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Top 10 start-up surprises

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Start-ups don’t only happen in Silicon Valley. RUSSEL SOUTHWOOD highlights ten start-ups with surprising origins or purposes.

There’s a staggering number of start-ups out there and the number seems to be growing by the day. Many make some significant technical change or simply move existing processes online really well. They are interesting but don’t really put your pulse rate up.

The ten chosen below have been selected for one of the following reasons: they come from places where start-ups are not so usually seen: they represent interesting opportunities that are much less talked about: or they have the potential to change how we live parts of our lives.

1. Dr Kosala Liyange on Prognosis on his doctors’ learning app that uses case studies

Sri Lankan Dr Kosala Liyange, Medical Joyworks (Company motto: Making medicine fun) on its app Prognosis – Your Diagnosis) talks about how he wanted to create an app that gave him what originally made him want to become a doctor: the curiosity and excitement of a diagnosis. He compares it to having TV’s Dr House on your phone.

But the potentially life-changing bit is that instead of just slogging your way through all the textbooks and struggling to memorise every last symptom, you can learn by doing. You take a case study and using your knowledge (or lack of it) you attempt to make a diagnosis.

Doing is always an easier aid to memory than simply learning everything. It doesn’t mean you want have to stop memorizing things, it just helps some of that information stick in your brain. Think of the potential implications for other information-dense professions like law. Oh, hang on. Maybe don’t think of that because the world doesn’t need more lawyers? See video clip interview on the link below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpUhpxtbJHc

2. What happens when your fridge gets a Facebook page -Niall Murphy, Evrythng on an innovation for the Internet of Things

You know the moment when the oven stops working and you can’t find the manual because you put it in a safe place where you wouldn’t lose it. Or the moment when the manual has been translated into so many languages you can’t understand what it’s saying. Or the call centre person’s first question is what model is it and you haven’t a clue.

Diaspora South African Niall Murphy has invested in a company called Evrythng that is working on creating Facebook for the Internet of things. It will allow you to control your heating remotely so that when you arrive home after a trip away the temperature is right for the weather.

It will allow manufacturers to be able to handle closer relationships with people who use their equipment. Imagine the smart ones tracking those frequently asked questions and working out why something they’ve made doesn’t quite work. It’s all about turning data about things into a usable form. To see video clip interview click on the link below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsN0Hin2Lq

3. Emma Kaye on an African mobile platform to make music and films

Emma Kaye’s dream is to turn the mobile phone into a device that will allow people who live in slums (in South Africa and Kenya among other places) to make their culture: music, films, poetry or whatever. Her company Bozza works with people to help them author their own stuff and then serves as a platform to distribute it outside their neighbourhood. It opens up the chance of breaking down one of the barriers to opportunity.

The practical result? Over 2,000 people have written poetry on the Bozza platform and a staggering 7,000 have read it. It may not be Wordsworth or Pablo Neruda but it makes those who do it interested in the power of words. Another couple of South African users record hip-hop music using a basic digital recorder strapped inside their car. Small acorns….maybe later large trees. See video clip interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lguOHIka7tk

4. Cookista, a start-up that might put cash in the pockets of recession struck Greeks

Greece is undergoing one of the worst recessions in Europe. It has 57% unemployment among young people and overall unemployment rate that varies between 27-29%. Part of the reason the country got into this mess was that its politicians treated the public purse as a source of patronage and crony capitalism was much encouraged.

So the culture of entrepreneurialism was much discouraged by parents amongst their offspring. Go find a safe job in Government or the large companies of the private sector, was the oft-repeated message. The recession has begun to force a rethink and a new wave of entrepreneurs is busy being born.

Amongst the most interesting of this new wave is an online start-up called Cookista. You want to eat home cooked food so you go on the site and see what different households are cooking that evening. For a price, they cook you an extra portion and you go and collect it. It’s simple and it takes the everyday act of cooking meals and turns this into a potential source of small earnings for many. See video clip interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHHjXE0uOXs

5. Bambuser One way that the revolution was televised

When Swede Hans Eriksson created an app that allowed someone to live stream from their smartphone but left no trace of the video sent, he knew it would lead somewhere but maybe not quite the scale of what happened.

The app that can also be used to show your friends how your party’s going, was taken up first by activists in Egypt and then in Syria. Much of the citizen journalism of the Arab Spring has come to you via the Bambuser app. You’re in a crowd and can see something wrong, you turn on your camera and film it. It’s unlikely that a TV crew would find it as easy to get this up close and personal.

The neat thing is that it’s a great example of taking traditional technologies and downscaling them with startling effect for everyday use. Twenty years ago to broadcast live in that way you would have needed a large outside broadcast van and a satellite feed. More recently using things like BGAN technology, it came down to a couple of laptops and a satellite feed. With Bambuser you just need a 3G data package and a smartphone with a video camera. See video clip interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTl4va6uNlg

6. Shoot wildlife and ask a community of experts what it is you’ve got

Yasser Ansari, Project Noah was inspired by wildlife programme makers like David Attenborough to create a smartphone app that would breed a whole new generation of nature nerds. Project Noah’s app allows you to shoot a photograph that you give a description to and then circulate amongst its community of users that includes wildlife experts.

Sometimes an answer as to what you’re looking at comes back within minutes, sometimes it takes a little longer because the photo shot is of something that’s never been seen before. Project Noah actually discovered a new species. It updates the Sierra Club for the online age. And what’s Ansari’s job title? Nothing as boring as CEO. He’s the Chief Leaf. See video interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaMkNNphAto

7. Maths games and an underground gaming hit from South Africa

For one so young, South African gamer Danny Day, QCF Design is both scarily articulate and wise beyond his years. South Africa barely had a gaming community and he started out by, in his own words, accidently starting a community by posting a notice saying did anyone want to make games?

One thing led to another and to competitions and eventually a contract from Nokia to make a maths game to teach students certain things. Interestingly, the teachers thought what it was teaching was too ambitious but the students felt really challenged and raced to complete the tests. Funny how people enjoy learning if they can have fun doing it (see also our No 1 example above).

Oh, and by the way, he created a gaming hit called Desktop Dungeons which he’s in the process of trying to monetize.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKtrPDT06-I

8. Mothers spot an opportunity from sending their kids to school

Ex-music industry person Kevin Osborne runs an incubator (or development house as he calls it) in London called MeWe360. One of the start-ups he’s incubating is run by two mothers. They noticed that when they sent their kids to school in wellington boots on rainy days, they nearly always ended up getting lost. There was nowhere to store them and they were an awkward size to put in a rucksack.

Solution? Make a boot that is capable of folding up and going into a rucksack. As with all good ideas, it’s the simplicity of it. But being two mothers, they were not the package that VCs feel comfortable meeting or putting money into. Hence the need for something like MeWe360 which has a public arm to nurture talent and a private arm that can invest when that talent’s ready. See video clip interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjEVwqf_4rI

9. Things that go bump on the road Using a smartphone’s motion sensor to get a smoother ride

Lars Forslof of Roadroid has created an app that measures holes and bumps in the road using the motion sensor capability of a smartphone. It’s an app that cuts two ways: you can either be a driver who wants to find a smoother path to your destination or it can be used to measure the impact of road repair programmes.

The Asian Development Bank is testing it in South East Asia to assess and check progress with road maintenance programmes in various countries. Road maintenance and building programmes in developing countries are a honeypot for skimmers. Keeping track of whether maintenance has been done or not is a challenge and this app offers one way to create transparency. This kind of transparency won’t change things overnight but it is a good place to start. See video interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DepfvKMRZ3w

10. Delivering all things food online Yemeksepeti expands its portfolio and its geography

In a tech world slightly obsessed by what happens in the USA, the story of Turkey’s Yemeksepeti.com is remarkable. It has attracted VC funding from the USA (General Atlantic) and is now expanding its online food delivery service out into the Gulf Countries of the Middle East. Later it hopes to expand into North Africa.

But the other thing that’s interesting is the speed of adoption of this kind of online ordering culture in Turkey itself. (For an overview of this phenomenon, see video clip interview:¬†http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yprOitsOavI¬†¬† ) Yemeksepeti is responsible for a staggering number of daily meal orders. It’s now expanding out into selling the ingredients for cooking and into a wholesale food supply site for restaurants.

The interesting online shifts are not only in Africa but in the belt of countries that sit between the African front-runners and the laggards in the developing world. See video clip below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mg2HV3Xx1-M

* Article courtesy Smart Monkey TV: http://www.smartmonkeytv.com

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