The third LIFT conference started tonight with an "off-Broadway" event (not part of the main program) devoted to startups. The "Venture Night"
is sponsored by ICT Cluster, a Swiss governmental initiative to foster
entrepreneurship. "Our idea is to celebrate entrepreneurship, promote cool Swiss projects to the world and cool international projects to Switzerland",
says Laurent Haug, the founder of LIFT. Eight of those projects
(startups) were chosen in an online survey of LIFT attendees to
present tonight in front of a panel of experts including French
entrepreneur Pierre Chappaz, US blogger Robert Scoble, VCs Ouriel Ohayon and Fred Destin, Swisscom's head of incubation and venturing Jasper Bouwsma, and Faris Sabeti, the head of business coaching at the Swiss Innovation Agency.
But it isn't a startup contest: "it's just an occasion to get together
and put promising ventures in the spotlight", says Haug.
Barry Schiffman goes first. He is one of the founders of NY-based Viewdle, a video-indexing and search platform based on a facial-recognition technology. It allows users to search for videos, going straight to the portion of a video where a specific person appears, or where that person talks about a specific topic (hence, the tech includes voice/text recognition). The system is pretty impressive, but it works in two stages: when a person's image is run through the system for the first time, Viewdle's development team has to identify him or her (either using metadata -- accompanying text, tags, captions, etc -- or manually); from the second time on, the system recognizes the person with a 90% accuracy, by comparing the new picture with the one that's been identified and tagged in the system. Schiffman claims that they could potentially index most online video (given enough server resources).
Cyril Lambard is the CEO of Holistis, based in Switzerland. "This year, $32.5 billion will be invested to drive more visitors to merchant's websites, but 98% of visitors will leave without purchasing anything", he says. How to turn more of them into customers? Holistis thinks the answer is content personalization and "profiling of intentions, behaviours and environments, pro-actively (automatically) adapting the webpages to a specific visitor, because every visitor is different". That means capturing information about what an user does on the Holistis-powered site (pages seen, keywords searched, navigation flow, etc) and over time build a profile of that user that can be used to personalize the content.
Dominik Grolimund is one of the founders of Wuala (pronounce it like the French "voilà"). It's a spinoff of ETH Zurich developing "a free and simple online hard-disk".
It looks and works very similarly to traditional folder-and-menu
systems. Folders can be private, shared (with authorized friends) or
public. Content can be tagged; conten can be downloaded or viewed
directly from Wuala.
Online storage is not a new thing. How is Wuala different? "We're based on a different technology: we don't store data in data centers, we are decentralized, peer-to-peer, and uses idle resources of participating computers to build a large online storage" (so if you're a user, you're giving a part of your computer's storage to the network and you will host other people's files). More, "all the files are encrypted" and we don't see what people store where. Open beta for Wuala will be launched in a couple of months. Business model? Advertising, and commissions on photo prints (people will use it to share pictures). And they will sell storage to people who don't want to "trade in" storage capacity in their computer (or can't because they're not online long enough).
What happens if my data are stored in a computer that's offline when I need the data? Dominik says they have a complex redundancy technology, but they also create a 100% backup on Wuala's own servers, as last resort. Which means that they actually do have a data center (so it's more traditional online storage) and by spreading files over the peer-to-peer network what they really do is save on bandwidth costs.
Nicolas Dengler is the founder of Mixin, a social agenda. "I'm free on Friday evening, who else is? What are my friends doing tonight? These are the kind of questions that Mixin will help you to answer", he says. It's basically a social platform for people to better organize and share their agenda -- indicating availability, proposing activities (including multiple choices, like: let's go to the movies, if you're in choose one of these films), sharing plans, sending out invitations, etc. Items can be entered in Mixin throgh e-mail, SMS, IM, twitter, or through one's personal Outlook agenda. And digital items (pictures, videos, comments etc) can be attached to specific events and stored on the platform.
Michele Ridi is the strategy director of iO Agency. Commenting a 4 minutes long video showing iO's ongoing research, he says: "Digital
is increasingly present in the real world. But the traditional
interfaces, mouse etc, don't work outside the computer desktop. A new language is needed, which we call natural interaction. A language based on intuition. We've created interactive walls (photo left)
and tables and other elements, with technology disappearing in the
environment. Main focus of the company: advertising, brand spaces, and
special projects for museums and events.
(Ben Hammersley wrote an interesting piece for The Guardian a couple of years ago about an early application of natural interaction in Florence museums).
Khaled Bazzi of Switzerland's coComment (their prototype was unveiled at LIFT
two years ago) is next. The company's service tries to connect and keep
track of comments and conversations accross the blogosphere and the
entire web, and keep your own comments (that you may write on many
different blogs or sites) organized in a single place.
Marco Barulli Giulio Cesare Solaroli from Clipperz
in Italy is next, and starts with a counterintuitive statment: "The
Internet is the safest place to store your data." Yet: Are you
comfortable with the idea of storing online your personal health
records? Isn’t it weird that online poker sites know the cards of each
player? Would you write your next business plan using Google Docs?" His
answer: of course not. "You should always have exclusive ownership and control over your data".
Clipperz' service tries to match the convenience of online applications
with the privacy and security of desktop applications, through what
they call "zero-knowledge web application, a strong cryptographic
downloaded into the browser), with a single login: "Nothing to install,
and high level of security".
Question: why would consumers trust Clipperz? (They didn't trust Microsoft when it tried to impose "Passport").
Barulli Solaroli could not really give a convincing answer.
(UPDATE 7 Feb: I had a chat with Solaroli today, who managed to at least partially reassure me by explaining how Clipperz' works on the principles of transparency of the system and visibility -- for the user -- of what happens when).
a 10-people Swiss company presented by Raphael Arrigoni, is the
developer of a real-time physical simulation technology called Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) that will be integrated in the "Star Wars" videogame
that's gonna come out this coming summer. DMM has a very compelling
feature for videogame producers: it greatly reduce the cost of creating
the games. But it is also spectacular in terms of visual results,
dramatically increasingly the realism of the animated images (he shows
some scenes, and it's impressive how shattered glass looks like
shattered glass etc). In other words, Pixelux seems to be seating in the perfect spot: providing a significantly improved user experience for a significantly lower production cost.