By Erik Isaacson 

On July 1st, 2014 the Silicon Vikings and SVForum joined forces as part of the Startup Inspire™ program.  At this event, startup companies from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH) had the opportunity to deliver pitches to a panel of industry professionals and receive direct feedback and questions from the panelists, both on the quality of their pitch and their business model. The night’s panelists included: Marlon C. Nichols - Intel Capital, Steven Goldberg– Venrock, Lars Johansson – K&L Gates and Kyle Kling - Fenox Venture Capital.  Adiba Barney, CEO of SVForum and former Executive Director of Silicon Vikings, moderated the evening’s discussion. Adiba is part Swedish herself and felt a personal connection to these aspiring startups through their shared heritage.

All of the event’s startup companies came from the Startup Inspire™ program, which is part of KTH Innovation and works with early-stage and pre-revenue startups offering marketing advice, customer profiling, educational workshops, pitch training and other vital skills for a startup company. 

Greenely, an energy management software company, was the first to present its pitch. Greenely offers “a new way of visualizing energy consumption for households using research-based algorithms […] requiring no hardware, it’s a purely software-based solution.” Greenely plans to be completely free to the user as the company profits by selling information to utility companies. The panelists brought up the issue of competition from established companies such as Nest and also warned the Greenely founders that the utility industries in the USA vary widely in terms of level of funding; achieving long term profits may be an issue from more cash-strapped utility companies. One of the final panelists to speak recommended getting more traction in Europe before pitching to American companies.

LUP gave the second pitch. This startup plans to crowdsource delivery information for freight vehicles, one of the founders being a former truck driver. Every truck driver can download the app for free and then enter delivery information or mark a delivery zone as blocked or busy. “It’s a software for the end user and the enterprise, specifically targeted at distribution and logistics.” The panelists were concerned about the enterprise’s level of motivation to buy data when drivers are already using the app and benefitting from the information free of charge. Despite some confusion over the graphics used, the pitch was well received. This highlights the need to have simple and easy-to-understand presentation materials .

Help to Help crowdfunds scholarships to university students in emerging markets, especially in poorer parts of Africa. The company’s  website connects donors to students, offering a more transparent and personal experience. After enough money is collected, it is transferred directly to the university. Help to Help plans to use their alumni to boost future donations, therein helping the company to grow. At this early stage, Help to Help has already helped a young African woman to graduate from university. The panelists raised the concern of donated money being diverted for nefarious purposes, a common problem in areas with unstable governments. Help to Help differs from the other startups of the pitch session due to its humanitarian nature; there “isn’t a huge potential for venture capitalists” but their business model is certainly self-sustaining.

Onacci provides a “browser extension that helps people get in touch with one another on the web.” Users can interact and share experiences directly through any webpage; Onacci connects you with the users who are browsing the same webpage as you, through chatting, notes and sketches. Site owners can choose to integrate Onacci through their webpage or users can register with Onacci and use it anywhere on the web. The panelists pondered the potential use cases for the application and addressed the issue of tension with web advertisers and managing the number of comments displayed. The company founders believe that the current proliferation of ad-blocking software would mitigate any issues with online advertisers. Lastly, the panelists agreed that Onacci had to clarify their target user and address the monetization question.

VirtualGrasp seeks to find a new way to interact with objects in a virtual world, by replacing the keyboard and mouse with one’s hands. This company sees potential in educational or rehabilitative games, interactive games, intelligent prostheses and other applications. The panelists saw this as a very timely technology but wondered about the market potential, especially in the USA. VirtualGrasp plans to sell licensed software as a main source of revenue. Another panelist questioned how much competition they would face, and added that he’s familiar with at least 12 other similar companies, such as Kinect or other gesture-based devices. However, the founders of VirtualGrasp claim that their technology better recognizes the intricacy of the hand’s movements and sees their company as offering next-generation software. Other panelists were concerned about how easily VirtualGrasp middleware or API will integrate into other software; the panelists felt that this central question was not clearly answered.

The final company to present was Shortcut Labs and its first product launch is a small button, called “flic” that allows you to instantly launch any function in your smartphone. This button is wireless, sticks to any surface, weatherproof and has a replaceable battery with a 2-year lifespan. Each flic button can be programmed to launch up to three applications. One practical use case is using flic to instantly broadcast your location through GPS when walking through a dangerous area or using flic as a hands free device when driving. The panelists considered the most compelling use case for selling flic to large retailers. Shortcut Labs responded that the largest needs are in safety, navigation and smartphone apps. Market research has revealed that companies are willing to sell flic through their applications, which would allow the company to leverage existing customer bases.

After the scheduled pitches, audience members had time to talk to the panelists and startup company founders in a less formal setting, all while enjoying beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay from the K&L Gates offices on the Embarcadero.