From Apple Beats 1's worst nightmare to a meds delivery app: 20 startups looking to change everything

They're all competing for a valuable opportunity

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(Image credit: Tech North)

This article is part of our TechRadar North column, a series focusing on the development of the north of England's tech sector.

Update: After 20 slick pitches, the 10 finalists have emerged from the Northern Stars Grand Final. They are:

- Airtime Rewards
- Ash.tv
- Dream Agility
- DueCourse
- LivingLens
- ProxiSmart
- Radio.co
- Swapbots
- TopicDNA
- Valuechain

If the ability to change the world isn't enough to spur on a startup, then stratospheric valuations of companies such as Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram should be. They don't have to hail from the well-represented locations of Silicon Valley or London's Tech City to make it big either – just ask Leeds-based SkyBet or Manchester retail juggernaut AO – which can both be found in the north of England and are valued at more than $1 billion.

Northern Stars, an initiative designed to highlight and nurture some of the most promising startups from the region, has announced the 20 finalists taking part in its 2016 competition. Among them are a company that delivers medication to your door, Just Eat-style; a website that lets you host your very own radio station, and a maker of augmented reality toys designed to inspire and teach.

The grand final of the pitch competition, which was started by UK tech hub Tech North last year, is being held at Old Granada Studios in Manchester on November 17 where each startup will pitch for a stand at TechCrunch Disrupt London and The Next Web Europe conference. They will also get the opportunity to pitch to investors at Bloomberg in London.

Before we take a look at them, TechRadar caught up with some of last year's winners. To give you an idea of what this year's winners can expect, here's what they said.

Jack Barmby (CEO and founder, Gnatta)

How did winning last year's competition impact your business?

"One of the biggest things that we got from Northern Stars has been the help to build relationships with so many new contacts – mainly the other winners of the award. We’ve met investors, received advice outside the business, met like-minded people and have even gained some business through the network we’ve grown in our time as a winner."

What advice would you give to this year's finalists?

"One thing stuck with me most: boil it all down as if you're speaking to a child because nobody understands your business as well as you do. Pitches are about piquing interest – a gateway to further conversations, so make sure you’re focussed on the right parts. The best advice I can give is to ask yourself 'so what?'' whenever you add a sentence into your pitch."

Richard Potter (CEO, Peak)

How did winning last year's competition impact your business?

"We received some great PR and the opportunity to attend leading global tech events. Perhaps more importantly, we’ve gained a lot of confidence and made tons of new connections. The Northern Stars prize package allowed us to meet lots of potential investors and eventually fundraise in 2016. The entire process has enabled us to expand our team, invest in technology and acquire new customers at an incredible rate."

What advice can you give this year’s finalists?

"Practice the pitch until you can do it with your eyes closed and make sure you demonstrate how you can commercialise your ideas."

Al Mackin (Co-founder and CEO, Formisimo)

How did winning last year's competition impact your business?

"The big wins for us were free access to events (TechCrunch Disrupt was great for the team) and exposure. The last one was key to us – we have to get our proposition out there and using Tech North's channels gets us to a wider audience which was a big plus."

What advice can you give this year’s finalists?

"Make sure everyone knows you've been selected and get the word out because it's easy to get lost in the noise. Connect with the other winners as they might have a different offering but are on the same journey as you."

Gilbert Corrales (CEO, Leaf.fm)

How did winning last year's competition impact your business?

"Winning gave us access to world-class events, press and network opportunities that are continuing to deliver. It also allowed us to create relationships with other winners that have gone above and beyond partnerships; one example for us being with the guys from Peak with whom we have been developing new technology by combining our expertise."

What advice can you give this year’s finalists?

"Getting the award is nice, but making the best out of it is up to you. The opportunities are there but you can't sit back and relax and expect stuff to fall from the heavens."

With that done, scroll up to the top picture and hit the right-hand arrow to discover the 20 Northern Stars 2016 finalists. 


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1. Synap

Website: synap.ac

Founded by two final year Leeds University medical students, Synap is looking to alter people's revision habits. The company’s web and mobile apps allow students to create multiple choice questions to test each other, and paid questions sets can be downloaded from educational institutions such as the Oxford University Press.

Synap points to scientific research to back up its claim that its multiple choice question approach is more efficient than “cramming” when it comes to helping the brain retain information. The only startup on the shortlist of finalists to base all of its operations in Leeds, Synap has an Apple Watch app in the works and is looking to partner with more content providers.

Read our interview with Synap's co-founder and CEO James Gupta

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2. Swap Bots

Website: drawandcode.com

Liverpool-based SwapBots takes traditional toys and turns them into animated videogame characters using a smartphone or tablet's camera using augmented reality. Seen through a device's electronic eye, block-shaped toys sprout tentacles, grow wings and develop personalities all on their own. 

Bringing digital and physical interaction together, SwapBots allows players to go head-to-head in battle with their collectible creations, lending the toys a Pokemon-esque feel. The startup is seeking investment which would allow it to take its products into full production and eventually onto shop shelves.

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3. Now Healthcare Group

Website: nowhealthcaregroup.com

We're all familiar with ordering a take-away, hailing a cab or having electrical goods delivered through a smartphone app. Having medication or a self-test kit brought to your home by a courier on a bike, on the other hand, is a little more alien at this moment in time.

That's just one of the services provided by Liverpool-founded Now Healthcare, which also offers a virtual GP service that provides remote healthcare and diagnosis to patients. Considering the flu epidemic that's just hit the UK, that sounds like a sensible idea.

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4. JooVuu X

Website: joovuu-x.com

Helmet-mounted cameras worn by cyclists are a familiar sight on roads today, and Stockport-based JooVuu X's car camera is looking to do the same job but for travellers on four wheels. The safety cam is designed to capture other people's bad driving, acting as an eye witness that can be used to support claims in the case of an accident.

It can record in HD and 2.5K resolution and is small enough to not hog the whole of the dashboard. Similar cameras have had such a positive impact for cyclists that it's easy to imagine JooVuu's solution sitting comfortably next to GPS navigations systems everywhere.

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5. Radio.co

Website: radio.co

Manchester-based Radio.co is looking to steer you away from Zane Lowe and Apple Music's Beats 1 radio station by directing you to everyday DJs broadcasting from the comfort of their bedrooms.

Using Radio.co, anyone can broadcast their own radio station over the internet using a set of tools that includes automated and intelligent tag-based playlists, live broadcasting using a PC or Mac and analytics that provide live and historical statistics. Go on – start that jazz-fusion-nu-metal station you've always dreamt of.

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6. Airtime Rewards

Website: airtimerewards.co

Headquartered in London and Manchester, Airtime Rewards works with major mobile operators and retailers to offer loyalty and rewards solutions to customers. Using the free Karrot mobile app, shoppers are given mobile airtime credit for use on any network in the UK after splashing cash in-store.

It essentially lets you subsidise your mobile phone bill by keeping yourself in fashion, meaning you'll be able to make a lot of calls if you've got expensive taste.

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7. Solutionpath Limited

Website: solutionpath.co.uk

Split betwen Manchester, Leeds and York, Solutionpath develops software that helps colleges, universities and other higher education institutions track the progress of students and staff.

Solutionpath's StREAM software features the ability to schedule personal tutoring, monitor attendance and track behaviour, in addition to resource management, to stamp out potential problems before they arise. So, sorry: skipping double math isn't going be such a consequence-free activity any more.

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8. Kuorum.org

Website: kuorum.org

A particularly relevant startup at this moment in time in light of the US Presidential Election, online campaigning tool Kuorum aims to help you "connect, communicate and share with politicians on issues that matter". The website, which is essentially a database for politicians, lets you create a free profile and follow them Twitter-style. 

Additionally, you can use it to start political campaigns and track social data analysis to understand public opinion trends, follow causes and accept donations from supporters. Kuorum claims to help you save up to 70% in digital campaign costs, which is important if your pockets aren't quite as deep as Donald Trump's.

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9. Tutora

Website: tutora.co.uk

According to Sheffield-based Tutora, one in four parents in the UK use a private tutor for their child, receiving eight lessons on average. The problem there, it says, is that students aren't always paired with tutors that are right for them. 

The company's platform uses an algorithm to make suitable selections based on both sides' preferences, which can then be accepted or declined by either party. Tutora is going up against typical tutoring agencies with its solution and claims that it takes less money in commission while allowing tutors to choose their own hours.

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10. LivingLens

Website: livinglens.tv

Liverpool and London-based LivingLens uses various technologies including speech, actions and sentiment to analyse people's behaviour in videos.

Businesses can then use the results to find things out – such as how customers feel, how engaged employees are, how effective advertisements are and how communities feel about topics at any given time.

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11. Dream Agility

Website: dreamagility.com

Bury-based Dream Agility's platform helps businesses run online shopping campaigns and integrates services from Facebook, Bing, Amazon and eBay. 

It also helps companies get themselves onto Google Shopping, which can be a tricky business due to constantly changing regulations that can result in campaigns being blocked if the search giant's rules aren't followed.

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12. Neatly.io

Website: neatly.io

Data is easier to sift through when it's stored in a central dashboard, which is where Neatly.io comes in.

The Newcastle-based company allows businesses to view all of their data in one dashboard, or build multiple custom dashboards to monitor the various metrics required to grow a business.

Users can set monthly goals and track targets, all while being sent personalised reports that show what work needs prioritising.

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13. Textocracy Ltd

Website: textocracy.org

Sheffield-based Textocracy has one aim: help businesses gather feedback from their employees. The simple service provides a 'Textocracy number' which employees can use to send an SMS, whether that's providing feedback on a specific question or subject or submitting general comments.

At the other end, comments can be viewed and digested using a dashboard, where reports can be generated to aid business decision making.

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14. TopicDNA

Website: topicdna.com

Manchester-based TopicDNA claims to analyse Twitter and Instagram profiles in a "deeper and more meaningful way" than other platforms. This allows PR agencies, social media managers and advertisers to identify and analyze their business's audience on social media platforms. 

In theory, knowing what engages a particular stream of Twitter followers allows them to find and target more people who hold the same interests.

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15. Smart Money People

Website: smartmoneypeople.com

Had a bad (or good, for that matter) experience with a bank or insurance provider? Then Newcastle-based Smart Money People wants to hear about it.

Pretty much a Yelp for financial services, the website features user-submitted reviews and comments and aims to "make the financial services industry more transparent". In a world where trust in banks is perhaps at an all-time low, it's come about at the right time.

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16. Lumici Slate

Website: Lumici.co.uk

Headquartered in Derby, software company Lumici Slate helps teachers give lessons over the internet. Teachers can create, plan and deliver interactive lessons to students, who can study them from a mobile device or computer.

Lumici Slate takes a building blocks-style approach to creating lessons, giving teachers the choice of using pre-built templates or starting from scratch. Teachers can access analytics to see how students are progressing, while parents can also keep track online.

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17. DueCourse

Website: duecourse.com

Manchester-based DueCourse is on a mission to simplify invoicing. By connecting with cloud-based accounting packages such as Sage One, QuickBooks and FreeAgent, its software allows businesses customers to be paid advances from unpaid invoices within the hour.

The company, which was founded in 2014, has advanced more than £1 million to its clients and is on track to advance £16.5 million by the end of 2016.

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18. ProxiSmart Ltd

Website: proxismart.co.uk

Newcastle-based Proxismart was set up in 2014 to research and develop the potential application of Smart Beacon tech. Used by Apple (through iBeacon) and other tech companies, it allows mobile apps to listen to signals transmitted by beacons in the physical world and react accordingly.

ProxiSmart's software lets businesses transmit information to consumers within range of their beacons, which can be installed in places such as shops (to send news of offers) or car parks (to indicate when spaces are available). Any data collected can then be accessed and analysed using ProxiSmart's proprietary content management system.

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19. Valuechain

Website: valuechain.com

Valuechain wants to make manufacturing smarter. Its collaborative software aims to help small and medium-sized organisations streamline operations, embed control and simplify complex business processes. 

Based in Lancaster, the company also offers its OpenBook suite, which lets manufacturing businesses communicate with customers and suppliers.

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20. Ruler Analytics

Website: ruleranalytics.com

Liverpool-based Ruler Analytics develops call tracking software that helps companies build a picture of why customers are calling and how effective their queries are being handled. In turn, this helps businesses allocate marketing spend more effectively.

The company's software generates call tracking reports, features Google Analytics integration, and shows how visitors ended up on a business's website. Integration with third party systems such as Salesforce, Evernote, Zoho CRM and HubSport extends its usefulness.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kane has been fascinated by the endless possibilities of computers since first getting his hands on an Amiga 500+ back in 1991. These days he mostly lives in realm of VR, where he's working his way into the world Paddleball rankings in Rec Room.