Six young companies are now officially in the running to be crowned “Startup of the Year” as part of the CONTENTshift accelerator organised by the Börsenvereinsgruppe (German Publishers and Booksellers Association Group).
The startup known as artificial connect is all about the automated generation and distribution of content. Co-founder Felix Rolf describes his Hannover-based team as “four entrepreneurs from the three fields of data processing, machine learning and journalism who all share one thing, namely a passion for good content”.
Rolf and his colleagues develop software that enables automated content creation for use by publishers and media companies. The startup currently offers two software solutions: while their ac.events focuses on structured copywriting in the realm of event management, thereby enabling the creation of long, continuous texts that draw on existing information, their ac.textum creates context-based summaries of journalistic texts and transfers them into different text formats, including headlines, summaries, bullet points and teaser texts. Two additional programmes are in the pipeline for the coming year: ac.textstyle makes it possible to transfer content into different target formats, while ac.search is a context-based tagging and search method that makes it easy for users to find content that is closely related to their search intention. “We’re looking forward to receiving expert advice and support as part of the CONTENTshift accelerator”, says Rolf.
SciFlow is a startup that describes itself as “Google Docs for science”. The company’s aim is to work together with science libraries to simplify the process of science and academic publishing. “Libraries worldwide spend €16 billion every year on content and infrastructure, and they’re facing major challenges and structural transformation,” says founder Carsten Borchert. “In fact, the most popular and widely-used library today isn’t even a library; its Google Scholar, a web search engine that gets 73 million hits per month. This has prompted libraries and research institutes to take the next step and start publishing themselves”. And this is precisely where SciFlow comes in, providing a collaborative online text editor for researchers and students that allows them to create, edit and format science and academic texts in a team. The company’s intention is to make it easier for people to create publications and write graduate theses, dissertations and research articles. A key element in achieving this goal is the automated formatting of texts in accordance with the requirements of specific publishers and universities. Over 1,000 students, researchers and research institutes are already using the text programme today. And the procedure is simple: there’s no installation necessary and any research institute or library that decides to work with SciFlow can get started immediately. “For libraries, SciFlow is the perfect next step on the path to building up their own publication workflows”, says Borchert.
Founders Tudor Birlea and Roxana Balan both studied applied psychology at Cambridge with a focus on causality in human behaviour. Using the knowledge they gained at university, they went on to develop a customer intelligence algorithm called Freya that works to attract the undivided attention of target groups. Drawing on cognitive science and behavioural economics, the algorithm identifies triggers that influence customer and target-group behaviour. Freya’s ultimate aim is to help companies establish direct and positive contact with their potential customers by giving marketing teams the ability to find the right words to address clients, thereby increasing overall sales. At the moment, the two co-founders are taking Freya Sense primarily to other startups: “Young companies have the biggest interest in increasing the effectiveness of their communication and in winning over new clients and customers”, explains Tudor Birlea. “We live in an attention-based economy, and in order to be able to attract people’s attention to your product, you need to be able to tailor your communication to fit the thoughts and personality of your potential customers. This is exactly what Freya allows companies to do”.
“Alinea” is the name of the artificial intelligence created by the Freiburg-based startup Scriptbakery AI. The task of Alinea is to make it easier for proofreaders to perform their work while also making the entire process of reviewing incoming texts more efficient and expedient. “From 95 to 99 percent of all manuscripts are not read”, explains founder Jonas Al-Nemri, “which means that potential bestsellers are simply overlooked and a great deal of potential remains untapped”. In order to solve this problem, Scriptbakery AI developed a portal that is custom-made to fit the needs of publishers. The process is simple and effective: an author submits a manuscript, the portal logs the manuscript data, metadata and author data, and then the manuscript is read and analysed immediately using machine learning models. The resulting analysis is then compared with the publisher’s particular focus as well as with specific characteristics determined in advance. And, finally, if chosen, the manuscript is then made available to the proofreading department. “Of course, all manuscripts and analyses can be accessed by proofreaders at all times”, explains Al-Nemri. This process saves publishers a considerable amount of time and gives them greater accuracy when reviewing manuscripts.
Frederic Geiger is an entrepreneur who turned his passion into a profession. The founder of Questlog always loved travelling and collecting things, and the product he eventually came up with manages to combine both. “Questlogs” are wooden storage boxes that allow users to collect analogue and digital travel memories. The lovingly designed wooden boxes have space for souvenirs, such as postcards and plane tickets, and customers can also individualise their boxes by having their travel route on the cover. The eye-catching boxes can even be hung up on the wall or placed side-by-side on a shelf. “Questlog is a highly emotional product”, explains Geiger. “My target group is people who like to travel and who also have a nostalgic streak. The boxes are a great way to store souvenirs and call up memories of important trips years later”. Geiger has sold 3,000 Questlogs to date and is able to produce three to five boxes per day in his own workshop. His aim now is to automate production and get to the point where he can produce a larger number of boxes at a lower cost. Geiger is also eager to give his tactile product a “digital superstructure”, which would allow customers to access digital memories, such as photos and videos, as well. “I carried out a survey recently and it showed me that a lot of people purchase the Questlog as a gift, typically for people between their early 20s and 50 years old. In other words, my target group is quite large”, explains Geiger.
The startup PlusPlural is all about “inclusion in both directions”, says its founder, Christina Oskui, an author, self-publisher and social entrepreneur. After doing some research, Oskui realised that there are very few good books for visually impaired children out there. “Books for blind children are a niche product with a low circulation and high costs”, she explains.
Oskui’s aim is to develop a barrier-free medium for blind and sighted children – a hybrid that combines the characteristics of a book and a tactile educational toy. The products are designed to make it fun to hold them in your hand, while also encouraging kids to read. This makes them particularly well-suited for children with reading difficulties. “Our concepts have a deliberately analogue design, because it’s simply not possible to digitally simulate the tactile experience of holding a book in your hands and reading it,” argues Oskui. “A book is a three-dimensional object, paper has a particular feel to it, and the pages make noise when you turn them. These tactile elements are precisely the things we want to convey in our products. We want to make sure that the differences between digital and analogue medium are perceived in a more conscious way”. Together with Pascal Heußner, she is currently working on a book box that features Braille, standard fonts and three-dimensional illustrations. Her goal is to enable all children to come into contact with the written word in a playful way.
Carmen Udina: “We have one more startup than usual in our final round this year. The quality of these six finalists was simply so high that it very quickly became clear to us that they all belonged in the final group. Each startup provides a perfect reflection of the overarching themes submitted to us this year. Plus, in contrast to previous years, we also have innovative business ideas coming from the analogue realm, with the entrepreneurs from Questlog and PlusPlural able to create a great deal of enthusiasm among the jury members. We’re delighted and very much looking forward to advising and supporting all six startups in the coming months”.