A group of start-up companies from all over the world gathered in Beijing for an intensive five-day course, aiming to get them some Chinese investment and a leg up into the largest and fastest-growing internet market on the planet.
The course, the first of its kind, is run by the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), whose MBA alumni account for a host of Chinese internet company CEOs, including Alibaba's Jack Ma.
The second day of the course saw the start-ups each deliver a five minute pitch to a group of heavyweight Chinese investors, both VC and PE, including, CIAM Capital Management, Marcolink Group, SAIF Partners and Cash Capital.
First up was Gunnar Arnby founder of Yebo! World, who explained that, just as Pokemon Go lets you collect virtual monsters, his app allows you to collect places. He said you build a social graph of interesting places, shops, hotels, churches – moments that you share.
It becomes like a game which becomes more valuable over time, he said; you can get bragging rights for having bought your raincoat from the flagship Burberry store in London's Knightsbridge, for example. He added that the app can increase foot traffic and be used to promote objects in a more nuanced manner than regular advertising. On the other, it could be used to create a credit score of sorts for users in developing countries to show that someone buys and sells goods, travels, goes to markets etc.
Next was Cybertonica which does checking and authenticating payments using AI, machine learning and biometrics. Pitching, Joshua Bower-Saul pointed out that 30% of all ecommerce gets lost through the friction involved in fraud limits, charge backs and so on. The company has recently been testing its system in Russia with a major bank and is also expanding into UK and other European countries. Cybertonica is looking for $1.5m to take it into the vast Chinese ecommerce market.
EuroPas was described by its CEO Guillaume de Roquefeuli as a WeChat Pay for Chinese travellers – 120 million of whom are exported every year. Backed by the French authorities for tourism, the platform is currently used on the Metro and to get into museums. He added that it also links to other stores that take WeChat Pay.
Gloves fitted with chips on the fingertips to fly drones easily and rather elegantly was presented next by young engineer Magnus Arveng of Arveng Technology, accompanied by his brother William, CFO. The brothers imagine future use cases melded with virtual reality, pointing out that existing attempts to fly drones with wearbles use either the Spektrum or Taramis operating systems – an interoperability problem they had solved.
RELAYTO is an app for PDF presentation which allows users to recreate them as webpages with embedded slides, videos etc in a generally better user experience, particularly when it comes to viewing on mobile devices. Pitching CEO Alex Shevelenko said it is an all in one publishing software, adding that the company had been working with MIT Labs; the solution is well suited to document heavy sectors like finance and insurance, he said.
Luis Carranza is a well-known figure on the London fintech scene where his company Meetup puts on London Fintech Week and Blockchain Week. He was looking to expand his global events business into China, and also mentioned the incubator work he does with blockchain companies and IoT insurance hardware/software systems.
Flowform uses ingenious Flow Surface Technology, which circulates stagnant water in a figure of eight motion around cascading ceramic bowls, in order to introduce oxygen to it and make it useful again. Chief development officer Ian Troudsell said scientists from Cambridge University had developed the biomimicry technology, which is being trialled across Europe and also in China. He said the designs typically squeeze eight meters of flow into a single meter, redeeming a man-made water problem for the characteristics of mountain streams.
Solving the problem of corruption and flow of aid money in Africa to off-shore accounts, iNDEXinnovation aims to tokenise funds and anchor these to shared ledgers. Michelle Arnot-Kruger, who also works for Unicef, and her husband Rudi Kruger pointed out $20bn of aid money was been siphoned out of Nigeria between 2005 and 2010. She said cash has to be removed from the system and should be replaced by completely transparent Activity Specific Tokens. The trusted nodes on the network would include Unicef and Citibank.
Naturvention (NAAVA), which uses vertical racks mounted with plants that support special microbes to clean processed and unhealthy indoor air, went down well – which is not really surprising in Beijing. Aki Soudunsaari and Marrti Siniharju of Finland said the air locked around us tends to be air created by man and that it actually hampers your mental performance. Their biological air purification system uses microbes in the roots of the plants to create clean air at a rate that is orders of magnitude more than regular house plants. In the next decade biopurification will surpass mechanical means, they predict. After a while the room even starts to smell better, like a golf course, or a Finnish forest.
UK based Givvit is an app that allows users to deliver small gifts (treats) like a glass of wine, cup of coffee, a takeaway meal to people, with messages attached. Pitching James Cullen, a former Coke executive, said the app was akin to gift cards and that it has partnered with Thrifty and SE East Trains – and if anyone needs to offer its customers treats, it's them. Cullen said he was looking for 13.5m RMB to start partnering in China.
Pitching via video was Tony Craddock of the Emerging Payments Association, another well-known face in the UK fintech scene. Tony apologised for having to attend a business meeting in Shanghai; he said the opportunity was open to Chinese companies to work with the best in paytech companies from the UK, which have received authorisation from the Bank of England.
Summing up, China Start programme director Bo Ji said he had been very impressed by all the presentations. Before the next round of pitches, to take place in Shenzen at the end of the week, he offered the startups the following advice: "I would say, it's not so good to ask for only a little bit of money. Investors want to know you are going to do something really impactful. So don't be afraid to ask for a lot. Remember, this is China."