By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
OSLO, NORWAY: Despite a remarkable collection of Nordic startups, the surprising winner of the 100 Pitches competition at Oslo Innovation Week, which included two outliers from London and Austin, was the London company: Skin Analytics. The device attaches to a smart phone and when people upload photos of moles that concern them, uses the same criteria physicians would use to analyze the moles for possible melanoma without having to go to the doctor. Founder Neil Daly is from Australia, the country that has the highest risk of melanoma, followed closely by Norway. When caught early, the chances of recovery are high, but caught later, it is often fatal.
Skin Analytics won the prize of 300,000 Norwegian Kroners—about $37,000—and help to launch the company globally. Pitches were held in Austin, London, and all over the Nordics, with semi-finals in Oslo and the final competition at Startup Lab at the Oslo Science Park. Fred Schmidt, Capital Factory’s international director, was master of ceremonies for the finale which drew about 200 people.
Earlier Thursday, Daniel Senyard, COO of the Austin company TripChamp had pitched. TripChamp uses a proprietary “normalizer” to access and identify travel deals from myriad sources, from discounts generally only offered to group travel outfitters to rates offered by specialist travel agencies to public rates. It can often get big discounts for its business customers. As winner of the Austin pitch competition, he was flown to Oslo—all expenses paid—to participate in the semi-finals.
Unlike pitches in the U.S. which are often high pressure and not particularly friendly, pitches at the Startup Lab in Oslo were downright warm and fuzzy. The moderator coached the audience to be supportive during the pitches because entrepreneurs were likely nervous. And when the time was up, the audience was cued by a sign to applaud, thereby both silencing and encouraging the pitching entrepreneur.
Companies pitching included everything from Vio, which unbundles magazine articles and lets consumers read content from dozens of publications according to their interests—like Spotify or Netflix—to Poop Time, a very early stage wearable company that puts a reusable sensor in a baby’s diaper to alert the parent about number one or two or whether the child is dehydrated or has a fever.
RSM Imagineering had built a fracking pump that it hopes will go 1,000 hours without servicing unlike current pumps which last about six. There was a company with a silicone spray that’s harder than others, for industrial uses and a company called FilmGrail that would aggregate all sources of television shows and movies into another Spotify-type streaming service that allows people to “follow” others for recommendations and social interaction. There was also a parking app that would let private individuals rent driveways for parking and help drivers find parking places, either private or public.
“Even though it was disappointing not to have made it to the finals,” Senyard said, “getting to the semi-finals of an international pitch contest is a great result and experience for TripChamp. “Culturally it’s been really amazing. I’ve never been to this part of the world…the startup scene seems to be very willing to introduce you the right people. I did find it very interesting…the companies that made it through to the finals were much earlier stage. It’s a younger startup scene.”
In the edtech world, he said, he saw several companies that had traction in several countries and tens of thousands of users. But the companies that competed in the finals largely didn’t.
Senyard also pointed out some of the differences between Norwegian and U.S. competitions of this type. Catered meals were provided for all participants, free. “People weren’t jumping in to capitalize on the situation and make money.” Also, after the pitches in the U.S., investors and startups either lunge for or away from one another. At Oslo Innovation Week, once the pitches were done, they were done. There were no hasty meetings to get a piece of the action. One of the five of them actually had a product released. If you’ve got a young scene makes sense.
Judges for the pitch competition included Bård Stranheim (Innovasjon Norge), Sean Percival (500 startups), Tellef Thorleifsson (Northzone), Ekaterina Gianelli (Inventure), Kristin Riise (DNB) and Jeanne Sullivan (Sullivan Adventures, StarVest.
Schmidt launched the program with a clip from Norwegian television where he had been targeted by a comedian who hid inside a building, quickly threw on a costume like passers-by and then followed the stranger until they noticed. He happened to have a skullcap, goatee and leather jacket to pull off a full-on Fred Schmidt.
Editor’s note: Lahey’s trip was sponsored by Oslo Business Region, which puts on Oslo Innovation Week and the Norwegian Consulate in Houston.