Ideas, Innovation and Inspiration: 4 Exciting New London Startups
This time last week I went to an intimate tech event in Old Street. Tucked away in the backroom of the trendy Monzo offices (an exciting new startup aiming to revolutionise digital and mobile banking), it felt friendly and unreserved, attendees introducing themselves in huddles and ideas being shared and discussed left, right and centre.
The London New Tech meetup is a monthly event organised by Eventbrite, in which representatives from four or five young tech companies and startups talk about their businesses and visions. There was plenty of inspiration, ideas and innovation to go round. For those who missed the session, I have written an overview of the four presentations that I saw.
Show My Homework
Created for teachers by (other more tech-savvy) teachers, this online-management system’s job is to organise classes, schedules and homework, while digitising communication between teacher and student. The software comes with a number of exclusive learning resources from respected contributors such as Collins and a range of other extras. Smart Seating, for instance, a tool that the presenter was particularly enthusiastic about, electronically optimises seating plans so ‘every student is seated in the place that suits them best,’ taking into account things like learning difficulties or behavioural issues. Plans can then be shared easily among teachers.
Unlike many similar apps, Show My Homework has a B2B model, selling their software to schools rather than to teachers or individuals. This allows them to provide training courses to school IT departments and offer 24-hour support for the teachers themselves. Additionally, those responsible for training, supporting and even selling the software have all been teachers at some point in their life, a fact which undoubtedly improves understanding and communication.
Another notable point is that the app, rather than just being an organisational tool for the teachers themselves, is a multi-channel platform for helping students, teachers and parents to interact and work together. Not only could teachers make announcements, set homework, link to resources and information, but parents could access progress reports and test results.
The days of students ‘lying about parents’ evenings and where their homework really is’ are over.
While to some, this could be interpreted as invasive, improving communication and efficiency while giving pupils wider access to resources and assistance could make a big difference to those classes signed up to Show My Homework. If we scale this idea up over counties or even nationwide age groups, we could actually start to see this app having a significant impact on this country’s future.
This presentation, by company founder and CEO, Ariya Priyasantha, began with a personal story. Sadly, his parents had recently passed away from diabetes, a disease from which he also suffers. A lack of understanding about nutritional requirements and poor meal management were two factors that contributed heavily. It was this which inspired him to go on and create MealIQ.
This app stands apart from most apps in the food and drinks industry (which mostly revolve around calorie counting and nutritional values) by focusing more on managing your meals, with a special emphasis on dietary requirements and allergies.
After entering in your specifics (disease or a desired area of focus e.g. fewer simple carbohydrates), the tool will use unique AI to scour the web for suitable recipes. Over time, through machine learning, it improves its suggestions to the user, absorbing which meals you like and don’t like to improve its future recommendations.
In addition, it will order the food for you, finding the required ingredients for the best available prices and will deliver them all to your front door. It even has a built-in virtual ‘Food Cupboard’ which keeps track of which ingredients you buy to prevent you doubling up on anything.
This is still in the beta version so there is currently a lack of online coverage and reviews, but I was encouraged by the presentation, as well as the story and passion behind it. The visualisations of the brand, too, were very fresh and clean, mirroring the tool’s function.
Dieters, fitness freaks and even fussy eaters should keep their eyes on this one.
To be honest, this was the only app I downloaded after hearing the presentations. Not because the others weren’t impressive – I am simply not in their target market. I’m not a dieting teacher with a passion for jewellery (more on that later) – thank God!
The third presentation was given by Jamie Higgens, who also happened to be the founder, CEO and sole developer behind the app, Macrodroid. His experience in Android development goes back 14 years and he has worked with an impressive array of household brands.
Similar to If This Than That, Macrodroid automates a number of processes on your phone. The distinction, however, is that while the ‘recipes’ in IFTTT are purely browser-based (for example, ‘when I receive a Google Alert which includes the keyword phrase “David Attenborough”, tweet the link’), many of the Macrodroid functions can be done offline and are app-based.
Extremely easy to use, Macrodroid requires you to select three input commands to build a formula (or macro, as they’re known on this app). These are: the trigger, the action and (optionally) a constraint.
Here are just some of the most common configurations:
This macro, similar to dingless, will silence your phone on weeknights.
Turn sound off
‘Not on weekends’
Below is another popular macro which mutes your volume when your headphones are unplugged (except when it’s a phone call). This is a screenshot of the app itself – clean and simple.
There were also a few more surprising and clever ones, for instance:
If you text your phone a code word such as ‘FIND ME’ it will text back to that number its exact GPS location – perfect for ‘lost or stolen’ moments.
Another security-focused macro was for it to take a front-facing photo whenever someone enters your pass-code incorrectly X times. This can then be forwarded on to a different number or uploaded to the Cloud.
This was the only app out of the four which had broad appeal rather than focusing on a particular industry or niche. As Jamie explained, this meant it was harder for it to gain traction (as it was competing with more apps for coverage and attention) but that the potential rewards were much greater. I was particularly impressed with this app and it seems that it is on the tipping point of major success. It has received a lot of attention and discussion on the Subreddit Android App; has a rating of 4.5/5 stars (with around 70% of these being 5*s) and has a huge and ever-growing user community posting instructional videos, reviews and Q&As.
I’ve been using it for the past week and am a big fan of its simplicity and functionality. Good work, Jamie!
Gilded Lab was quite a different beast from the other startups. Founded by US-born designer, Juliet Sutton-Gee, GL is an an online purchasing platform that is seeking to revolutionise the high-end jewellery market.
After making “a bit of cash” in an early tech-advisory role, Juliet was keen to buy some high-quality jewellery – something meaningful, long-lasting and valuable. After much research, she was put off by the bureaucracy, poor customer service and, most of all, the price tags. It became clear that the industry was rigid and overly traditional but how could it be brought up to date?
In the majority of traditional high-street jewellery retailers, the prices are marked up by at least 9 times. Pieces are designed and crafted far away from the frontline and are then transported to jewellery shops where they are stored – often for large amounts of time – until they are bought; all the while, tastes and spending capacities are changing. The lucky items that are sold are few and far between, resulting in their prices getting cranked up to support the cost of those gathering dust in the backroom.
To get around the issue, Gilded Lab are doing a customisation model, described by Juliet as ‘guided design.’ With a range of templates to build upon, the user can add their own frills, touches of personality using the online design studio, a silent (and perhaps slightly in need of a remake) demo of which is below.
Each is fashioned specifically for a consumer (handcrafted in a London studio with support from hand-picked artisans in Thailand), and sent to them in the post. This saves spend not only on unused stock sitting around, but also on the huge number of brick and mortar vendors (often in very expensive locations) that are needed to service each area.
Juliet is currently working on expanding the business and, in particular, growing its marketing arm. Any digital gurus out there – get in touch!
I enjoyed this meetup, learning a lot not only from the presenters, who were all experts in their fields and passionate about their respective endeavours, but the audience too, who were engaged and savvy. Look no further for ideas, inspiration and innovation. I look forward to the next meetup.