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Businesses that are being built to last: A Review of last night’s INCUBATE Demo Day

The Incubate Winter 2014 graduating class of startups pitched last night at a cavernous hall in the University of Sydney. The evening started with James Alexander, Founder and head of Incubate, making a bold statement: “We want to create entrepreneurial leaders.” Our industry could not be more ready for this new round of young, eager entrepreneurs.

What sets this batch of Incubate companies from any other Incubate class in the past is the range of industries addressed, spanning from stop-motion animation to cancer treatment tools, as well as the diversity represented in the founders and presenters. Great marks all around.

The only drawback of the night are issues symptomatic not of Incubate specifically, but of industry-wide problems: a stale townhall format, pitch-heavy statistics and reliance on “change-the-world” cliches, which we’ll discuss later.

All in all, the evening presented a slew of clever business solutions, not laudably innovative, but certainly simple, practical and thorough. This is refreshing considering how many “disruptive” technologies fizzle out after their novelty wears out. The Incubate businesses are built to last.

Here is the breakdown of the Incubate businesses:

UReferJobs

A talent platform based on rewarded peer referrals. UReferJobs may very well be the talent silver bullet we all have been waiting for. The solution is simple: see a job posted, refer a  qualified friend, get a reward. At first glance, it doesn’t look like a game changer but the recruitment industry is ripe for the taking. They are already receiving jobs posts from the likes of Freelancer.com. I’d keep an eye on these guys.

Meerkat Gear

A modular baby carrier that helps parents combat flathead and acid reflux. Headed by a dedicated group of researchers and medical professionals, this team has legit field credentials. I’m not a parent, but the nodding heads in the audience seemed to indicate that Meerkat gear had been long awaited. The steep product cost might present an entry barrier for customer acquisition, but parents may surmount it in order to avoid raising a child with a head you can stack books on. It was certainly refreshing to see a physical product solving a physical problem in the midst of tech startups. Great stuff, Meerkat!

Promise or Pay

A win/win resolution solution. Apparently, 45% of us make New Year’s resolutions but only 8% will keep them.That’s a lot of wasted gym memberships and paleo cookbooks. Given this, the market for a benign resolution platform should grow exponentially. Promise or Pay helps you stick to your resolution by donating your money to a charity if you fail your goal and encouraging your friends to donate if you succeed. The most impressive bit is that Promise or Pay is currently working with the Freakonomics team in the US to further investigate the impact of its platform. The Freakonomics team, y’all! That’s pretty exciting.

Covet

Have you even bought a pair of jeans or a really cool book online, only to find it on sale on a different site after? Covet is here to make sure you get the best possible deal and avoid buyer’s remorse. Simply select the item you want to purchase and Covet provides you with a complete list of stockists, as well as live alerts as the chosen item goes on sale. They take a clip of the purchase and have plans to monetise the captured data later on.  Women spend an average of 5 hours each week shopping online. Panelist Rick Baker has no idea “where we find the time”! Women be-shopping, amirite? Maybe that’s what we’re doing to distract us from condescending comments. Moving on, Covet’s concept is thoroughly thought out and addresses a very real pain point on the financial and emotional level. A solid proposition right off the gate.

PicPac

The Instagram of stop motion animation. Pic Pac was the uncontested crowdpleaser of the night, inciting cheers from the audience mid-pitch.  The PicPac tool makes it easy for anyone to create short stop-action animation cheaply and quickly, right on your phone. This one is a dream for new parents and veteran hipsters. Other than having the most memorable name of the bunch, PicPac had the advantage of pulling at the heartstrings of the audience. Picpac will allow us to timelapse our lives, create quick home movies, and be filmmakers for the day. The possibilities are endless. Get on this one, quick!

Breathe Well

Incubate saved the big guns for last. The Breathe Well device is a collaboration between the University of Sydney and Stanford University. The team has developed an intuitive breathing guide for cancer patients to improve the accuracy of the treatments.This technology is revolutionary and the impact could be massive. It was fantastic to have a medical research business pitch alongside tech companies. It put things in perspective for everyone.

The highlights and key learnings for the night:

Think global

Rick Baker from Blackbird Ventures opened the evening but asking all entrepreneurs to “think globally”, taking a page from the Atlassian and Campaign Monitor book. What he means is that homegrown businesses should focus on global sales so that they can scale outside of the limited Australian market.  This is quickly becoming an overused industry cliche. It’s good advice for the budding entrepreneurs of Incubate but I’m sure they must have heard it literally everywhere else. So let’s start thinking globally, everyone. The sooner we do it, the sooner we can all stop talking about it.

Clickergate

The projector clicker refused to cooperate with the presenters all evening, which incited sympathetic chuckles from the audience. As the presenters battled through their pitches, the clicker would slide back and forth between slides. Clickergate was a much needed injection of spontaneity in the evening, but it also highlighted how reliant these types of events are on slides and presentation decks.

Audience participation 

I normally hate audience participation; that’s why I stay clear away from strip clubs and karaoke bars. However, seeing as how pitching events are largely for the investors in the audience, it is surprising to me how little they are included in the format. At the very least I would have love to open the floor to questions from the investors in the audience. They are the ones being asked to fork out the big bucks, after all.

Panels, panels, panels. 

Our industry has a panel fetish and Incubate is just the latest victim. Like so many pitching events before it, Incubate relies on a panel of experts to raise questions to the presenters about their businesses. It’s the Shark Tank model without the veneers and toupees. However, the panel repeatedly asked questions which should have been addressed during the pitches: What’s your vision? How will the money be used? What’s next for your business?  So the value of having “experts” making those queries was questionable. On the contrary, the exercise seemed a bit self-congratulatory. I really wish we could have heard questions from the investors instead.

The talent problem 

The big takeaway from the evening, and one that Incubate’s UReferJobs might be uniquely poised to address, is the talent void in the Australian startup industry. The majority of the funds raised had been earmarked for talent searches and hires, as well as outsourced services such as marketing and PR. These entrepreneurs are facing the talent challenge early one and are prepared to spend money on it, which is incredibly encouraging. The innovation industry is tasked with job creation and economic growth; this batch of Incubate alumni are on the right track.

Overall, the night skipped along with minor glitches and presented investors with a ripe new class of entrepreneurs, ready to take on the next stages of validation. Kudos to the Incubate team for finding this freshly minted group of entrepreneurs willing to throw their hat in the ring. We all know it’s already a breave thing to do! For more information on the businesses or the founders, please contact James Alexander or go to the Incubate website.  There’s a lot to get excited about.





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