Sixteen French startups presented today at the French Trade Office--UbiFrance--TechTour showcase, and I was on the judges panel along with investors, journalists, and other expert consultants to startups.
Let's start with the good: Surprising was the high quality of startups at this TechTour compared to other techtours and startup presentations (and I've seen a LOT of startup presentations this year); UbiFrance did a great job at selecting companies who brought a fresh perspective and who stepped out of the crowded Web2.0 space we're so used to in the Valley.
Most companies had a solid, proprietary technology in their building blocks; for many, the presenting CEO is also the inventor behind the patented technologies that enable the solutions. Some spent over 5 years in the lab before launching; others are new on the scene. But no matter how long they've been out of private beta mode, many of the companies already have large paying clients--some companies are already showing significant revenue in France. Not your typical US startup situation.
Like in most cases however, company information, website, and presentations were rarely good enough to get the judges excited without further follow ups (I wrote about how to present European startups in the US a while ago here). In 6 minutes, a company should be able to not only justify its existence but rather, impress anyone who hears its pitch and trigger a desire to hear more. This is at the crux of any good pitch.
From lacking information (such as a sound business model and revenue) to the lengthy academic sequence explaining 'how we got here'--information completely immaterial for the first 6 minutes of a pitch...or even 15!--the presentations were disappointing at best especially given the great technologies some of these companies had.
The way a CEO speaks of his or her company is crucial to the traction of the company with investors and potential partners--and especially for those companies who come here on a short visit and get only one chance to make their pitch before heading back home.
And so, after four hours of presentations and discussions, we were tasked with selecting the top 3 startups for their potential and demonstrated business case. It was not an easy task but after a number of voting rounds, we narrowed down the list of companies to three winners--all turned out to focus on non-web2.0 media technologies.
In third place, 3DTV Solutions: A unique solution integrating 3D camera technology, software and hardware that enables clients to create "FullDepth 3D images" that can be shown on a flat screen- no glasses needed (think ads, object collaboration, visual production, gaming, and simulation). The demo was quite breathtaking and I foresee a great future for this startup.
In the second place, CodaSystems: A proprietary technology that enables image authentication and validation for those needing to verify original copies straight from their mobile cameras. Think legal situation where one might want to ensure an image hadn't been tinkered with, visual evidence, documents, etc., or as Codasystems' tagline says: "evidence of who did what when and where."
And in the first place, A-Volute. A-volute made a strong impression with a tight presentation and a stellar audio demonstration. A-Volute essentially makes 3D sound come out of your typical 2 speakers or headset. We watched as the two simple speakers in front of us generated audio that one could have sworn came from behind, from the sides, from above---anywhere but from those speakers. But A-Volute doesn't want to simply create a new audio experience, it wants to develop the next generation 3D audio standards. A-Volute already has major clients in government, military, and soon in gaming and audio hardware manufacturers. It will be selling its USB 3D audio headsets to consumers in the coming months.
For a complete list of the startups, visit UbiFrance's TechTour website.