Tech Entrepreneur’s week was a paid-for conference, which was somewhat ‘suity’, likely due to it’s wallet-denting price.  In parallel throughout the week was a marathon startup pitching and mentoring event, whose attendees were nothing like their grey-suited counterparts from the scheduled conference talks.  Full of the usual energetic young entrepreneurs, this event rolled on in surgery sessions and pitching competitions for around a hundred firms.  I popped into the main event programme, but was fortunate enough to be able to attend the whole ‘final’ day, which was a pure pitchfest.  The chalk and talk in the main room was worthy enough, but for me the energy and drama of the pitching competition wins out.

There were some pretty top-notch firms pitching, but what was really amazing about the event was the quality of the judging panel.  Not only was it a star-studded VC lineup, but it was headed up by none other than the mighty Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and the principle keynote from the week’s speakers.  I’m a big fan of that service, both as a reader and editor, and I was gutted to have missed his talk.

Here are some personal picks of businesses which caught my attention for one reason or another.

Seesar are notable, if not for their development as a firm, then certainly for the opportunity they’re tackling.  The idea is to use object-tracking in video to allow users to click on an object and buy it.  Make no mistake, in-video purchase is a *huge* opportunity.  However, the technology is not the main issue – it’s getting the links embedded.  This relies on having the content producers on board – or someone else to do the job for them.  There’s no point clicking on Luke Skywalker’s light sabre if you cannot buy it. The object tracking technology Seesar offers is quite cool, but it’s not enough by itself.  The judges recognised this as an issue, too. This firm is entering a busy market, and they’ll have to work harder on their commercial strategy to outpace the strong competition from other firms.

Comufy is a firm I’ve seen before, when I was mentoring at Seedcamp.  They’ve grown up nicely!  The business has looked at different ways of operating, and now specialises in providing personalised B2C communications for corporates using social networks.  They’ve got a committed, impressive team, and they’ve got traction, with a credible business model providing real value to clients.  The conversion rates speak for themselves, showing a clear commercial benefit to firms using the service.  Who wouldn’t prefer to receive a tailored, personal facebook message from a company than a mass-mail?  They’ve got a bright future ahead of them, but they have one critical challenge – scaling their sales operation.  Corporate sales are slow and hard to scale, and solving this problem could be the making or breaking of Comufy as a major player.

Bertie and Bean got to the podium in third, for their unusual business swapping baby and children’s clothes.  The concept is that users willingly give away baby clothes, accumulating credits obtained to get clothes from someone else for their growing child.  Obviously, a direct swap doesn’t work, as children only get bigger!  Whilst this is certainly a ‘problem solver’, the real problem is liquidity in the market.  What if you only want to give, or only want to take?  What do you offer to get your first box of clothes, for the newborn?  The business claims engagement from mothercare, which shows some real traction if the deal comes off – but solving fundamental problems of operations are critical if everything isn’t just going to grind quickly to a halt.

Wefund came in second, offering an unusual service.  Crowdsourced funding is a legally-tricky business. The Wefund model is based on gifts to arts producers, typically films and plays.  People backing these projects get the kudos of funding the production, and they get freebies such as VIP tickets. However, there’s no financial return.  It’s never goint to set the world alight, but it could end up spinning out other businesses models as the law changes in this area.  I was surprised by the judges choice, as i felt other firms were potentially more developed, and pointing at larger markets. However, with a panel which included Jimmy Wales, it’s unsurprising that crowd-based ideas are viewed positively. For me, this pick just draws attention to the need to get crowdfunding onto a secure legal footing. I see no reason why the man on the Clapham Omnibus shouldn’t be able to invest in high-risk startup ventures, provided he’s properly warned and strongly encouraged not to put too much into any one firm.

Last Second Tickets were a business which deservedly won first place.  They have a management team who are on top of the business model and metrics.  They have fantastic traction with household name telecoms firms, and a clear, sensible business model.  If you want to see how it’s done, go and watch these guys pitch.  They don’t turn water into wine, they just get it right.  There were some gripes about the level playing field issue from people I spoke to, as LST have been around for a while and are clearly a far more developed firm that some of the others, who have only recently left their accelerator or incubator programmes.

Finally, for those who are off to the pub: Crave solve the problem of ordering in restaurants and bars.  On the way to the venue, you can order a round and have it waiting for you when you arrive. Conveniently, you pay through the app, so there’s no fumbling for change.  This is a really cool idea, but there’s a slight problem – someone’s already thought of that before.  Not typically a problem for a web app firm, but when that someone is PayPal, there could be a serious issue.  I’ve already seen a Pizza Express/PayPal branded video showing their version months ago.  Time for some serious homework, I think… Nevertheless, a better or more specialist solution can often save the day, so I still think Crave is worth a good look.

I felt that the influence of Wales was possibly felt in the selection of the winners, with the crowd-based firms dominating.  These were perhaps more risky than some of the other, more developed firms presenting.  Some of my personal favourite businesses from the last year didn’t even make the final day.  Nevertheless, there were some strong players in the final, and the ultimate winner was a very strong business indeed.