If you want to check out the beating heart of the London dotcom start-up scene, then look no further than TechCrunch’s Geek’n’Rolla event.  It’s a Mecca for some of the most serious technology entrepreneurs on the planet.  As a measure of the event’s importance, it is notable that, because of the restrictions on flying due to the ash, delegates drove from all over Europe to be there – including from Scandinavia and Milan.  The reason they do is very simple:  they want to have the opportunity to see the best start up companies in Europe pitch in front of the most important venture capitalists in the world.

Let’s get this straight – we’re not talking about some Mickey-mouse seminar about how to make a million pounds selling eBooks or whatever, we’re looking at the next generation of start-ups which will rock your world in the coming years.  The investors present at this event have backed household name firms such as Skype.  So if you’re looking to invest in the next generation of internet sensations, this is the place to come.

However, the event’s pedigree is also in many ways its biggest weakness.  If you’re looking to invest a few thousand quid in something that will pay you a steady income, then you’re unlikely to find much here.  These are the internet’s wildcard businesses.  Firms which have great technology and great ideas, but often no clear way of making money.  This is where you come to take your long shots.

Not only are there possibly some of the world’s most amazing (and risky) investment opportunities available, this event is also a change to learn from the people who’ve been living and breathing this world.  So if you’ve got tech investments, or you’re looking to get some, then this is the place to go.  Likewise, if you’re seeking VC funding for your crazy dotcom Google-killer, then you’re either at TechCrunch or you’re just simply not on the map.

It’s interesting to note who was and wasn’t there.  Many of the developers and owners from some of the most innovative firms I’ve done business with over the past few year were there.  However, I don’t recall seeing a single get-rich-quick seminar junkie there – not one.  These are different worlds.  TechCrunch is about the radical, the ground breaking, the amazing – and sometimes even the profitable businesses that will change your world.  In a business landscape where some of the biggest and most famous companies in the world can go from being billion-dollar valued to teetering on the brink of closure in just a few months, and some of the most media friendly household names don’t even know what their business model is going to be, then I can assure you that this isn’t a world for the faint of heart.

Despite the big guns and big money at the event, please don’t be deluded that this is an event purely for the institutional investor.  Many of the businesses can accept smaller investments, either as part of a larger round or as a result of a revised business plan which might concentrate on a quicker route to market, a less ambitious product or simply taking an axe to some not-entirely-necessary costs.  So, if you’re looking to invest a smaller chunk of cash, don’t feel shy – but recognise that you’lll be taking a significant risk with your money, in most case.

Highlights of the day for me came in salvos during the afternoon, as I saw several genuinely radical business pitch, one after the other.  More of that later….

Without a doubt, the absolute highlight of the day for me was the final Keynote speaker, Morgan Lund.  This is a presentation I probably won’t forget until the day I die.  This crazy Scandinavian is one of those responsible for the Skype project – which pretty much defines ‘disruptive technology’.  Not only that, but he’s also a stage performer as engaging and radical as Anthony Robbins or Robbie Williams.  Whether it’s getting the audience to learn the flute, or learning the principles of business focus by watching a film about an adult actress getting a Brazilian, you’ll be transfixed, educated, shocked and laughing out loud.  Part genius, part madman, this is a man whose character and personality shines out even in an industry where being a powerful and unique character is pretty much an entry requirement.

I’m always a fan of the underdog, and one of the things that most inspires me is seeing women who break through the glass ceiling to excel in their industry.  Xxxx from skimlinks was just such an example, with a talk that was insightful, heartfelt and inspiring about the challenges for a UK entrepreneur standing proud whilst fighting for US investment.  A brutal, no-holds barred tour of the misleading but comfortable lies that entrepreneurs tell themselves about the awestruck experience of being courted by US venture capital.  When serious money is dangled in from of your eyes, how would you react?  You’re not going to get a second chance, so best you train hard, fight easy.

If you’re thinking about developing for mobile, or investing in a firm that does, you’ll need to get your ducks in a row as regards platforms.  The talk by xxxx was a fresh perspective from a man who knows the industry and the players in it.  The big message was that there are a massive number of people out there with phones developers ignore, and they’re going to be downloading a blizzard of apps very soon.  Regardless of your platform, you’re also going to need to get your app talked about, and knowing where to go is vital. If you weren’t there, then you won’t find the inside secrets out….

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…. the highlights of the firms pitching:

CuteFund is a radical business concept if ever I saw one.  This could be the EasyJet of investment funds, and it works by scrapping the fund manager and allowing the wisdom of crowds to determine the investment strategy.  The scheme works by assigning weightings to investors’ judgement, based on their longevity and track record, and creating a system for investing money based on these weighted user opinions.  The end result is a fund which behaves a little like Wikipedia – skilfully coordinating chaos to allow order to arise without a single controlling mind.  This business just might well change the entire way that money is invested in future.  You heard it here first.

SongHi is trying to do for music composition what Guitar Hero did for music participation.  By simplyifying the process, and making it more accessible through the medium of games, t’s possible for the industry of music making to be democratised radically.  Whill we see this game creating the biggest selling tracks of tomorrow.  Only time – and your investment – will tell.

Alongside these firms were a slew of the world’s most prestigious tech investors.  People like? Brent Hobermann and Alan Patrico, who should be in your vocabulary if you’re a sector investor.  Check them out if you’ve not already heard of them.. I was particularly impressed with ? Alan Patrico’s wise insights into the process of investing and the need to avoid froth.

The event was held in the Park Plaza, Westminster bridge, which is a fine and central venue for this kind of large event.  From my point of view, the main problem was the sheer size and quality of the event tended to get in the way of my usual modus operandi.  I left the hotel having been unable to find some crucial contacts in the melee, so I’ll have to resort to email to follow up.  From my point of view, many firms pitching were also a little too radical and speculative for my liking.  I like disruptive, but I don’t like ‘no idea how we’ll make money – but isn’t our technology cool!’

But these are, of course, minor gripes.  Will I be back at TechCrunch in future?  Wild horses couldn’t stop me.