Earlier this month, the "spiritual home" of London’s Tech City hosted Startup Weekend, a global event that brings together developers, designers and entrepreneurs in an intense, pizza-fuelled challenge to create businesses from scratch in 52 hours (one night and two days).
Participants congregated in a back room of Google’s Campus workspace in Shoreditch to pitch their concept in brutal one-minute slots on the Friday night, forming teams around the most popular ideas. They then worked – in many cases through the night – on market research, business plans, branding and building a prototype: everything to prepare a viable business to launch.
Their final efforts were judged on the Sunday night by a panel including figures from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Grey Possible, M2M and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R.
Other Startup Weekends took place simultaneously in Sheffield, Caracas, Adelaide and Montreal. The five businesses featured here represent the best of London and could well outlive the weekend: more than half of the teams continue to develop their start-ups and some have picked up funding.
Michelle Teo, a doctor based in Nottingham, has just relocated to Google Campus to work full time on her app, which won November’s Startup Weekend London and then £50,000 investment from the accelerator fund Seedcamp.
Her idea? SmartWard – an app designed to reduce paperwork and human error in hospitals by managing tasks and patient notes digitally.
The problem: 3D printing is increasingly popular but not accessible – complex software and technical knowledge are needed to design objects. Many owners of 3D printers do not use them to their full capacity.
The idea: An app that allows users to build simple 3D models as though they are sculpting Play-Doh, using touch-screen commands such as stretch, twist and squash. Pressing "print" sends the design to a network of 3D printers to determine the best price and delivery time.
Business model: Make Something will take a cut when the user orders their design. The basic app is free but users can pay for additional features and tools.
Potential competitors: Shapeways and 123D Sculpt, both of which require a level of technical design skill.
Founder and occupation: Mark Kelly, freelance architectural designer.
Will you continue the business?: "I’ve had an interest in 3D printing for a few years, so I’d love to continue."
"This was a fantastically simple idea that potentially accelerates the mass adoption of 3D printing, as well as being delightfully playful for consumers. If it was my money, I would invest in this." Craig Mawdsley, joint chief strategic officer, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
The problem: Paper receipts are fiddly and easy to lose, but are needed to keep track of expenses. Retailers spend £32 million on receipts every year in the UK, generating some 7,500 tonnes of paper.
The idea: To send receipts directly to customers’ phones at the point of sale through near field communication, Bluetooth or e-mail. Retailers can save paper and money, as well as access data on their customers’ spending habits in other shops, which traditional loyalty card schemes can’t offer.
Business model: eReceipt will charge retailers around £50 per week per shop for access to the paperless service and customer data.
Potential competitors: None in the UK. Proximiant is a similar service in the US but does not gather data from its customers or support Bluetooth or e-mail.
Founder and occupation: Maneesh Jain, management consultant.
Will you continue the business?: "Hell, yeah."
"While the tech solution wasn’t as clear as I’d like it to be, the promise of the vision offered by this team was extremely compelling, benefiting both retailers and their customers." Wayne Brown, managing director, Grey Possible
The problem: Talking to people is the best way to master a foreign language, but it can be hard to find native speakers. Formal lessons don’t always provide an understanding of local culture and can be difficult for busy people to attend.
The idea: An online peer-to-peer learning network connecting language students to native speakers through live video chat sessions. The low-cost lessons could be arranged around other commitments and would enable amateur teachers to earn money.
Business model: Teachers will charge between £6 and £16 for half-hour sessions, with Teach Amigo taking a commission fee. A premium section of the site will offer professional teachers, aimed at business travellers.
Potential competitors: The websites Babel and Duolingo. Teach Amigo aims to be different through its one-to-one sessions.
Founder and occupation: Chris Lewis, the owner of a digital media company, came up with the idea, which evolved within a team also including a web designer.
Will you continue the business?: "Yes, definitely."
"A classic online model, intermediating demand and supply in a smart and intuitive way. A crowded market, but you wouldn’t be surprised if it did well." Ben Kay, chief executive, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R
The problem: Within small visual production studios, communication between designers is messy because many don’t have workflow software. Artists working together to make media such as movies and commercials lose time to this inefficiency.
The idea: A play on the word "pipeline". Cloud software to streamline the creative process, imitating programmes created in-house at big studios. It would integrate with established design software to transfer a project to another artist’s desktop instantly and inform them it had arrived through chat and notification functions.
Business model: Users will pay monthly for a licence, with an agency with eight designers paying around £300 per month.
Potential competitors: Big studios have developed their own software, but no product exists that can be licensed.
Founder and occupation: Marcus Ottosson, freelance 3D animator.
Will you continue the business?: "Definitely. This is going to happen."
"Taking the expensive propriety technology of the large production houses and trying to make it accessible to animation SMEs feels like a smart business model. And it helps when it’s coming from an industry insider who knows the process inside out." Richard Fearn, director, The Friday Club London
The problem: When recruiting for entry-level positions, advertising and media agencies traditionally hire through acquaintances, from a narrow pool of people with similar backgrounds.
The idea: Events where agencies can be matched with potential employees and "road-test" them. New Breed will visit every university in the UK as well as government and creative interest groups to select candidates, who will work on briefs and tasks at the events, where agencies will interview them.
Business model: Agencies would sponsor the events and pay a hiring fee of 10 per cent of the first year’s salary of any candidates hired.
Potential competitors: Around 150 dedicated creative recruitment agencies. New Breed believes its model offers a wider variety of candidates and the chance to work with them before hiring.
Founder and occupation: Alex Outlaw, marketing and partnerships manager at a marketing agency.
Will you continue the business?: "It pivots on getting an agency interested in our model."
"Counter-intuitive at a time when we are trying to reduce expenditure on recruitment consultants, but the lack of breadth in the talent pool is a very real issue. If positioned and sold in the right way, this could provide an alternative to current recruitment channels." Alistair MacCallum, managing director, M2M