Mike Butcher, StartupYard

StartupYard DemoDay 2017 Set For Feb 22, Keynote from TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher

StartupYard has now announced Batch 7, including 7 Startups from 5 countries. Learn more about the startups right here. 


The StartupYard team, and our seven 2017 startups are pleased to announce our next Demo Day, which will take place February 22nd, 2017, at Kino Svetozor, in Prague. There, at 6:30pm local time, 7 startups will pitch to the public for the first time.

Joining us will be the legendary Mike Butcher, Editor-at-Large for TechCrunch, the tech industry’s leading news source, and organizer of the popular TechCrunch: Disrupt conference.

And if you have a second, please Tweet about it!

Looking forward to hearing @mikebutcher @startupyard for DemoDay2017! Tickets on Sale:… Click To Tweet

Keynote Remarks from TechCrunch Editor Mike Butcher

Mike Butcher MBE is Editor-at-large of TechCrunch. He has been named one of the most influential people in tech by The Daily Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Independent newspapers. Mike has written for UK national newspapers and magazines. He has been named one of top 100 most influential people in European technology by Wired UK for 5 years running . He has spoken at the Monaco Media Forum, Le Web, Web Summit, DLD and the World Economic Forum, where he is a ‘Media Leader’. Mike is a regular broadcaster, appearing on BBC News, Sky News, CNBC, Channel 4 and Bloomberg. He has also advised the UK Prime Minister and the Mayor of London on tech startup policy. He is the co-founder of TechHub.com (which creates spaces globally for tech entrepreneurs); Coadec.com (which lobbies for UK startups); TheEuropas.com, the annual European Tech Startup Conference & Awards; and the non-profit, Techfugees.com, a community of refugee-focused NGOs and tech innovators. Mike’s personal blog is mbites.com, while he Twitters at @mikebutcher.

DemoDay Program:

6:00 pm: registration & networking
6:30 pm: event starts
8:30 pm: refreshments & networking

Note: Guests will have ample opportunities for networking with StartupYard’s community of investors, startups, mentors and sponsors before and after the event. 

About the Venue:

Kino Svetozor is a premiere art cinema opened in 2004, in one of Prague’s liveliest passages. It’s an art-house cinema, the first of its kind in Prague.

The cinema has a long history. The first screening took place at the beginning of 1918. A few years later, Svetozor changed into a cabaret. It returned to its original purpose in 1957, when it was rebuilt into a panoramic cinema. In 1968, the famous Kino automat, first introduced at the Montreal World’s Fair, Expo ‘67, was moved here for a year and a half.

Now, nearly 100 years after its first screening, Svetozor is a name brand in the heart of Prague, hosting film premiers, arthouse pictures, foreign films, conferences, and tech events.

 

 

This event is made possible through the kind support of the following sponsors:

Bx_UIFdQ

roland_berger_logo_detail

KB-logo

Microsoft logo 2012

An exit is not a vision

An Exit is Not a Vision

I attended a pitching competition this weekend, as I do many times each year. This one was not unlike many others.

Most of the pitches were very interesting, and I liked many of the ideas. But I noticed something I didn’t like. Aside from the usual little foibles like “we’re the Uber of X” (probably not), and “$400 Billion Market!” (kind of not really), I heard, several times, detailed digressions into exit strategies.

Ok, there’s nothing inherently wrong with thinking about an exit strategy. But I do find something offputting about a company that is trying to raise seed-level investment, talking about selling out within a couple of years. Exit strategy is not part of our program at StartupYard, because an exit is a natural extension of success- it doesn’t need to be the focus.

An Exit is Not a Vision

an exit is not a vision

We like to ask people what they hope their company will be doing in five years. That’s not because we think they really know what will happen in that time (they never do), but because we want to know the scope of their vision for the future.

You should know where you want to be in five years, because if the answer is “doing something else,” then building a startup might not be the best path. This isn’t Wall Street- there are no golden parachutes at early-stage startups.

Which would you rather hear? “I need $300K to build a great company that’s going to be changing the way people do X in five years–” or, “I need it to build a company that’s going to be bought by Google 18 months from now?”

One of those two is a vision. The other is at best a strategy (and at worst a delusion). Again, I’m sure it would be great if a startup could promise it definitely would sell to Google in 18 months, but if that’s your vision, and it doesn’t work (because it probably won’t), what then? If your greatest hope is to cash in a lottery ticket, then what kind of a sales pitch is that?

As Frédéric Mazzella, founder of BlaBlaCar, recently said in his comments for The State of European Tech, by Atomic Ventures, “Growth isn’t like an elevator, it’s like building a set of stairs.” Meaning, every step on the path towards growing a large company has to be taken individually. There is no straight line to the top.

Founders Focusing on Ambition, Not Passion

This is indeed something I’ve been taking more note of recently. It seems to me that I am hearing more about startup founders’ ambitions, and less about their actual passions. I’m getting a pitch about a person, instead of about the idea they care about. The cliche of “make the world a better place,” is at least a nod to social responsibility and building a sustainable business.

But this focus on exits, which I’m sure some startups do in their pitches, seems to me to be crass and opportunistic.  Even more perversely, I’ve actually heard this phrase more than once: “I have a passion for growth.” Which uses the words that founders know we want to hear, but is pretty twisted when you think about it.

Maybe this will sound incredibly touchy-feely, but I don’t think the best and brightest would be in the tech business if it was just about the money. Why we have to tell ourselves that it is, in fact, all about money is a mystery to me.

The sad part, at least for me, about such pitches is that they completely alienate me, and I suspect many other investors, and betray a focus on money that is unhealthy for an early stage company, still trying to find product/market fit.

As we say, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” And yet I notice founders trying to make their paths toward profitability seem easy. A breezy growth spurt, followed by an acquisition, champagne raining from the sky. I suspect though, that this is a combination of self-deception and poseur behavior. Sound like you believe it, the reasoning goes, and the audience will think you have it covered.

But at the end of the day, if it’s something Google is going to buy for a cool $100 Million, they’ll be buying it because doing it themselves is hard. The value is in the difficulty of the work, along with the opportunity it represents. And yet I hear “$100 Billion market,” far more often than I hear: “here’s how we can do what nobody else can do.”

As I sometimes say to startups: “Do you want to be something- or do you want to do something?Being a hyper-growth startup in a huge market is an ambition. Doing the best work you can, no matter what business you’re in, is a passion.

Ambition Isn’t Enough

an exit is not a vision

Of course, at StartupYard we talk to a lot of startup founders, and many, even most, will never realize their ambitions. That’s not a bad thing. Ambition is important, but it can’t be everything. Sometimes people fail because they aren’t smart enough, or don’t care enough, or don’t have the timing right. But sometimes it’s because their ambitions are far too great for their actual passion.

We’ve seen that first hand, and the end is always the same. The founder who is all ambition does just enough to satisfy the ego, and never enough to really drive the company forward in a meaningful way. Progress, according to ambition, is to be seen as a winner. Passion is for winning- for being the best, even if no one knows it yet.

Ambition is important. You must have it if you want to try to do things no one else has tried. Ambition drives people to succeed. But naked ambition leads nowhere. It must be paired with a strong passion to do good work.

These are hard lessons that must be learned. Still, I wish that as accelerators, incubators, investors, and mentors, we would be more clear on what we value most- which is passionate founders who are ambitious in a healthy way.

We like ambition. But ambition is not ever enough. Ambition doesn’t drive you to do the right thing for your fellow man. It doesn’t make you unique, or creative, or better than anyone else.

Passion is the thing that can’t be taught. You can develop someone’s ambition, and we often do just that. But we cannot develop their passion. As investors, it’s always tempting for us to be sold on a founder’s ambition. But in the end, passion always wins, and our best startups are the ones doing things that only they can do best. Why? Because they love it. Because they couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

And if they make boatloads of money from it, I can virtually guarantee, it will be a side effect of that passion, not a result of their ambitions.

Either you have passion for something, or you don’t. If you’re thinking of starting a business, I can only encourage you: do something you really care about, even if that something isn’t sexy, or isn’t going to make you very rich. If you’re really good at it, then it will make you rich enough.

Neuron Soundware, StartupYard, Startup Roku

Exclusive Interview: Neuron Soundware Wins Yet Another Award

Neuron Soundware: Winning Awards and Customers

Since leaving StartupYard in this year, Neuron Soundware has made “soundwaves” in the startup community in Europe, winning multiple awards, including Vodafone’s Idea of the Year, and now, this week, Ceska Sporitelna’s Startup of the Year.

The company has come a long way in a year– from a small team that was able to demonstrate, at SY Demo Day 2016, a machine learning algorithm that could learn to mimic a human actor, to a company that provides machine learning diagnostic software to large equipment operators. They’ve received considerable press coverage. Already, they count both Siemens and Deutsche Bahn among their customers. 

I caught up with Pavel Konecny, Co-Founder and CEO of Neuron Soundware, to talk about what the team has been through since leaving StartupYard, and where they’re going in the near future:

Hi Pavel, a lot has happened for Neuron Soundware since you left StartupYard. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to since the program?

Pavel Konecny, of NeuronSoundware, talks about machine learning and sound.

Pavel Konecny, of NeuronSoundware, talks about machine learning and sound.

We were very busy of course. We have presented Neuron Soundware at international startup and advance engineering conferences in US, UK, Germany and Czech Republic. We got a lot of contacts, which we are going to leverage. We are also proud that we found our first paying customers including companies such as Siemens and Deutsche Bahn.

What are you providing for those new customers?

We provide sound analytics algorithms as a service – an early warning of the coming mechanical issues of machines such as wind turbines, escalators, etc.

Towards the end of StartupYard 2016, your team decided to focus on diagnosing mechanical issues for machinery. Can you tell us a bit more about how this works?

Neuron Soundware - StartupYard Alumni

Complex machinery with moving parts always has multiple points of potential failure. There are basically two ways to solve that issue: either you wait until something breaks, or you proactively monitor the parts you know are likely to break, and fix them before they do.

Waiting for a failure can be expensive, and even dangerous. We can’t wait for an airplane engine to just stop working. You can’t have a printing press suddenly fail an hour before the trucks arrive. The loss in business alone makes it a major vulnerability.

Why can’t humans do this kind of work? Why is a machine more effective?

I’ll give you a real world example: just google “failed wind turbine”. You would find scores of different pictures and videos from all over the world. Wind turbines are giant and very fast moving machines. If the blade breaks a part in the full speed, you can find the pieces miles away and this can be quite dangerous. Preventing these events is a huge challenge.

Currently they do exhaustive physical checks. What we found was that sound, the sound of a machinery operating normally, or machinery nearing a failure, was a very important source of data that was not being employed fully.

Wind Turbine, Neuron Soundware

Photo Courtesy of Kyoto Prefecture, Japan

If you can understand a machine by the sounds it produces, you can reduce the risk of sudden failures, and increase the effectiveness of maintenance, since repairs are directed according to some available data about what’s working and what isn’t.

A machine learning algorithm can learn to connect data points that a human would ignore. A particular sound or a particular frequency may lead to a particular failure at a higher rate. Many of these tasks are above the capability of a human, who has a limited attention span, and limited memory.

There are also practical ways in which a machine is more effective: nobody can listen inside an airplane engine while it’s flying. Nobody can consistently diagnose a mechanical failure based on auditory clues that humans can’t actually detect. You need machines and machine learning for that, and that’s the breakthrough we’ve made.

How does Neuron Soundware learn?

Some issues can be simulated and some just appear time to time and you need to be ready to record them.

Hence we have developed our IoT device equipped with several types of microphones, which we use for the initial data collection. The device is mounted to the machines, continuously listening and transferring audio files to our central server. When we collect enough samples, we use them as an input to our learning algorithm. The machine health monitoring is done using the same IoT device.

You’ve now conducted some pilots as well, how was the experience, and what have you learned that surprised you and your team?

We were surprised several times of the effectiveness of deep learning technology. It works with all type of sounds. If we collect enough samples, we can achieve quality of recognition above 99.5%. And that would get even better as the system would collect more data.

Already, our approach can detect and diagnose mechanical faults that human diagnosticians cannot.

What has been Neuron Soundware’s biggest challenge since leaving StartupYard?

Neuron Soundware, Napad Roku, StartupYard

The Neuron Soundware team wins Vodafon’s Idea of the Year

We are travelling a lot. So the most of the communication happens via Slack and Hangouts. We meet in-person as the whole team only once or twice a week. That’s an intense time, when we need to sort-out a lot of items quickly. It was very refreshing, when (Co-Founder) Filip got married in October and we were all together and not discussing business matters. So we went to (3rd Co-founder) Pavel’s band’s concert last weekend as keeping friendly team spirit is very important to us.  

You recently recommended another deep-tech startup for our program. Why did you recommend StartupYard? What do you think has been the most positive outcome of acceleration for your team?

We would not be where we are now, without StartupYard. We started with a long list of ideas, where to apply AI technology, and we end-up with The idea of the Year (awarded by Vodafone Foundation)- and now Startup of the Year (from Ceska Sporitelna).

So we would like to thank again the many mentors we met during the first month of the program. It also changed our mindset in several ways: how to validate the business potential; how to pitch our product. Rather talk to people than flood them with documentation.

I used to start a meeting by passing out a complicated document, outlining everything I wanted people to know. What I learned along the way is that it’s equally important for people to get to know me and my team as people. Business is about making a personal connection- and that was an important lesson.

You’ve been talking with investors recently. What have you discovered during this process? What are you planning to do with the funds when you raise them?


It takes much longer than anticipated. They all stated how simple it is. It looks nice as starts with an interview, a short two page document. Then you follow with more meetings and committee board presentations, longer documents and the whole process of due diligence.

It is difficult to imagine, even for me, what we could be capable of doing in two or three years with our self-learning AI technology. And how much value and money we can make. We will use the investment to expand our business. With a larger development team, we could quicker complete the self-service sound analytics platform we are working on. That would make our business highly scalable and we could ramp-up our sales team.


Neuron Soundware’s core technology has a lot of interesting applications. Where do you see your team focusing its efforts within the next few years?

We are working on a way to combine effectively the different datasets we are collecting.

That would practically allow us to skip the phase of training as the neural network would be already pre-trained to recognize a wide set of potential issues. This is basically the way a human mind operates: you use past experiences to gain insight on new situations, even if they are very different. A machine can be taught to do the same thing, once given enough data.

The goal then, would be to start shipping a small smart IoT device in large volumes, ready to be used within any machine. Imagine a kind of silent digital mechanic, always sitting and monitoring complex equipment, all the time, and getting better, and better at the job every hour of every day. That’s really the future we are building with Neuron Soundware.

220px-bahnhofsuhrzuerich_rz

The Startup Myth of “I Don’t Have Enough Time”

In advance of StartupYard Batch 7, we invited finalist 13 startups to join us for a full day of mentoring in Prague at our Startup Day. We do this every year, not only to evaluate and help decide which of the startups we will invite to the accelerator, but also to provide some value to startups that have taken the time and energy to apply, and to engage in the process with us.

What’s notable is that without exception, whether they are accepted to the program or not, when asked whether the day was valuable to them, startups tell us that it was of great value. Founders often go out of their way to let us know they’re grateful for the opportunity, no matter the outcome.

The Startup Myth: Not Having Enough Time

But every year, we invite one or two startups to the accelerator that don’t end up joining us. The number one reason? “We don’t have time for it.”

This reasoning is sometimes a little baffling. Yes, an accelerator takes time, but on the other hand, as we take care to stress, it is an accelerator. The program is about moving faster than a company would normally move on its own. This doesn’t just mean doing more work in a shorter amount of time. It also means doing more important work, and doing it at the right time.

gandalf

 

When founders consider StartupYard, they sometimes start to see it as a kind of zero-sum proposition. If you spend 6 hours a day talking to mentors for a month, that’s 6 hours a day you can’t spend coding or selling. But let’s be real here- you aren’t going to code for those full six hours. You’re going to have your daily routine- the one you follow because nobody is telling you to do it differently. The one nobody challenges.

Being challenged on your everyday decisions by people who don’t know your company the way you do is sometimes frustrating, but it is also highly motivating. The time spent meeting with mentors is not wasted time. Just today, one of our founders told Cedric Maloux, StartupYard’s CEO, that every mentoring session so far had led to an actionable item for the team.

We have never had a startup come to us after the program, and say that the mentorship period was a waste. Even when they become frustrated at the constraints it puts on their schedule, in the end, they always see the value that it brings as being far beyond the time invested.

What happens instead, most commonly, is that startups simply work harder and better, accomplishing more meaningful progress in the limited time they have to actually build stuff, because they are responding to a constant flow of feedback and advice from people who bring them new ideas and new perspectives on what they’re doing, and what they aren’t doing.

Creative Destruction

nature_clock

The fact is that startups waste a ton of time on things they don’t need to be doing. It’s a fact of life, and it’s not a failing. Every engineer and creative knows that a huge amount of their work never sees the light of day. It’s not a mistake to waste time, because you need to make mistakes and do things that eventually won’t work out. Risks are necessary.

And yet, there are things that founders just never need to do, and never would do, if they had access to the right mentor at the right moment. We’ve seen countless examples. Startups operating without complete information just do things they don’t need to do, or that are doomed not to work at all. Mentors often know this, and know how to avoid these time wasters.

Is it a waste to talk to someone for an hour if he saves you 50 man hours of wasted effort? How many such meetings would justify one month of mentorship? Not that many, really.

A mentor driven accelerator is set up to save startups from wasting time in ways that truly don’t help them. The hours spent mentoring are usually spent stripping out many of the things that founders are wasting their time on, and prompting them to move faster in areas they are less comfortable with.

If you imagine your daily tasks piling up while you attend mentoring sessions, then consider also that the mentoring sessions are meant to savage those plans, and eliminate most of them anyway. Mentorship is not just about kicking around ideas- it’s about creative destruction.

Time Compression

Startup Myth, StartupYard

The other aspect of acceleration that is frequently overlooked is that of time compression. Acceleration puts startups in a position of having access to processes that usually take weeks or months, and having them happen in days or hours.

A startup on their own may wait a month to get a single meeting with one of our busy mentors. A follow up may be weeks more. But while they’re with us, these meetings happen as soon as they can be practically arranged. Our mentors place our startups higher on their list of priorities, and when they connect startups with other advisors and contacts, that urgency shifts to those contacts as well.

We ensure this happens by only retaining mentors who consistently engage with startups, and keep our startups high on their own priority lists. Try and get a C level executive at a Telco, a Bank, or a major software company to not only respond to a request, but to do you a personal favor. We’ll wait.

The biggest time waster for early stage startups isn’t having meetings. It’s waiting for meetings. And with an accelerator, the waiting is not a major factor. Startups frequently tell us that they accomplish more in 3 months, as a business, than they expected to accomplish in 2 years on their own. That’s the power of acceleration- we save time, we don’t waste it.

StartupYard Batch 7

StartupYard Batch 7: Visualized

StartupYard is getting ready to welcome 7 startups, with founders from at least 7 countries next week, for the start of StartupYard Batch 7.

As we did before our last round, we find it very useful now to look back on the applications, and see what’s changed this time around. Where are people applying? What are startups working on? What are the hottest buzzwords? Previous experience has shown us that StartupYard applications can be revealing about the key trends to watch for in the next 6-18 months.

Here we’ll give you a visual trip through our applications for this round, with our analysis, and comparisons with previous years.

StartupYard Batch 7: Who’s Applying?

StartupYard Batch 7 will be the first time that StartupYard does two rounds of acceleration in one year. Given that, we expected a lower overall number of applicants. What surprised us in fact was that we had effectively the same number of qualified applications for StartupYard as in the previous two rounds (2015 and 2016).

In the previous two rounds, StartupYard shared an application pool with 5 other accelerators in Central Europe, in which startups could indicate their “first choice,” and “second choice” accelerators. Many startups that applied to StartupYard had begun their applications with another accelerator, sometimes closer to them geographically.

We were not sure whether there would be enough demand for a wide range of qualified applicants to apply, particularly given that this would be our second round in less than a year, and our reach would be reduced as we recruited alone. However, Batch 7 garnered virtually the same number of applications as the previous round did of “first choice” applications for StartupYard.

And the quality of applicants from that pool, again surprising us, only went up. Our selection committee invited around 40 applicants to interview with StartupYard, using the same criteria as in previous rounds. This means that out of the 120+ applications for Batch 7, about 30% were invited for interviews, a significant increase in overall quality from a year ago, in which less than 15% were invited.

Anecdotally, we detected that startups were much clearer on the focus of this round than any previous round, and more applications were within our area of focus than outside it. When comparing with previous years, when some 60% of applications were eliminated right away because they were too far outside our domain, this round, eliminations on those grounds were well below 40%.

This means that more startups seem to understand the acceleration process better, and to apply for programs that fit them- or at least not apply to those that don’t.

Where are Applications Coming From?

Startupyard Batch 7

As you can see, Czechia remains our largest single source of applications. Not surprising as in our experience, our name recognition among startups based here is near total at this point. We also saw a strong backbone of quality among Czech applicants, and a bigger overall interest in our current emphasis on the Data Economy.

Slovakia, somewhat surprisingly, continued to recede into the background, perhaps because of Bratislava’s own burgeoning tech scene giving Slovak startups more reason to stay put for now. 2 years ago, Slovakia generated more applications for StartupYard than did Czechia, today it barely registers.

Here is our pool of applicants, minus Czechia for comparison:

Startupyard Batch 7

Again, the UK and Bulgaria, along with the USA, Hungary, and Russia are among the top sources of applications. We also saw a strong uptick in applicants from Kosovo, Poland, and Ukraine. Hungary also was strongly represented (3 companies from Hungary were finalists for StartupYard Batch 7), and Romania continued to be a strong source of applications as well. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is the sudden rise from Bulgaria. It may be the recent success of StartupYard Alum SpeediFly, which is based in Bulgaria and the UK, or the rising appetite among local entrepreneurs for acceleration, but our reception on our visit to Bulgaria, and the application pool demonstrated a growing interest from the country, particularly from Sofia, the capital.

Also of note was the smattering of applications from the near east, with applicants coming from Yemen, Jordan, United Arab Emerites, and Azerbaijan as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Baltic states are not heavily represented, possibly because of strong startup scenes already in Estonia, and Lithuania.

What Startups are Interested in

As with last year, the tags startups’ own descriptions, in the aggregate, say some very revealing things about the direction of the whole industry. Using the tags startups provided for themselves, we’re able to visualize the areas that startups are emphasizing in their applications. Keep in mind too, that startups use many different terms- these are those that appear most often.

StartupYard Batch 7There’s a clear emphasis here on Marketing, Data, and Management, along with Analytics, Development, Media, and Mobile.

There’s nothing that surprising in this word cloud, until we take a look at previous application rounds. Here is StartupYard Batch 6, for comparison. Notice what is emphasized in the older group, compared with the most recent one: 

A breakdown of keywords from the previous application round.

A breakdown of keywords from the previous application round.

If you noticed, a few terms have completely fallen off the map. Education, Advertising, and Media have been submerged completely.

Last year, we noted a big uptick in the number of advertising oriented applications, particularly Ad-Tech. This year, that blip disappeared, and was replaced by a re-emphasis on marketing as a whole, particularly on marketing tools that combine machine learning and big data. There seems to be much less appetite for media related ideas, including those in education or advertising.

This shift makes sense, if taken in context with recent moves by the biggest telcos to consolidate content and services into one platform. Verizon recently acquired Yahoo, with its advertising and content business, while AT&T is attempting to merge with Time Warner, putting content delivery and creation under the same roof there as well.

The jury is out  on whether that trend is good for consumers, however it is definitely real. If that trend continues, it means that a relatively fewer sources of content online will be increasingly bundled directly with broadband and wireless services- a trend that is probably not good for startups that work with 3rd party advertising or content creators. If fewer companies are competing with each other for audiences, instead bundling their services together and focusing on subscription businesses, that bodes poorly for the future of 3rd party content and advertising-based business models. 

At the same time, major tech incumbents are all pushing hard for advancements in consumer facing AI, and AI enabled technologies. Facebook has made a strong bet on VR, and Apple, Amazon, and Google have all bet heavily on the future of machine learning to bring advancements in their services. Magic Leap has also garnered increasing attention as it showcases how AR can transform our understanding of the role of computers in daily life. All this means a much bigger industry focus on Big Data, which is needed now more than ever to allow useful AI and AR/VR products to reach consumers.

Social remains a strong keyword, but anecdotally, we’ve seen that it now focuses on the big data implications of social media, including marketing and services, like chatbots, AI plugins, machine learning, and other tools to leverage data. 

What Startups are Working On

StartupYard Batch 7

Here is an overview of the words most used in candidate startups’ own descriptions of what they do.

This chart looks very similar to previous years, however it is much broader and less specific. Few terms, other than the obvious ones like Business, Platform, Data, Manage, and App, are given special emphasis. This is somewhat different from last year, in which terms like Marketplace, People, and Mobile were big standouts along with the most common tech terms like Platform and Data.

Is the way startups are describing themselves changing? Is there less emphasis now on mobile, or has it simply become an assumption that all products have mobile implications? Mobile may be taking its place alongside other words that are now seen as redundant- it may be shifting from an emphasis, to a more broad category that is easily understood, and thus little mentioned.

unnamed

StartupYard Partners with Accenture Digital for November Hackathon

StartupYard is pleased to announce the Accenture Digital Hackathon, November 26-27th in Prague, presented in partnership with StartupYard.

From the Accenture Digital Announcement:

“Today’s challenges are too complex to be solved by any individual person or nation. The solutions of the future will require the creativity and innovation of us all because only by working together will we be able to create a better world. This is the challenge that has been set for the upcoming Accenture Digital Hackathon, which will go beyond Czech Republic to also involve the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Great Britain and Turkey.
Experience the unforgettable thrill of coming together, for two days in an amazing setting, with peers who share the same passion for digital technology and innovation.”

About the Accenture Digital Hackathon:

This Hackathon invites young creative designers, developers and marketing specialists – both students and recent university graduates, to collaborate on projects along the following themes:

  1. Opportunity: increase access to employment and reduce the digital divide
  2. Mobility: eliminate physical and technological barriers that impede the productive flow of goods, people and ideas and improve the handling of emergencies
  3. Sustainability: promote sustainable lifestyles and boost awareness of the impact of climate change.
Check out the @AccentureDigi hackathon, November 26-27th in Prague! Prizes and mentorship! Click To Tweet

 

Why Join the Hackathon? 

It’s international: you compete against teams from 7 other countries

Attractive prizes:

  • 15,000 CZK voucher for each single member of the winning team (Prague round)
  • 1,000 EUR voucher for each single member of the winning team (international round)
  • Present winning idea (international round) to the World Expo 2020 organizing committee in Dubai

Inspiring mentors: Professionals from Accenture – leader among the FORTUNE’s “World’s Most Admired Companies” in the IT services category

StartupYard, Accenture Digital

Who Can Join? 

Participation is open to individuals (with any of the skills below) or teams of 3 to 5 people (each team having at least one member with skills below). Partipants should be junior in their professions, or recent university graduates.

  • Designers
  • Developers
  • Marketing Specialists

Organizers will set up teams from registered individuals without teams.

What Will You Accomplish? 

Generate: Prototype ideas, products and services that are able to create social and economic value.

Develop: Focus on the three themes which will be at the centre of the World Expo to be held in Dubai in 2020 (Expo 2020):

      1. Opportunity: increase access to employment and reduce the digital divide
      2. Mobility: eliminate physical and technological barriers that impede the productive flow of goods, people and ideas and improve the handling of emergencies
      3. Sustainability: promote sustainable lifestyles and boost awareness of the impact of climate change.

Get Mentorship: Experts from Accenture will mentor participating teams and individuals, helping to define and develop their project concepts.

Get Feedback: Projects will be assessed according to the strength of their concept, design and development, and each will be presented to a Jury

Win Prizes and Move Forward: Winning team in each city will be invited at the end of the day to compete head to head (via video conference) against the winners from the other cities in order to determine the top three teams overall.

Check out the @AccentureDigi hackathon, November 26-27th in Prague! Prizes and mentorship! Click To Tweet

 

 

Michal Hradil, StartupYard

Meet StartupYard Investor Michal Hradil, Founder of Hyperia

Just last week, StartupYard made final selections for SY 2016/2, our 7th round of acceleration overall, and 2nd in 2016.

With each round, we invite brand new investors, with new perspectives and experiences, to get involved with StartupYard as investors. This year we’re pleased to welcome Michal Hradil, Founder and CEO of Hyperia, a highly successful online marketing agency based in Slovakia. Hyperia, founded in 2013, focuses on lead generation, performance marketing, and affiliate marketing.

A serial entrepreneur, Michal is also the founder of online finance marketplace BezvaFinance, and renewable energy consultancy NetInvest.

Hi Michal, tell us a bit about yourself and your experience founding Hyperia. How did you get into online marketing? Where are you planning to go, business-wise, in the future?

I got into online marketing during my university studies. Working as an attendant in a copy center, I had plenty of time to browse the Internet. I found out I could earn more money by buying and selling domain names. So I gave it a try and it worked. And here is where it all began. I broadened my horizons about affiliate marketing, lead generation and ended up founding Hyperia.

 

Hype

What have been some of your favorite, or most successful projects at Hyperia? Do you have any interesting failures to talk about?

A: Our biggest achievement is, I think, that Hyperia, facing a very strong competition, became a leader in lead generation in financial sector within the Czech Republic and Slovakia which are two really competitive markets. Inevitably, we have made lots of mistakes. The one, I can easily describe, turned up when our webpages didn’t work for visitors using IPV6 connection. Having IPV4, we didn’t realize it and the mistake cost us around 30k euros.  

What makes Hyperia different from an average marketing agency? What is unique about your approach to your field?

Creativity brought even into more conservative segments and marketing psychology are our two biggest strengths.

In addition, we have never worked for individual clients. We are paid for tangible results by our partners so we must be really efficient in what we’re doing and we are able to achieve results the following day after making a deal. But specializing in our own projects also means that the success or failure are in our hands.


As an entrepreneur, how has the landscape changed in Slovakia (or Czechia), during your career? What have been the most important changes from your perspective?

A: In my opinion, it is more difficult to start any business without initial capital these days. The competition is very strong and the price of manpower has gone up. It means you should do more if you want to succeed.

On the other hand, information is made more available and there are much more opportunities. It is more simple to build a global business from the Czech Republic than ever before and people have more skills and experience with global products. Finding an investor became much easier as well.

You recently became a StartupYard investor. What got you interested in investing in startups, and why did you choose to invest through us? Have you invested directly in any startups before?

I do have some experience in the field. In case of StartupYard, I find your concept – to participate in something new – quite interesting. I also wanted to have a well-diversified portfolio and invest part of my earnings into startups.

As an investor, what do you hope to gain from your experience with StartupYard (other than a profit of course)?

Frankly speaking, it is more about me being able to see how the system works in details and to get first-hand information. I will be glad if I earn some money but I am keeping in mind that it might be the most expensive course I have ever taken :). I accept the risk.

How do you think you are uniquely suited to mentoring and advising early stage companies? What part of your own experience will most benefit our startups?

A: I think I keep track of marketing. I understand how PPC, ux, affiliate, domains, SEO and traffic acquisition work – I have experience with all of them. I was used to getting a lot of bang for the buck. From the point of view of marketing, there are no obstacles but challenges for me.

Soldigo, StartupYard

Meet Soldigo: An SY 2015 Alum with a New Brand

This week, on our trip to Romania, I caught up with one of our favorite StartupYard Alumni, Mathe Zsolt-Lazlo, known to us as Zsolt, founder and CEO of StartupYard alum Soldigo– formerly known as Shoptsie.

Soldigo has changed their name, but they’re still the amazing team they were when they joined us at StartupYard. I talked with Zsolt about what’s been going on at Soldigo since they left StartupYard last year:

StartupYard, Soldigo

Hi Zsolt, first let’s address the big question: your company has a new name: Soldigo. How did you pick the name, and why did you decide to rebrand?

Hi Lloyd. Indeed, we went through a rebranding so Shoptsie is now Soldigo. We got so many contradictory suggestions, many people told us we should change it and just as many said they loved the old name, but in the end we decided to change it after all.

As a result of many long brainstorming sessions we came up with nearly 100 new names. We did some research and because there is a lack in terms of .com domain name availability, we gradually reduced this number and arrived at Soldigo. We chose this name because it is short and sweet, in tune with the trend and somewhat catchy. Soldigo stands for “go with the e-selling flow”. It is intelligible in multiple languages and evokes optimism and fun.

What have been some of your biggest milestones since leaving StartupYard?  

Soldigo, StartupYard

Zsolt pitching Soldigo at StartupYard’s 2015 Demo Day

I believe our biggest milestones since leaving StartupYard were finding the right teammates and creating the new version of Soldigo. In our industry, technology and business development are often inseparable from one another and this is why we decided to change the platform to an improved version of itself. The new version of Soldigo is more intuitive, easy to use and fully supports the needs of small and medium businesses.

What about your biggest challenges?

Our biggest challenge and joy is to meet the needs of our existing and potential customers who are just as eager to perfect their online stores as we are to improve our service that allows them to do just that. We plan on introducing social selling and create a new plan called Marketing that will offer great marketing solutions for optimized selling.

Tell us what’s new in Soldigo. What are some of your newest features, and what have been some of the biggest changes to the product?

To meet all of our customers’ needs and requests, we added the following amazing new features and updates:

– we improved the product upload as well as the image upload features

– we enabled the possibility to add subcategories

– connecting the store with blogs is also possible now

– we re-thought the Designer and therefore the store owner will have more freedom with it, more customization options (possibility to add background images, more control over coloring the store, possibility to change font types and sizes, so an overall bigger freedom to be creative when it comes to the store’s look and feel)

– new server makes it all work faster and better

You’ve recently expanded your team. Tell us a bit about that process, and about the current state of the team.

The process of recruiting new team members was quite long since we had to make sure that the person joining us represented the same values and had the same goals and was enthusiastic enough to step out of the “8-hours-of-work-a-day” frame of mind.

We created a friendly work environment that is not about long hours but rather about focusing on work when needed and make it efficient. So we looked for people who fit into Soldigo’s team spirit and drive. While developing the new version of Soldigo, we expanded the team with a senior developer and a sysadmin. At the moment the Soldigo team is made up of 5 people.

Looking back, what has been one of the most important lessons for you and the Soldigo team coming out of StartupYard?

The most important lesson after coming out of StartupYard was to “get out of the building”, to engage with our customers and to allow their needs to shape the direction of Soldigo. We are constantly attending as many handcrafters’ fairs and exhibitions as possible and we aim at maintaining a constant contact with our existing customers.

You’re currently focusing on growing your userbase. What are some of the main challenges in doing that, and where do you hope to be in the next year or two?

That is correct. Since we finished the development of the new version of Soldigo, we are focusing on growing our user base. The main challenge of doing this our lack of experience in the marketing field.

Over 6000 customers are using Soldigo currently, of which 12% are generating an average 20-25 sales per day. To grow the number of our customers, we created a marketing strategy, both online and offline, but since we are not experts, we saw that we need help in this area. At the moment we are working with two really good marketing agencies and we got a lot of help from the StartupYard mentors.

The next two years are crucial for us. We want to put Soldigo on the map of the e-commerce world with hopes of it becoming one of the best solutions in helping small and medium size companies to succeed with their online businesses.

How have your ambitions for the company changed since you left StartupYard? Have you revised your vision in a significant way

When we arrived at StartupYard we wanted to reinvent the wheel and we felt that Soldigo was meant for everyone. We were really clueless in how to channel our ambition to get results.

What we learned there is that targeting everyone at the same time is really impossible, and so we chose a niche that would focus our energy in a more targeted way. Our vision became clearer and Soldigo became more consistent, in brand image as well as brand strategy.

We have an open call for Startups closing on September 30th. What would you say to a startup that’s thinking about applying to StartupYard?

I would say that applying to StartupYard was hands down one of the best things we did as Soldigo. It has taught us everything we know today and, most importantly, that you can achieve many things if you have a good team.

It gave us an immense perspective on where we were and also gave us a direction for the future. It was an amazing learning experience that truly defines us to this day and we felt really honored to be mentored by such incredible mentors.

I believe that StartupYard is an amazing platform for startups to grow and to learn and to find their true calling, so startups, do yourselves a favour and apply, asap!