Entrepreneur programme, in which IBM is currently collaborating with roughly 1,600 start-ups. Investors, business representatives, mentors, developers and start-ups are brought together in the IBM Innovation Centres in 37 countries around the world. This leads to an “extensive ecosystem for innovations”, as Erno Karl from IBM Europe put it in his opening address.