How do you succeed as a technology business based in the North of England? A recent report by tech-focused investment bank GP Bullhound points to eight companies that might have the answer.
In Northern Tech Revealed: exploring its technology universe, the banking firm identifies the region's eight 'unicorns' (or companies valued at $1 billion). They are: Sage; Autotrader; Skyscanner; Pace; Shop Direct; Moneysupermarket; The Hut; and Skybet.
According to the report, two of the challenges facing companies operating out of the region are securing access to investment, and attracting (and retaining) talent. In a bid to help the next potential wave (or is that herd?) of unicorns overcome the former obstacle, GP Bullhound recently held a pitching event at the Futurelabs co-working space in Leeds.
It was attended by a number of companies looking to secure early stage funding, and major investors including media company Bloomberg were in attendance. TechRadar went along to chat with the seven hopefuls and see what they had to offer.
Belfast, Manchester & London-based B-Secur could be about to make the fingerprint scanner on your iPhone or Android smartphone look, well, a bit dated. The company is developing a super-strength biometric security that reads your heartbeat's unique electrical waves to perform anything from unlocking an electronic device to opening a door.
The tech has been used as part of ECG scans in the heathcare industry for years, but it's the first time a company has looked to adapt it for security purposes. B-Secur has developed an algorithm to make sense of the captured biometric data, which is obtained using a contactless surface that the company says is much more discrete than a physical sensor.
Alan Foreman, CEO at B-Secur, says: "The world has gone digital in the last five to seven years. With more devices, apps and data out there more people are comfortable to share their personal and financial data, and that's causing problems as hackers catch up. We're working with the National Physical Laboratory to prove that the biometric data we have is as good, if not better than fingerprints as a unique identifier."
Film buffs have almost too much of a good thing these days. Almost. Filmies, the self-proclaimed 'Spotify for Film', is looking to solve the "problem" of hunting down a gripping flick through its personal film recommendation platform. It spans multiple viewing distributors – from Amazon to Netflix – and combines detailed search tags with social recommendations to help viewers choose what to watch.
By connecting to various movie databases using APIs from Netflix, film review site Rotten Tomatoes, and others, in addition to eventually hosting its own content supplied by independent film-makers, Filmies reckons its app will have the biggest film database around – consisting of around 260,000 picks.
Neil McClure, CEO and Founder of Filmies, says: "After some dodgy film recommendations from Netflix and Amazon, we thought that there must be a better way to find something to watch, so Filmies was born. Our mission is that we want more people to watch films and not spend time searching for them. Our research tells us that the average film fan takes twenty-two minutes to choose what to watch, which over the course of a year means they could watch every Tarantino film four times."
Twile is positioning itself as a competitor to traditional family history services, but it's more interesting than most. The Sheffield-based company has partnered with Findmypast and FamilySearch, so there are the usual perks - such as seeing what your great-great-great grandfather's beard looked like back in the day.
However, Twile also encourages families to update the recent end of their timelines with milestones, photos and videos in order to build a tapestry of modern life for future generations to view. It's a bit like a Facebook timeline for families, only one that's private rather than broadcast to the world.
Kelly Marsden, Co-Founder of Twile, says: "People do nothing to record their own lives. There are fragmented records of past and present, but no single place to catch a story of a family. Twile is a timeline of everything that's happened in your family from your earliest ancestors right through to today."
Synap offers students an alternative to traditional revising methods. Its aim? To make "cramming" as much information as possible into their brains the night before a thing of the past.
Created by two Leeds University medical students, the platform lets students write their own multiple choice questions that can then be reviewed and shared among friends. Accessible on multiple platforms, the company is eyeing integration with services such as Evernote. It even has an Apple Watch app in the works, with the idea of allowing a student to answer a set of bite-sized questions while waiting at the bus stop, for example.
James Gutpa, CEO and founder of Synap, says: "We've listened to undergraduate and postgraduate students at our own and universities across the world, and all of that information informs each release. It's led us to create something that's turned into what students want and is missing from a lot of education products that come from a top-down, corporate world where blackboards and other systems are used."
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 to take less money in commission while allowing tutors to choose their own hours.
Mark Hughes, Co-Founder at Tutora, says: "We decided to solve the problem of home tutoring for two sets of people. On the one hand you have the parents who want the best for their children, but the problem is that they don't know who to trust. On the other hand, tutors are looking for clients but don't want to advertise and only want to teach privately. Our solution was to build a marketplace where parents come to the website and search for tutors in their local area, can register and book and pay for them online."
6. VST Enterprises
The humble QR code has gone relatively unchallenged since it launched in 1994, but that could be set to change. Manchester-based VST Enterprises has developed VCode, which can be thought of as a supercharged QR code with added functionality.
Once the VCode app is downloaded onto a smart device, it can be used to scan a generated VCode with the device's camera. That in turn can do anything from verifying a user's location to retrieving information and paying for goods and services – such as car parking.
Louis-James Davis, CEO at VEST Enterprises, says: "The main problem with QR codes is that no company is driving the solution, whereas we're driving VCode. We're encouraging users to attach perks, so you can scan something and get an offer or discount, or buy something and charge it to your phone instantly."
7. Converging Data
Split between Leeds and Sydney, Converging Data is developing software that helps healthcare workers better create a picture of how care is being delivered in real-time. That could be anything from how many hospital beds are available to checking staff and other resource levels.
It's done through Converging Data's HIX connector for big data software Splunk, which allows data to be gathered from disparate IT sources within an organization. It can then be presented visually, making it easier to understand. The company's solution is Health Level-7 (or HL7) certified, meaning that any healthcare data (including clinical records) processed is compatible with other providers' systems globally.
Neil Murphy, principle business architect at Converging Data, says: "The Carter report, a review of the efficiency of the NHS that was commissioned by the Department of Health, found that IT systems are poorly integrated and it's difficult for people in healthcare to get a full view of what's going on. Converging Data provides dashboards, reports and alerts to provide a visualization of how things are running."