This was a Techpitch 4.5 event (so called because investors apparently seek 4.5 x return on investment). Despite the confusing name, it’s a great place to get filled in on what’s hot in the London tech start-up scene.

Eric van der Kleij CEO Tech City did a keynote about the funding initiative to bring investment into East London. There’s oodles of money available, especially from the Technology Strategy Board. Hopefully, this investment won’t do as much damage as most other Government subsidies have done in the past!

Danvers from the awesome Bootlaw meetup group provided not only expertise, but also apparently the venue, too. The event was held at the palatial Pinsett Mansions building, which is where Danvers dispenses his legal knowhow.

The judging panel was:
Glenn Shoosmith from Booking Bug, who I went to school with.
Amin Laouedj, from Goetz partners, with expertise in corporate finance
Grace Yusuf from Kyubid.com – a dating site where you bid for dates. (Strange name, strange idea, but interesting)
Zuzanna Pasierbinska-Wilson from the mighty Huddle – if any firm can comment on the start-up scene, it’s them.
Megumi Ikeda from Comcast Interactive Capital, and sits on the board of Bigpoint, from which she can boast an exit.

Here were the pitches

Clickslide – Gabriel Ortiz
If you want to develop mobile apps, you’ll soon find that it’s a) expensive and b) a pain. The problem is that with multiple platforms and complex code to master, the process is challenging, even when the idea may be brilliant. Clickslide takes this problem and makes the strides in visual programming, similar to that which hit the desktop in the 90s. With a subscription cost of only £5/month, and 30K angel investment already, this firm is looking for 100K. In my opinion, they have over inflated growth plans, and I also foresee a price rise being necessary. Panel feedback critiqued the remaining technical complexities, querying whether the ‘idiot proof’ model was a realistic way of building apps for multiple platforms.

Dancetothis – Sue Green
This ‘portal for dance’ offers the opportunity for learning to dance, sharing moves, etc. They combine freemium and ad funding. I’ve seen a lot of business in this space (interests/activities), and it’s very hard to build either momentum or revenue. Often, these sit more naturally as community-run sites, but it’s not impossible that they can make decent money. Panel feedback reflected the lack of clarity over market (pro/amateur), with training and social models unclear. However, the principle of the product attracted some support.

Findababysitter.com – Tom Harrow
This is exactly the kind of clear, easy-to-monetize web business I like. With 18M UK families (apparently!) and 1/3 using a baby sitter, there’s a clear market to penetrate. The key issue is building trust, but with sharp growth and the MD of Match.com on the board, this firm is set to go places. The Smarta 100 award is well deserved, and this firm is looking for VC funding at present. One to watch, with 80K users, 47K job candidates, and many parents paying to subscribe. The panel worried at the issue of churn, which will of course be more of a problem the more fragmented the market becomes.

Gigaboxx – Ian Pickard
This firm allows bands to build apps for mobile use, with the ability to market to fans and send them tracks for purchase or free. With a huge market for ringtones, could this finally be a breakthrough way of distributing paid-for-content in the music sphere? I doubt it, personally – but as a good way to stay in touch with fans, it’s probably got serious benefits. With charging on the phone bill, with card or paypal as a backup, it offers flexibility. The app has some serious credibility with aggregators, allowing people to link up their upcoming band content to iTunes, etc. Funded by RBS, the firm looks like it’s got some traction in a difficult niche. Prices of £1.50 for a single track, £3 for an EP seems steep, but with a team of 12 and some good contracts, this firm could pivot and ultimately be promising. With 4% conversion rate on paid content at live gigs, there looks to be a paid model in there somewhere. The panel were rightly concerned about the difficulty of gaining traction in this market.

Intern Avenue – Dupsy Abiola
I had to do a doubletake on Dupsy, as she reminded me of another young entrepreneur, who I’d previously awarded a prize to. I’ve come across other intern sites, and I’m confident that there’s a good market here. Whether or not the market will condense into a couple of players, or remain fragmented, remains to be seen. The argument for interns is clear – try before you buy (and cheaply, too). How to move this onto the web remains all to play for. Dupsy seems promising (Oxford, Law – and boundlessly energetic), but has she got what it takes? Pre-seed, with no clearly established revenue model, this one’s a punt. Good to see a promising young graduate shunning the corporate shilling and turning her hand to something a little more lasting. She’s focussing on paid internships, as she’s confident that the unpaid alternative is on shaky legal ground. With the panel member from Huddle.com looking to be an active buyer, there was some promising engagement.

Marketinvoice – Anil Stocker
Think betfair for factoring. The backbone of fast-growth SME finance, factoring allows firms to raise money against invoices. Firms are allowed to raise money on single invoices, instead of being forced to factor their whole book. Funded already, with 15 companies already having sold £.5M of financed invoices. The simple two-bite charging model and flexible structure seems to make this a highly disruptive proposition. They have clear procedures to build trust, but can they really become a global player? It’s certainly possible. However, there are heavy-hitting competitors in the US (Receivables Exchange). This is a great example of a plucky start-up with a serious chance of hitting a global market and a multi-bazillion exit. Financial Russian roulette for investors? Quite possibly, but you get a reward to match. Focussing on high-margin, white-collar, serviced based firms, this is one to watch, and possibly to invest in (if you’re feeling lucky).

Minutebox – Josh Liu
There must be several Josh Lius, as wherever you go, he’s there. Alternatively, he’s one of the most determined entrepreneurs I’ve ever seen. Josh’s minute box idea could be best compared to a payphone version of Skype which allows you to dial an expert. Want to get legal advice? Pay for a few minutes. With a distributed customer journey which relies on plug-ins to promote the users’ services on their blog or elsewhere, the Minutebox application give a very simple payment route and charging model. But will it take off? My gut feeling is no, but I can’t rationalise it. I’d love it to, but fear that a drought on buyers may kill the idea. US competitors include Skype Prime and LivePerson.com, but they aren’t leveraging external sites in the way Josh plans to encourage, with blog-widgets, etc. The competitors have very good revenues and big budgets, which could be a major problem as soon as he starts to taste success. Glenn Shoosmith suggested a move into the adult market, but Josh claimed innocently to have no knowledge of it. Bless! The panel pointed out the competition issue, and provided a suggestion to have a charity option, which Josh has (remarkably) pre-empted. The issue of traction was paramount to the panel, with large competitors lurking on the horizon over the pond.

Plancentric – Matthew Scherba
Project management software, in various guises, has a good track record on the web. With low-end competitors such as those from the 37signals stable, there is a pot of gold at this end of this rainbow. The HR-planning angle is the way in for this package, and with $2.1bn spent in 09 on software, and 7.3% growth (his figures), there’s a lot to play for. This is a Silverlight based technology. By this point in the evening, my enthusiasm was waning, but it wasn’t their fault. Plancentric hash double-digit customer numbers, this firm has the early stage momentum to make a credible pitch for the £250K they’re looking for. With a channel-sales (partnership) model, and a low cost to enter, this offers a solid investment. I’m confident they’ll carve a niche. The panel was concerned about the tie-in to Silverlight, and the restriction that placed on their exit options. A sale to Microsoft most likely, especially as their MS Project tool is such an obvious commercial play.

Tools of Directing – Simon Phillips
This tool is for video content creation, and has interest from Adobe and Google. They put story metadata into scripts, to enable scripts to ‘talk’ to machines. A use case is to allow computers to place advert breaks with the minimum of disruption to the viewing experience. With endorsement from key people from household names (such as Sex and the City and Slumdog) this has traction. Better placement of adverts in long-form video is a huge plus, so this tool has clear commercial appeal. I know nothing about the market, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. The litany of awards won speaks volumes for their credibility.

The event is getting taken seriously outside the blogosphere, which mainstream media including CNN at the event. There’s a buzz around East London which is not escaping the attention of the wider world of business and politics. In the week that TweetDeck was sold for a whopping 40M, who can blame them.

TechPitch 4.5, along with a handful of other similar events, is the nursery of Silicon Roundabout. The whippersnappers presenting at this event will be vying for the Tweetdeck exits of tomorrow. This is where it’s all happening. Where were you?