Live from Mindtrek: Startup Launchpad Winners

The first-ever Startup Launchpad competition was held today at Mindtrek conference in Tampere, Finland. There were eight Finnish startups pitching their idea to a group of experienced jury.

The jury was headed by Sharon C. Ballard, the founding President/CEO of Enable Ventures Inc. Other members were Marc Davis, Social Media Guru and Chief Scientist, Yahoo!; Tapio Siik, Partner, Nokia Growth Partners; Pekka Pärnänen, Head of Finpro, Silicon Valley, and Henri Rantalainen, CEO, Business Development Advisor, Technopolis Ventures Professia.

The event, hosted by ArcticStartup's Ville Vesterinen, started with Zipipop introducing their Zipiko service, which is based on "intention sharing", enabling people to see their friends' activity plans, join them even for ad hoc events, and for sharing your own plans with your friends anywhere.

Mahshelf was next, who positioned themselves as the Youtube for comics, enabling both user generated and professional content distributed online at the best price.

Starwreck introduced a collaborative film creation platform to enable leveraging community for more cost efficient production and marketing of new films around the world.

Onedidit pitched a platform for community of eco-minded people, offering unique tools for measuring ecological living and tips to improve everyday eco-friendliness.

Hammerkit presented online visual programming tools letting designers build anything online from components in minutes without nearly any programming.

Floobs pitched their solution for producing, managing, and distributing mobile individual live TV channels, targeting the long tail of non-tv broadcasted sports.

Tripsay presented their solution for the challenge of finding personalized traveling recommendations among the loads of unorganized opinions on the web.

Runtoshop concluded with their online service for sharing opinions and finding personal recommendations on any products and services, to find the best one and getting easiest possible way of purchasing it.


Pekka Pärnänen started the award ceremony by mentioning that while he knows some of the companies and that they are doing a good job, the presentations were not excellent in general. Pekka stated if you can't explain your business to a stranger in six minutes, you can't do it in 15 or more either, you have to be concise. Don't assume that the investors know anything about what you do. Be ready to answer questions also. If you don't know an answer to something, you have to explain why you don't know.

Tapio commented that having a business model based on ads is usually a sign that you haven't though of your business model. If you use the advertising card you have to be able to really go into the fine details when asked.

Marc missed hearing the elevator pitch, stressing it should be between 30s and 2 minutes. It's essential skill for your success, and practicing it in front of the mirror a hundred times and more. What's your startup about, why should I care, and what's in it for me. Honesty is also important - state clearly where you're at at the moment with your plans. You have to also know by heart why your competitors, other startups, or big companies cannot enter your market with a similar idea and flush you out.

Sharon wanted to hear these four points answered:

  1. Your story; sales, can you defend your revenue projections, do you have customers.

  2. The opportunity, what can she do tomorrow with your team and skills, that she can't do today. There has to be a big problem that can be fixed by you and you alone.

  3. Management team is important, be ready to tell about how it fits together.

  4. Finally, the ability to express your idea verbally - can you be convincing? People only invest in people they trust.

In the end, the jury faced a difficult decision, and went on to give out the third place three times. The third place was thus shared by Mahself, Onedidit, and Hammerkit, who will take a draw for the prizes. Congrats to the winners and all participants, who no doubt all learned a great deal and got new ideas!

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Kristoffer Lawson October 09, 2008

Very weird end to the MindTrek startup track. But I agree with what Pekka Pärnänen said: if you can't explain it in 6 minutes, forget about it. Investors and people in the business hear loads and loads of pitches so attention spans are going to be remarkably short. It's not their job to understand your business. It's your job to make it obvious.

I actually find my mind wandering off in a matter of seconds if the pitch doesn't work. Even if I try to concentrate.

Word of advice too: just my opinion but don't listen to those who say start with describing the team. I don't care. If I like you it will be because of how you present yourself, not by a long list of "this guy did that sometimes" (unless there's some cool background story for the whole team directly leading to your idea). So obviously tell us who you are, then go straight into what it is you do (or even better: show it), and in simple terms. If the idea sounds interesting and/or it solves a problem I have, then telling some cool stuff about the team will reinforce the image I already have and make me want to talk to you.

OK, I'm not an investor, but they're human beings too. The team is essential, but I need the framework in which to place it (ie. the what do you do).

Mark Sorsa-Leslie October 10, 2008

I talked with Sharon C Ballard afterwards and she offered really clear and simple advice:

- assert and make your claim and then give the evidence to back it up

- use numbers not adjectives or adverbs - instead of saying huge say X millions, instead of saying cool, say allows you to do things X% faster"

- summarise your investment requirement into 1 sentence like "we have 5 clients willing to pay €X for our product and we need to invest €X to deliver it". Be able to say it in less than 15 seconds.

Marc Davies also said that I should have just done a demo...cut out all of the crap and get straight to the point...i.e. let the technology speak for itself.

The feedback was wonderful, and I learned a lot from all of the judges comments. I want to thank the judges and MindTrek for organising such an esteemed panel. Next stop...sharpen my demo skills!!

Recap on the startup events at MindTrek — /personal, October 10, 2008

[...] it was highly interesting. There’s more discussion about the pitches in Jaiku and more info about the jury in Arctic Startup [...]

Jukka Matikainen, October 11, 2008

The jury was quite tough. Maybe we could've informed them more about the nature of the event. On the other hand, it may be a good thing for a start-up to face the tough questions in MindTrek - before pitching for the investors. This was the first MindTrek Startup Launchpad, and the jury set the standards high for the future.

If you loose, don’t loose the lesson! We too, as the organisers, must think carefully how to perform it better next time.

It somehow felt like not all of the competitors took it as seriously as they should have – in my opinion. A public pitch in front of the conference audience may be a show, but nevertheless it is a true opportunity. The experts in the jury – and in the audience - are real people with real business opportunities, networks, & money.

Next year, we must advice the competitors better, prepare them to meet the situation, and give them more help to finalise their pitches.

It was a great learning process for me – BIG thanks to EVERYONE!!! who participated, followed, or judged!

vesterinen October 11, 2008

I also want to thank the startups that came along and the guys at MindTrek who organized the pitching competiton.

I believe that it was only beneficial to all that the jury was as harsh in it its judgment as it was. Both sides, the organizers and the startups, surely learned a lot. At least I did.

Good luck to all the eight startups that participated. I believe all of them have something great to offer, they just need to find the right focus and the right way to communicate that focus.

pete, October 11, 2008

"Tapio commented that having a business model based on ads is usually a sign that you haven’t though of your business model."

I probably understand why Tapio feels like that. He has heard too many people saying same thing. However I think that behind this is a major misunderstanding.

Ads is not a good business model for young startup that is seeking funding BUT it is really strong business model overall. You need to gain critical mass before you can really rely on ads.

So basically if your only biz model is ads, start small and try to grow without VC money because it is almost impossible to get it without outstanding track records. But if you try, keep focus on traditional B2B models instead of saying that you'll sign up to Google Adsense.

Jukka Matikainen, October 11, 2008

Pete, you have a point there! Advertising is a business model, but for VCs - looking for a new google - it may be not so convincing, especially when you don't have those eyeballs yet.

Another point: if VC says no, it does not mean you should not do it, if you want to! Small scale business can be profitable for the entrepreneur, and totally ok!

akonan October 13, 2008

I think that ads can be a good business model (altough rarely), but you need to sell your own ads and not to rely on Adsense. This however is not an easy job to do.

Kristoffer Lawson October 13, 2008

Pete, the trouble with ads is that there are loads and loads of companies and startups going that direction. So why should they choose you instead of someone else for their ads? Even some of the big ones are having a hard time selling valuable ads. I've seen a fair few pitches myself and I have to reiterate: if a startup says, "We'll sell ads", it often feels like a cop out. Like they haven't even thought about it properly. So if your business model is seriously going to be ads, tell us why your ad platform is going to beat the crap out of those zillions of other ones. Why will the ads be more valuable? Why will there be a higher click-through rate? Why would advertisers want to target your users?

You're competing for attention with the likes of Google and Facebook. Your ad proposal better be interesting. So show us you've truly thought about it.

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