Held at the SBS in Oxford on 6th June 2012 this was the 6th SBS Venture Fund final with 4 companies selected to pitch to a panel (Karl Peterson, Sir Victor Blank and Sir Philip Green) for investments up to around £150,000.
Over the previous 5 years the fund has invested around £750,000 in companies and four of them were scheduled to give quick updates on their progress.
First up we had MoBank which produces mCommerce platforms talking about their latest software which seems to be aimed at retailers looking to develop a mobile commerce capability.
Next was Cignifi - interesting idea this. There are lots of people with phones but no bank accounts. When it comes to offering loans to these people they have zero data to look at for conventional credit scoring so Cignifi has developed analytics based on the mobile phone usage records to determine a credit rating score.
Third to present was GreenPrint Technologies - focusing on solutions to measure manage and reduce printing costs in organisations. One system looked like it would advise a user that there was a better printer option than the one they had selected and offer to reroute it for them.
The final company due to present to us was HiretheWorld a system for offering work out to tender over the web and engaging freelancers to complete it for you. We saw a short video of how it all works and then the plan was that we would have an update presented via a web conference - sadly some buffering and delays on the link made this impossible.
The investment committee had narrowed down the many applications to a shortlist of 7 and those had then been further whittled down to the 4 companies who got to pitch on the evening.
Kinosis was first up. This company was founded by a group of 4 surgeons and they are in the business of developing and marketing interactive education apps that utilises touch screen devices. Their primary target audience are trainee surgeons. Idea is that surgeons can use their iPad, or similar device, to practice surgical techniques and understand the mechanics and decision making required during an operation.
Then we had LabMinds - some companies you can immediately see and understand the market that they have been set up to serve. I thought this was a good example of a company set up to address a problem that most people will be unaware of. It seems that a lot of time is spent in labs preparing the chemical solutions needed to do the real work. They have a machine that is intended to purify water and automate solution preparation thus saving time and money in the lab. They hope to have their first machine installed in one of the Oxford labs before long but this did make it a very early stage for investment.
The Argentinian based online food ordering and delivery website Sinimanes.com was next. There seemed to be a large market potential with many restaurants available who could be approached to sign up to the site and scope to grow beyond their initial focus on Buenos Aires.
Last to present was Oxford nanoSystems (surprisingly website is under construction) who want to improve the performance of heat transfer systems starting with boilers. I think I heard them say that they wanted to make the surfaces in the heat transfer units "nano rough" and hence dramatically increase the surface area and performance. usually the focus with a coating is to make it smooth so they would be utilising a process that was know but poor at creating smooth surfaces and hence not used much currently but could potentially suit their requirements.
At this point the investment panel retired to deliberate on their decisions and we were treated to some presentations from companies supported by the Oxford business X charity. These companies are founded by secondary school pupils with a small loan from the charity. Three of the companies came along and were truly inspiring. BandIt was set up to produce and sell a series of coloured wrist bands that you could collect and when you had a complete set of all 7 possible ones you send them in and get a single multicoloured one instead. The 7 bands relate to the 7 Olympic/Paralympic values which I now know are Respect, Determination, Courage, Inspiration, Friendship, Excellence, and Equality. 2Jevents.com was set up to help schools make better use of their facilities by making them available for commercial bookings when not being used by the school. Teenage Dirt Bag was setup to make and sell a festival survival kit in a small bag. Struck me as a great idea with potential well beyond the festival market that they are initially targeting.
The panel returned to the auditorium and provided their feedback. They were interested in exploring a couple of the companies in more detail but didn't make any investment offers on the night.
After some closing remarks by the Dean of the school we were directed to the common room a fantastic BBQ that had been laid on and a chance to chat with other attendees at the event.
As ever with these things I had a good evening and learnt a lot through the presentations and listening to the panel and their questions. As a keen watcher of Dragons Den it was interesting to see how the questions the panel asked fitted with what I expected them to ask - and generally it did.
Being a father of 2 daughters may make me more susceptible to noticing such things but I was struck that while there was a clear geographic mix of people presenting the 4 people giving updates on previous investments plus the 8 people presenting new ideas were all male. When we had the presentations from the companies supported by Oxford X though, it was good to note that 4 of the 7 presenters were female. Small numbers so could simply be an anomaly but did set me wondering where the role model female entrepreneurs are and why they weren't there trying to secure investment.