“It’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better”
The number of dynamic tech start-up scenes cropping up throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa is staggering. It is a phenomenon that looks set to dominate the digital economy, and have a profound impact on the mainstream economy.
Yet, this phenomenon is merely the flourishing of a trend that is now well-established. Between London and Tel Aviv an exciting collection of start-up hubs has been creating a buzz, demanding attention from investors and dominating entrepreneurial activity for many years.
Start-ups may have the potential to disrupt markets but they also create opportunities. This fact was recognised when five of the most digitally advanced economies in the world recently met at the D5 summit. Aiming to create a best-practice approach to growing their digital economies the D5 members placed, at the heart of their initiatives, the importance of fostering conditions in which tech start-ups could grow.
Which start-ups look set to take the mainstream by the jugular?
We asked the Dyn EMEA team to pick their top 7 start-ups and their response filled three sides of paper. There really is that much talent and potential out there. After much deliberation, some heated exchanges and more than a fair share of compromise we finally received a shortlist.
No doubt you have your own favourite start-ups: let us know and we’ll see if they were a contender on the original long list. We’d love to hear about any we may have been sleeping on. For now, though, these are the start-ups that Dyn EMEA (just about) agrees are leading the pack.
Verticals: Social, Science
Tech hub: Berlin
Making effective connections and reducing latency is certainly a theme that rang strongly for us here at Dyn, and this at heart is exactly what the social sharing of scientific studies on ResearchGate is all about.
Physician Dr. Ijad Madisch started the project in 2008 after he experienced first-hand just how hard it was to share findings and keep up with the activities of scientists all over the world. With so much research taking place offline in academic silos, redundancy is almost inevitable. Complementary papers are kept separate and duplicate initiatives start simultaneously.
Madisch decided to create an online professional network for scientists where they can easily share data, information and results. ResearchGate elegantly solves a problem but questions still remain over its monetisation potential.
This, however, has not deterred investors. Bill Gates, Simon Levene, Bebo co-founder Michael Birch and Yammer CEO David Sacks have all seen potential, and the former Vice President of Product Management for Facebook Matt Cohler sits on the board.
Madisch describes his vision for ResearchGate rather heroically. It aims to “free knowledge from the Ivory Tower, to digitize it and make it accessible for everyone in order to accelerate scientific progress.”
He suggests that monetizing this will be easier than the task he faced trying to change the habits and practices of academics. Today ResearchGate has more than 5 million members and all the potential of a niche LinkedIn to capitalise on these.
Based in the tech hub of Berlin, Madisch sees his business as one of many innovative businesses that are helping ignite the already vibrant scene. Germany understands just how important the digital economy is to its future and, he argues, with continued investment, its fuse is ready to spark.
“To build up a real start-up scene you need a game-changer, and I think right now is the right time.”
Tech Hub: Berlin
The next start-up to watch is also from Berlin. Its audience, however, do not sit in Ivory Towers but seek eye-opening tours.
From its founding in 2009, GetYourGuide has grown to be one of the world’s most successful online travel start-ups. It currently attracts over one million visits a month but its visits are sure to increase further as it aggressively expands into new markets.
The belief and excitement in the company’s proposition is reflected by the fact that its total funding to date represents the largest ever achieved for any business operating in the tours and activities sector.
So what is it that GetYourGuide does so differently?
GetYourGuide was quick to realise that the travel market has changed because the way we can access information and make bookings has changed. The legacy route may have been offline bookings but smartphones, tablets and desktops mean holiday activities and bookings are so much easier to make online now. In a sense you could see GetYourGuide as the OpenTable for holiday activities: it provides a platform where a network of activity suppliers can upload their products and take bookings.
CEO Johannes Reck stresses the value it offers consumers as well as suppliers:
“It is a platform that offers additional consumer value, beyond choice — such as best price guarantees, fast lane access to museums and last minute availability for mobile bookings.”
The start-ups initial success in European markets saw it quickly target America. Last year it received significant funding, led principally by the former CEO of Booking.com Kees Koolen, and it was quick to begin scaling up its business.
As Koolen admitted at the time:
“The big challenge now is to really scale GetYourGuide to a worldwide company.”
Watch this space!
Tech Hub: Israel
Israel has established itself firmly as the so-called Start-up Nation. It has a population of no more than 8 million people, yet it can boast more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any other country, except the United States and China. In truth, its achievement is even more impressive because the vast majority of its activity is centred on the city of Tel Aviv. It is to here that we now turn for our next top tech start-up.
In the health vertical Telesofia recognises, just as GetYourGuide does for travel, that the landscape has changed and that our connected devices open up the possibility for more immediate and personalised communication.
In 2011 a team of doctors realised that only about half of all patients properly understand even the most basic instructions that they are given in the consulting room. This concerning finding was the impetus behind the founding and development of Telesofia.
The beauty of Telesofia is that it allows personalised communication to take place outside the consulting room and, in doing so, reduces the risk of misunderstandings or confusion. It does this through patient education videos that can be sent via text and email or embedded in patient portals/apps. This means that essential advice can be accessed from any connected device wherever the patient may be.
The ease of access is coupled with clarity of communication. The videos use illustrations to reinforce their everyday language and advice is targeted so that irrelevant information is filtered out. You only hear advice that you need to, so the advice given to an elderly grandfather does not get diluted by warnings and caveats intended for breastfeeding mothers undergoing similar treatment.
Telesofia is working with over $1.5 million in funding, a large chunk of which came from Microsoft, and it looks set to be dispensing advice globally in the very near future. Forbes recently proclaimed it one of the ten health tech companies that are changing the world. So, no pressure there!
Rami Cohen, one of the founders of the start-up, evaluates its prospects rather more circumspectly. He does, however, believe firmly that technology has the power to improve our health, and not just in the operating theatre or through pharmaceutical innovation.
He comments that:
“When you consider that,” according to Forrester Research’s Dr. James McQuivey, “a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words” and that a study done by Cisco found video will account for 69% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2017, it makes sense to make videos the next frontier for medical instructions.
Health literacy cannot be improved overnight, but there are steps we can take to ensure our patients are receiving the best care possible, even after they leave our facilities.”
Vertical: Health, Public sector
Tech hub: London
Another platform that aims to put patient needs above traditional procedure has been making waves in the UK, but this time working with the public sector rather than the private sector.
The public sector is increasingly becoming a major source of nurture and support for tech start-ups, and deliberately so. In the UK, and many other countries, public service contracts have been ‘right sized’ and application methods have been simplified and digitised to allow SMEs to participate.
This initiative is matched in the UK by a commitment to using digital technology to deliver government and public services.
One start-up that has hit the mood of the times perfectly is Patients Know Best.
It has become the first company to integrate with the NHS (National Health Service) Connecting for Health network which aims to offer secure tools for patients to work with clinicians. More than this its services are being promoted by a significant number of UK hospitals and are also being used in a growing number of other countries.
From its starting point in 2008, to its tipping point today, Patient Knows Best has used the capabilities of tech to empower citizens and radically disrupt conventional approaches to healthcare administration.
More than this it has succeeded where larger initiatives have failed. In the UK introducing electronic patient records has a history of good intentions and poor execution. Attempts to realise the benefits of allowing different parts of the health service to easily access patient notes and history have seen high-profile initiatives fail. The NHS National Programme for IT in 2011 collapsed with a predicted cost to the nation of around £10 billion, and last year the NHS Patient Database was shelved after it ran aground on concerns over privacy.
Dr Mohammad Al’Ubaiydli, founder of Patients Know Best, believes that all such top-down programmes are doomed. His solution, by contrast, is alarmingly simple: to use the connected technology available today to put patients in charge of their own medical records.
Patients Know Best is a robustly secure version of Facebook. The timeline is the patient’s medical records, which they can access using any device. The medical consultants are potential Friends that the patient can share this information with. The result is an easy way to share medical records without all the fuss.
The app includes an in-built medical dictionary, which uses plain English to explain medical terms and jargon. It also allows the integration of other devices so that data from, say, glucose monitor can be fed directly in and made instantly available to specialists.
All of a sudden, with just a flick of the logic switch, you have patients informed and in control. You have data shared between disparate departments. And you have a start-up that looks set to go places.
Dr. Al’Ubaiydli has commented:
“One thing that is increasingly becoming apparent is that a central top-down system cannot work. It doesn’t scale, it doesn’t please everyone – in fact it annoys everyone. If you do a bottom-up approach, where the midwives are putting in their records, the GPs are putting in their records, the patients are bringing their devices, and people we haven’t thought of like the social workers, the community pharmacy teams, the health coaches, the charities that help out patients – if each of them just connects their bit to the patient, then you have a much more scalable system for everybody working together.”
Just how scalable the start-up itself is will be seen over the next year as its presence increases globally.
Vertical: Broadcast, Music
Tech Hub: Berlin
Another Berlin-based start-up that is making waves is AUPEO!, an audio streaming, personalised internet radio service.
Founded in 2008, and acquired by Panasonic in 2013, the company has just set itself further apart from any competitors by winning the innovation prize for In-Vehicle Accessories-Control-Navigation at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas at the start of this year.
Now available in over 40 countries worldwide, and offering over 120 pre-developed stations, the app has placed personalisation and connectivity at its heart: unlike other audio services AUPEO! is available through in-car entertainment systems for a growing list of makes and models.
AUPEO! allows users to select stations that follow a theme, genre, artist or musical mood. To do this it uses an automated classification system that is known as the Fraunhofer algorithm which can analyse each piece of music according to characteristics such as rhythm, acoustic colour, tuning and tempo. Metadata (such as genre and artist) is used to anchor its classification.
The resulting tags allow a great deal of personalisation by the user for creating their own radio stream. This is enhanced by their ability to ‘Love’ or ‘Ban’ tracks, activity which helps determine future personalisation.
The platform is available across a number of web-enabled devices, including mobile, web radio players, TVs and cars. The service is monetised through advertising and subscription services.
The recent expansion of its in-car availability appears to a herald a move away from just a focus on music to a more dedicated move into other types of content (such as news, weather, traffic news). CEO Holger Weiss commented in December 2014 that the company wants to become “a kind of Twitter for cars”. In a similar vein Chief Technology Officer and Managing Director David Taylor places AUPEO! at the apex of the history of innovation in delivering radio content generally:
“Since the invention of AM, radio has been a story of continuous innovation. AM enabled global communication, FM provided a local flavour, satellite radio brought larger content variety and internet streaming services added personalization. As the content menu gets more complicated, the experience that’s been missing is a way for consumers – through one platform – to easily assemble a single individualized feed that lets them discover the greatest variety of content that is most relevant to them right now. That’s what AUPEO! has accomplished.”
Vertical: Music, Streaming, Social
Tech Hub: Tel Aviv
Another innovative start-up that has placed music more firmly under our control is Israel’s Music Messenger. This time it allows us not to individually personalise our music selection but to socially share our favourite tunes.
Music Messenger has been called the WhatsApp for music. It allows users to search for, send and receive full music tracks from their smartphones to anyone on their contact list. You can not only then add the track to your playlist you can also add an image or text to make your music message personal.
At the moment the service is completely free but the interest from investors suggest that many top music industry figures see potential profit streams opening up shortly.
The app was developed by tech start-up veteran O.D. Kobo, fresh on the heels of his recent sale of teen social app Pheed for $40 million just 18 months after its launch. You can expect similar speed in growing and developing Music Messenger.
The app launched in September last year and Kobo appears to be wasting no time in taking it to China, where he has considerable experience.
With a team of just 14 people Kobo has managed to do what the large team at Apple has failed to get the iPhone to do: make it possible to send full songs directly from your phone. What’s more he has managed to make it simple and fun to do.
An early investor in the start-up is the manager of Avicii, Ash Pournouri, who comments:
“Music Messenger showcases the next era for music sharing and promotion. It is the first app that properly addresses the need and wish to communicate through music and listening to it in a lucid, organic way with friends.”
Tech Hub: Paris
Our final start-up is Leetchi, which was founded in 2009 and named by Wired as the best French start-up in 2013.
Leetchi offers a way to help you share money, not songs, through its online money pots. It has, in fact, already helped more than two million international users manage money collection for group gifts, trips and events.
It’s easy to use, contributors can be invited through email or social media, and customisable, messages and photos can be added to your money pot at any time.. Above all, it takes the chore out of money collection and makes it seem like fun.
The New York Times is quoted as saying that Leetchi offers “the best and easiest way to collect money from anyone for everything”. The newspaper is not the only one lavishing superlatives on the start-up: TechCrunch has identified it as “the leader in social payments” and The Next Web identified it as one of “Europe’s fastest-growing tech firms”.
With its own payment solution (Mangopay API) being licensed throughout Europe and other revenue streams from transaction fees paid by partner retailers and consumers, Leetchi has scalability written all over it and is already available in many countries.
Seven tech start-up we love drawn from an overwhelmingly talented cast
So there you have it.
These are the tech start-ups loved by Dyn EMEA, but it took an epic battle to whittle it down to just seven. It’s a shame we couldn’t have acknowledged both more businesses and more of the vibrant tech hubs out there. We are planning to cover some verticals and tech hubs as a separate series of reports in the near future: at least we can spread our love a bit further then.
In the meantime Tweet us to let us know your favourites.
There’s plenty to choose from!
Paul Heywood is the EMEA Director of Revenue at Dyn, the world leader in Internet performance solutions. Follow at Twitter: @Paul_Heywood and @Dyn.