We’re in the elegant City dining room of our sponsor, Julius Baer, hosted by Chief Executive Officer David Durlacher and joined by guest judges for London & the South: venture capitalist Kjartan Rist and serial-entrepreneur-turned-anti-plastic-campaigner Sian Sutherland. Nine regional finalists are with us to talk about their businesses, making for a tight discussion timetable, but this was one of our best sessions yet, introducing an amazing range of innovative business ideas.
First, we heard from Ian Strang, founder of Beyond, the UK’s first price comparison website for funerals, which also offers other services, such as will-making and funeral finance, all designed to improve the consumer experience of everything around death. Ian himself is very far from the typical image of an undertaker, and so is his business; but it’s clearly a smart and sympathetic intervention in a very staid sector.
Next, By Miles, presented by founder James Blackham: this could be the future of car insurance, in which drivers will be charged monthly per mile driven, rather than paying a one-off (and possibly rip-off) annual premium with no transparency. An interesting comparison with our NE finalist The Floow, which does big-data analysis for insurers with the same objective of providing fairer premiums for responsible drivers. About time too, motorists will cry.
Homeshift, presented by founder Kenny Alegbe, is a digital dashboard for domestic utility bills. But it goes further, acting as a wholesaler between consumer and supplier to obtain better bulk prices, as well as relieving the householder of much tedious admin. For transparency, we should point out that judge Kjartan Rist’s VC firm, Concentric, is an investor in Homeshift, so Kjartan won’t comment on this one when we come to final judging.
LendInvest, presented by Ian Thomas, is a disruptor in the home mortgage market, enabling private investors to invest in bundles of mortgages in a mechanism akin to peer-to-peer lending but with a broad spread of risk — and the benefit to borrowers of a wider choice of mortgage lengths and rate deals.
Something completely different: we heard from Shahzad Younas about Muzmatch, a partner-finding app for Muslims: ‘We don’t date, we marry,’ Shahzad explained. Muslim tradition requires, for example, the need for a chaperone when there’s contact between two potential partners — even online. With 400 million single Muslims of marriageable age, it’s a huge potential market around the world.
Just as our main course was served, we turned our thoughts to toilets. It was the turn of Virginia Gardiner to tell us about LooWatt, which manufactures a waterless toilet with potential uses around the world wherever water is scarce or a traditional hole-in-the-ground latrine is the only alternative. It’s a real breakthrough in public health and waste processing.
Back to more familiar fintech territory to hear about Starling Bank from its head of corporate affairs, Alexandra Frean. Founded by seasoned banker Anne Boden, and currently setting the pace in the online challenger bank sector, Starling has grown its customer base to 650,000 by offering a wider range of features and controls than its competitors.
Swytch Technology founder Oliver Montague then asked us all to stand up — and declare whether we’d ever used an electric bike. Most of us hadn’t but almost all of us are at least occasional cyclists, and Swytch’s product is a conversion kit that can turn any bike into e-bikes at relatively small cost. As the profusion of e-bike brands on London’s streets indicates, this is a high-growth market in which Swytch claims a smart, low-cost advantage.
Finally, Winnow, presented by Kevin Duffy, is a software solution to the huge problem of food waste in commercial kitchens, telling chefs how much food, and what kind, is going into the waste bin. It enables them to buy and cook smarter to achieve 3 per cent cost savings, which could also mean a doubling of their tight profit margins.
Food for thought, as it were, as the judges withdrew to record a podcast while the entrepreneurs chatted with a real buzz of excitement about each other’s businesses. There are three more London & the South finalists — AdviseInc in healthcare procurement, Boxpark in the retail sector and Century Tech in educational software — who were not able to be with us, but I’ll be talking to them and blogging about them shortly. Meanwhile, onwards to Birmingham to meet our Midlands finalists…