Finding talent on Start-up Strasse

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The Launchpad competition held at EiG in Berlin this October once again proved the adage that taking part was the important thing, not necessarily the winning. Pitching to this year's judges were five companies - Skillzzgames, eSportsPools, Casino VR, Dubzapper and RTSmunity - all keen to prove their mettle in the online gambling field. But as one of this year's judges, Gamcrowd's own Ian Hogg, put it, the important aspect of Launchpad, as with the other pitch competitions held in conjunction with Clarion Events, is that it offers the industry the opportunity to get a look-see at the innovation that is bubbling under and around it.

“I think these competitions are invaluable for a number of reasons,” Hogg says. “Not just because they give a platform to start-ups and entrepreneurs to out their ideas to the test in front of some very knowledgeable and potentially very helpful people. But also because it gives the whole industry the chance to see that innovation really does work, that it is possible to get ideas up-and-running even if it is just by sheer force of will in many cases.”

Notably, four of the five start-ups on display in the Arena Berlin are still in the bootstrap phase, working with limited friends-and-family funding while they seek to prove that the idea on paper can work in reality. If getting a company off the starting blocks is a major achievement, then getting to the stage to promote your idea to the whole gambling industry is a major feather in the cap for all the firms.

Of course, funding will loom large for all of the companies at this year’s show sooner or later, not least for this year's winner Casino VR which, because of the nature of the innovative technology the business is based on, is already at the seed funding stage and hopes to soon be pulling in some $1.2m in first-round funding.

Clearly, taking part in a show of this sort can help with this process, but it is not just about raising profile to pull in investment. Helen Walton, founder of Gamevy, won the Pitch ICE competition at the Excel in London in Feburary this year, and although Pitch ICE is for companies at a slightly earlier stage of their development than those at EiG, she points out that the benefits of being seen still hold true.

“It was astonishingly useful for us,” she said. “It has to be said, you have to do your work ahead of ICE. Of the 400 emails we sent out saying ‘let’s meet at ICE’, you’ll four meetings ahead of the show and four at the time. The pre-work is as important as being there, and the post work of chasing the other 396 emails. 

She adds: “We learnt a lot as we were giving our presentation. We honed the pitch in the process of giving it because you learn what’s appealing for people, what people are nervous about, what they criticise or attack or challenge, and that helps you refine your pitch. That’s incredibly powerful. PITCH ICE got us our first two sales and out first big tranche of investment. It changed our strategy; it clarified out route to market.”

Talking of the experi/ecne at EiG, Eran Sharar, founder of Skillzzgaming pointed out – after finding our that Casino VR had won the Launchpad competition – said that juts taking part in the event was useful in itself. Much as with Gamevy at Pitch ICE, he said the company received lots of “good exposure” at the show and enjoyed “very good traction and interest in the games”.

“We met with interesting people and gathered concrete leads for our future business,” he added. “We felt there is a great interest for innovation and new products. Online gaming sites are looking for new content that will appeal to the new generation of players, and the Start-
up Zone was a major traction point for the show visitors.”

Also enthused about the opportunity afforded by EiG was Scott Burton, founder of fellow LaunchPad contestant eSportsPools.  “I would say the event was very worthwhile for us,” he said. “eSports was a very hot topic there and we got lots of interest and met many interesting people that could help our business. There was very good enthusiasm and a high level of quality in the new companies I met.”