Strategic Designers Katherine Twomey and Thorben Stieler, and Experience Designers Soyeon Hwang and Werner van Huffelen discuss the latest trends in Europe’s startup ecosystem discovered at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.
This year’s edition of TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin showed us quite a few new and exciting trends to watch. We have distilled four of the most promising, including: blockchain technology, future of mobility, artificial intelligence and IoT.
The word on the street: What VCs are saying about startups
If someone were to walk into TechCrunch Disrupt not knowing what it was all about, they would immediately be struck by a cacophony of languages: Russian, German, Hindi, Swedish, Italian, Korean, French and English. With one very senior person in a full suit standing next to someone casually dressed in jeans, the diversity and multifaceted energy of the event carried over to the various startups that were present.
As the EU startup scene has grown substantially, venture capitalists have taken note. Hubs such as London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam are all in various stages of maturation, attracting talent and funding opportunities incomparable to that of five years ago. The focus has shifted from low-hanging fruits (Ecommerce, B2B, etc.), to the more product-focused startups that touch upon big problems that involve B2B, B2C, B2G and so on.
Some VCs have also noted how cultural and political factors in particular play a role in the EU’s startup scene. While the typical startup in Silicon Valley is focused on being the first to discover the next big thing, EU startups tend to focus more on creating a sustainable business that can generate profits in the five-to-ten-year term.
Blockchain technology was by far the topic that got the most attention throughout the conference—another sign that it has moved beyond a buzzword, to a technology that will prove its value in the years to come.
Whether they were curious about where it’s heading, if they should invest in Bitcoin or Ethereum, or just what all the fuss was about, people drove en mass to the sessions on cryptocurrencies, blockchain and the like.
The message of Mona El Isa, CEO and Co-Founder, Melonport, was clear: “The future is tokenized.”
Top 3 blockchain applications to watch for in 2018:
- Grid+: Backed by VC Kavita Gupta, Founding Managing Partner, ConsenSys Capital, Grid+ leverages the public Ethereum blockchain to give consumers direct access to wholesale electricity markets which decreases costs, drives market efficiencies and moves us all to a cleaner energy future.
- Civil: Founded by Matthew Iles, Civil uses the decentralization of blockchain technology to create a sustainable place for local policy and investigative journalism with the end-goal of higher standards for accuracy and trustworthiness in a world of fake news. According to Civil, decentralization is the key to a free and independent press.
- ICONOMI: Co-Founded by Tim Zagar and Jani Valjavec, ICONOMI is a digital assets management platform that allows anyone from beginner to expert to invest in and manage digital assets. ICONOMI is a great place to start investing in cryptocurrencies if you don’t know where to start.
Future of Mobility
From advancements in ride sharing, to the move towards autonomous driving, there weren’t a lot of surprises in the future of mobility space at the conference. What was unexpected, however, was the current development and realistic near-future launch of flying mobility solutions.
We learned more about the topic during the panel discussion with Yann de Vries, Partner at Atomico, and Alex Zosel, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Volocopter – both of which are working on flying mobility solutions.
While there seemed to be little investment focused around improving existing public infrastructure, with most innovations moving in favor of automobiles and privatized systems, we saw an overall respect for customer centricity and co-creation.
Take Moia, for example, a company looking to re-imagine the experience of ride-sharing. The main differentiator for Moia in the current landscape of Ubers, Lyfts and traditional taxis, is the car. Developed by Volkswagen Group, Moia has created a car that allows for personal space and a set of algorithms that provide the fastest possible route. Although Moia isn’t tackling autonomous driving for now, there were certainly other startups who were.
According to Stan Boland, CEO, FiveAI:
“94 percent of road accidents are caused by human error.” With autonomous driving on the horizon, innovators are working to develop technology to make these vehicles reliable and safe.”
Artificial Intelligence (AI) was another hot topic, with multiple applications across different industries. One of the biggest questions raised: Can startups compete with corporates when it comes to AI? While corporates often possess larger datasets and have more capital to attract talent, some of the biggest tech giants offer open source AI software for startups to build on. Suranga Chandratillake, Partner, Balderton Capital, advises startups to look at different verticals that are not covered by these tech giants in order to succeed.
Another burning question which concerns us all: Will AI take our jobs? Marie Outtier, CEO, Aiden.ai, puts it very clearly:
“A lot of AI is augmenting people instead of replacing them.”
Aiden.ai, the first AI-powered analyst for marketers, leverages natural language processing techniques and machine learning to help its users save time and make better decisions.
Bunch.ai, another office management tool, but for recruiters, leverages machine learning combined with a Stanford methodology to allow companies to learn find the right talent fit for their culture as they grow.
Going forward, AI will continue to infiltrate across industries and sectors. It will develop both prominently in the forefront for businesses and consumers, but also operate less visibly in the background of many industries, driving process improvements and optimization.
While most startups at the event used technology to augment human conditions, none of them were as exciting to see on stage as actual physical machines. The Wandelbots team showcased how their software uses a set of sensors placed on the body to simulate the movements the robot carries out. To train the robot, the user must repeat the intended movement several times as the robot arm learns.
According to Wandelbot, the amount of time programming industrial robots is the major cost driver for them to a production chain. Also, the source code usually is highly complex, making it nearly impossible to do short-term changes themselves. Reducing cost and time dramatically and decreasing the dependency on large programming firms – Especially for SMEs – Wandelbots seem to be a huge enabler to apply robots in the manufacturing process.
Accion Founder and CEO, Natalya Bayley, explained how they found their sweet spot in the ecosystem by building the most cost-efficient thrust system and leaving the travel space itself to other companies. A few years ago, satellites were the size of a vehicle – with Accion, they are now the size of a water bottle, allowing smaller companies to enter the field due to lower transportation, development and material costs.
Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB Robotics, discussed the skepticism towards automation and robotics present in society, arguing that:
“We need to take this fear extremely seriously and get people out of this fear.”
He gave the example of Germany, Japan, and South Korea, which have the highest robot density and still have comparably low unemployment rates.
Apart from the more mainstream topics covered above, anything you could think of was being tackled – or at least mentioned – at the event, including: finance, entertainment, education, fashion, real estate, art and more, proving that no matter which industry a business or idea is based in, there is room for new technology to augment it. The synthesis is already actively happening. If you aren’t in it already, why not start now?
If you’d like to read more from DV, follow us on Twitter @BCGDV and visit our website.