It’s not a bad time to be a Tech startup.

Mike Butcher of TechCrunch describes the pitchfest that went on at Web2Expo Europe.

But back in Pitchamp, the startups were ranked by judges. The winner ended up being Wuala, which we’ve written about extensively. In second place was Youcalc. And – can you believe it – there was a three-way tie for third place which went to Amazee, Plista and SofaTutor.

As the article continues, we don’t get much opportunity to pitch ideas to investors due to a weak investor/angel environment in the UK (and especially Northern Ireland). And this is a shame because there’s a lot of good ideas coming out of the region and the reason they fail is more to do with the environment – the same idea pitched in Silicon Valley might garner funding and allow expansion.

The idea of venture capital is also poorly understood in the province. At this month’s Belfast Open Coffee Club I had the unenviable position of explaining the role of VCs, their need for some sort of control in decisions and the purpose of organisations like Invest Northern Ireland, InterTradeIreland and Enterprise Ireland. The fact is – very few bright young things with good ideas know the first thing about running a business especially when it comes to actually having employees. And that’s no bad thing – I’d rather have a genius working on ‘hard problems’ than wasting time trying to work out tax and national insurance contributions. And, let’s face it, a Venture Capitalist or Business Angel is going to want to have some oversight about how their money is spent – rather than trusting a coder whizzkid not to blow half the money on a classic Porsche which he’ll plant into a tree the next day. While you might not do something like that – you can understand why they might want someone on your board or want a substantial percentage of the company in return for the money.

Last week in the Irish Times, John Collins wrote that although the tech industry in Ireland seems to be vibrant, funding is an issue for startups.

ON THE face of it, Ireland has a vibrant technology industry. Speaking at a recent event in London, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan said that software now accounts for almost €12 billion in Irish exports which are generated by 800 Irish and international firms. Strip out the multinationals and the indigenous contribution is still €2 billion, a massive improvement on 10 years ago when the figure was less than €100 million.

The most recent figures from the Irish Venture Capital Association suggest that Irish start-ups received €225.94 million in funding last year, 17 per cent up on 2006 and the most since 2002.

Just as Irish firms are having to look overseas for investment, there are signs that Irish VCs are travelling further afield for investments.

Back in July, Ireland’s VC environment was described to me (by an entrepreneur) as weak and the phrase “Voyeur Capitalist” was coined which gave us some mirth (though in truth it’s gallows humour). The perception from this entrepreneur was that there were too many people involved in the VC industry locally who wanted to be seen to be VCs because of implied prestige rather than because of any real desire to take a chance on anything new in technology. A considerable number of VCs do exist in Ireland though they may be focussed on their own areas due to their personal expertise – perhaps polymers and plastics, manufacturing or life sciences.

In the current market with every newspaper reporting the doom and gloom of economic downturn, it’s harder to recall that unemployment is still down, other industries are doing okay and it’s only the property market (and the mortgage lenders and estate agents who propped it up far beyond it’s actual value) who are suffering. It’s just a shame that our banks – who hold our money – are also some of these lenders.

Hardware Refresh (yes, a blatant advert)

Apple just released some new compelling hardware and it’s prompted some hardware refreshes around these parts.

  1. 17″ MacBook Pro
    2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo
    2 GB RAM (expandable to 4 GB)
    160 GB hard drive
    SuperDrive
    AppleCare to Sept 2010.
    Offers accepted. Looking for around £1100
  2. Black MacBook
    2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo
    1.25 GB RAM
    160 GB hard drive
    Warranty to January 2009
    Discount on AppleCare if bought from Mac-Sys – Only £159
    £700 ono which is a great deal when you consider you can’t get the Black MacBook any more! Offers accepted.

Reason for Sale: Hardware Refresh.

Email Stuart at Mac-Sys for more information.

Contrast’s App School (more on…)

This may not have been clear in my last post but….those awful clever buggers at Contrast.ie have decided to take a week off from surfing and take one lucky idea and turn it into an Application.

Contrast are taking one lucky idea to App School. We’ll pick an idea submitted by an Irish startup, charity, non-profit or individual and teach it how to be a fully-grown app. We’ll build it in one week and we’ll show everyone how we do it. And, we’ll cover 95% of the cost.

Anyone with an interesting idea for an app, based in (the island of) Ireland and matching any of these criteria:

  • small startup,
  • charity,
  • individual with startup ambitions or
  • non-profit.

We’re not likely to pick you if we know you could afford to pay for it yourself; we want to give everyone else a chance. Also, if we know you’re in a position to promote the app and make it work after we’re done, we’ll be more attracted to working with you.

They’re asking people to fund a small percentage of it which might leave a lot of people out in the cold as €800-odd is not maybe the easiest thing to find in the current credit crunch (and for more on that, wait for a future blog post based on that concept and conversations with Darryl and Chris regarding “The First 50%”.)

The closing date for Contrast’s App School is Thursday the 16th of October. So get thinking.

So if you have a FABULOUS idea and the Contrast guys think it’s worthwhile, you’d have to wonder if that €800-odd would stand in the way? I think not.

Moving ideas to implementation and beyond…

I’ve just penned a long post over at the DigitalCircle blog about taking ideas to the next stage. I’ve covered this before here and here.

The post is focussing on some of the initiatives which are out there in the province for doing just that. Again, I’d mentioned this before here and here.

I find it both amusing and exciting that there is increased opportunity for people to get their ideas realised. It’s like an XFactor for ideas rather than singers which, on the face of it, might be a better model than a Dragon’s Den (which let’s face it, both are getting very tired). It also smacks of Cambrian House which espoused crowd-sourcing as it’s primary model of innovation and market research. (The problem being that crowds tend to be stupid rather than smart). So while it failed, it wasn’t necessarily all bad.

This all shows that there is a market for helping people with vision get stuff done. And isn’t that what venture capital is meant to be all about. We have a poor VC network in Northern Ireland in terms of both quality and quantity. The very best tend to be entrenched in businesses they understand very well and that, for all the frustration it might cause post-Web 2.0 entrepreneurs is perfectly reasonable as it would be folly to expect an investor to put money into a venture they didn’t understand. That said – unless we start to see VCs with a little experience in the tech world, we’re not going to be able to change things.

On top of the schemes I mention on the DC blog, there’s something else planned for next summer which, at the moment, is still in stealth mode (insofar as not very much has been done for it but there’s energy, ideas and time).

This week.

Mobile Monday this month was on the subject of Mobile Broadcast TV. This is, for the most part, the reception of broadcast ‘linear’ television on mobile devices. For example, Nokia’s recent N96 can receive DVB-H mobile television. Which sounds fantastic until you realise that there are multiple competing standards for mobile television and a receiver that works great in one country but not at all in another. And in many countries, there’s no service at all. It reminds me of the bad old days when the web only worked on one sort of computer or perhaps as a continuation of region encoding – there needs to be consolidation of open standards. Mobile TV is in the dark ages and is heading further into the cave. It needs a kick up the arse. Frankly, if they can’t agree then I’m all for the replacement with streamed non-linear video.

Yesterday I attended the launch of the MATRIX Report. Arlene Foster, MLA and Minister for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment was accepted the report at the launch:

“If planning for stability and growth is important at times of economic success it is vital at times of economic slowdown. Right now we need forward thinking and innovative future planning which this MATRIX report represents.”

Exactly right – the instinct, and the behaviour shown by the masses of stock dealers out there, is to batten down the hatches, to pull money out of the market. But where are you going to put it? Banks? You need to do something with it – my vote is to innovate out of a downturn.

Today I met with Errol Maxwell of Propertypal. Errol and I have never met though we’ve crossed paths a few times over the years (which is pretty typical for Northern Ireland). Propertypal is a very intriguing competitor for the big property web sites with a bevy of features designed to take the ‘effort’ out of maintaining estate agent properties. Why now when the property market is performing poorly? Easy – estate agents will have to work hard for every sale and a tool like Propertypal will take a lot of the effort and administration out of it. Propertypal will be profiled on the Digital Circle web site in the next couple of weeks.

i am jack’s frustrated creativity

Been a dry spell (in creative terms) recently. Not that I haven’t been scribbling down ideas but not many of them have been making it to the final product or even beyond the initial drafts. Obviously the work being done with Infurious makes me want to exercise my creativity but at the moment the focus is on comic creators who have made a name due to previously published work. This isn’t an elitist thing, it’s just that the demand for the Infurious Comic reader software has recently gone through the roof. I mean, read this. Paul writes the current Captain Britain comic for Marvel Comics and he’s got a several lifetimes worth of experience as a professional writer for comics, television and novels ( and yes, it would be great to see him on our main label.)

But most importantly, and I really think this is some sort of breakthrough, and something that kept making people go ooh and ahh all through the convention…
The oohs and ahhs (and P.J. got serious people from various serious organisations I shall not name coming over to have a look at his phone as word of mouth spread) were because this is the first comic project that I’ve seen that really takes advantage of the mobile form.

Being surrounded by creative folk (and talking to them seemingly daily) is just highlighting the fact that my creative blog (over at LateGaming) has not been touched in months. Why? Well, I’m totally wrapped up in the stuff I’m doing from day to day – I have two hobbies – one of which pays the bills. The other – well, it’s never going to pay the bills. And the other, well, I enjoy it just as much, it’s just time. Time.

So, I guess I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to be a little more creative. A little more focussed on that.

XCake.org is now back up.

Comment spam is a pain in the butt – to the point that XCake.org ended up with over eight thousand lines of spammer links and crap because I allowed open comments. This overhead caused a huge load on my MySQL server and it affected performance elsewhere so, in the end, it had to go and for just under a month, xcake.org has been sitting idle, dead.

Until tonight.

Tonight I trimmed the Comment spam and removed every single comment. I also required a user to be logged in before they can comment. Smart, huh?

So what is XCake?

Well, I’ve covered it before so go have a look.

Top Gaming Handhelds of Christmas 2008

Joystiq has the scoop now that Nintendo has announced the DSi, a sleek competitor in the world of handheld gaming, ready to take on the new challenger in the form of the iPod touch and iPhone.

Massively also talks on the potential boon to the MMO market from these powerful, always connected handhelds.

That said, the cost of entry to the DS party is high, as is the PSP. In terms of thousands of dollars. The iPhone/iPod touch cost of entry is $99….