Friday, September 30, 2011

The Europas are back!

The Europas, the European Tech Startup Awards, supported by TechCrunch Europe, are here again and open for entries until 7 October 2011.

Last year there was a month of online voting by the European tech startup industry for the finalists, where over 33,000 votes were cast and over 350 people joined the cream of Europe’s startups, VCs and entrepreneurs at a huge awards event.

This year, I’m told it's getting bigger to get the community even more involved, create an even bigger event, and find the best startups in Europe! You can enter here and tickets are here.

The Europas will be identifying the hottest tech startups in Europe right now, taking hundreds of entries, sifting through them with a large advisory board and then submitting the picks to a public vote which the entire industry can participate in. The results will then be merged to find the winners.

You can enter here. (Please read the instructions in full).

TechCrunch Europe / The Europas 2010 Final Cut from Newspepper on Vimeo.

To enter The Europas your startup must have been launched within the last 2 years (from September 2009). If your startup has received external funding, then it can ONLY be a Seed or Series A round of funding. Startups that have taken Series B rounds and beyond are NOT eligible to enter. Entrants can come from the “EMEA” region (Europe, Middle East and Africa). Entries must be in by Friday 7 October.

The Awards Ceremony will take place on Thursday, November 17 at the Carbon Bar in London’s West End. Tickets are here. It’s a cool modern bar and you’ll be joined by 450 of the crème de la crème of Europe’s tech startup and venture capital scene. There will be drink, food and we’ll be able to party ALL night.

The Categories

Best Education, Recruitment and Jobs Startup

Best Commerce, Finance or Payments Startup

Best Business or Enterprise Startup

Best Advertising or Marketing Tech Startup

Best Transport or Travel Startup

Best European Startup Programme

Best Startup Tool For Startups

Best Mobile or Apps Startup

Best Sport or Leisure Startup

Best Entertainment, Audio or Video Startup

Best Gaming or Social Games Startup

Best Culture (Fashion, Art, Music) Startup

Best Social Platform or Networking Startup

Best Service Provider to Startups

Best Startup Founder / Co-Founders

Best VC of the Year

Best Exit in 2011

Best Angel or Seed Investor of the Year

Best Startup Advisor/Mentor of the Year

The Europas Grand Prix 2011 (chosen by Judges)



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Friday, September 23, 2011

Upcoming accessibility workshops: London, Belfast and Manchester

smart accessibility 2011 fb imageAt the risk of boring some of you who have already heard about this, this is the *final* reminder about the workshops I’ve been organising and the awards I’ve been helping to promote. As you may already be aware the Vodafone Foundation has set up the Smart Accessibility Awards which Mobile Monday London is actively supporting. These awards are to celebrate apps that help people in four key areas: Social participation, independent living, mobility and well-being. They are free to enter and there is a prize fund of  Euro 200,000. The awards are now open for entries until 15 October 2011 so you have a month to go.

ict ktn logoAs part of this initiative, I’ve been working with the ICT KTN and Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards to bring you a series of half-day workshop looking specifically at this area. The goal of the workshops is to inspire and enable app developers and entrepreneurs to create useful tools for people who have visual, aural, cognitive or other impairments by helping you understand and empathize what life is like for people in this situation. This empathy and understanding is created by bringing together app developers, entrepreneurs and accessibility advocates and people with impairments to exchange information, and allowing developers to experience simulations of being impaired.

App developers who have had the opportunity to experience as directly as possible, first or second-hand, what it means to live with specific impairments, and have been put in touch with the larger community around accessibility, create more effective apps to better the quality of life for everyone. The result not only helps people with major disabilities, but also people with minor or temporary impairments, for example due to ageing or illness.

The format of the workshops will be discussion based with different speakers and contributors to reflect the local scene. Plenty of time will be allowed for discussion and networking and refreshments will be provided. These are different in style to our usual sessions and are more informal and much smaller to allow us to go more in-depth into the topic area.

We ran a successful workshop in Edinburgh last Friday and you can read about it here. There you’ll also find some useful links to the speakers and further resources.

We have two workshops happening on Monday 26 September in the afternoon in London at The IET and Belfast at The Black Box. Free to sign up and still a few places left if you’d like to attend.

We also have a workshop happening in Manchester on 5 October and registration has just opened for that.

You can also follow and track all the events on lanyrd:





A big thank you to all our speakers and fellow Mobile Monday chapter organisers for their support. And of course a big thank you to Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards and ICT KTN for helping us make these workshops happen.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Notes and links from Friday's Mobile Monday Edinburgh Accessibility Workshop

I was lucky enough to go to Edinburgh on Friday to chair an accessibility workshop in association with Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards, ICT KTN and Mobile Monday Edinburgh. We had a great range of speakers and demos and it certainly gave me a lot of food for thought.
Some key learnings came out of it for me:
1. It’s still an us and them situation and it shouldn’t be and it needn’t be. We’re all people. Accessibility can seem very complicated as the range of capabilities you’re dealing with are so diverse. However, if common sense tactics were applied and we thought more about people and how we really behave instead of the technology, we’d be getting somewhere.
2. Following on from the first point, there’s a lack of understanding about disabled people and their needs. Unless we have a personal friend or relative with a disability, we’re unlikely to have much contact with disabled people for any kind of focus group or user testing. This needs to change to allow for more dialogue and real life testing instead of making assumptions.
3. There were some tools that people would love access to. Dr Nava Tintarev talked about using visual icons to help children with limited abilities to communicate. It turns out that currently those icons, unless you create them yourself, are nearly impossible to licence. A few folks were wondering if it were feasible or possible to create a visual language that could be open-sourced so that more people could implement them in their apps and services – be that web or mobile. Can that happen?
4. Accessibility works both ways. Disability groups could offer more assistance and support to help the rest of us to help those who do have some kind of impairment. The trouble is, most of us just have no experience of this and need to be guided as to how best to help. We don’t know what questions to ask or things to look out for. Legislation isn’t the answer, but communication is.
5. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Scotland.

Upcoming workshops in Belfast and London on 26 September.

Have a look at the storify below and lanyrd pages for more links and notes from the day.

Thank you to Geoff Ballinger at Mobile Monday Edinburgh and Mobile Acuity, Alisdair Gunn from Interactive Scotland, Mark Daniels from Inspace, Deaf Action for finding the wonderful Rosie who BSL signed the event for us, ICT KTN and Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards for their financial support and to all our speakers – Ian Osborne from ICT KTN, Kate Ho from Interface3, Nava Tintarev from Aberdeen University, Gary Macfarlane from Assist Mi and Access4AllApps, Alison Smith from Pesky People, Tim Willis from Flexpansion and Matthew Aylett from Cereproc.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

QR codes can be useful and fun apparently

QR codes can be fun and useful. Allegedly. Ok, I admit it, I’m a complete sceptic when it comes to QR codes and their implementation – especially in marketing. I’m yet to be convinced that they’re the next big thing and I’ve written about the basic usability issues with them several times here and here. But there are indeed the odd use case that I think is relevant, useful or entertaining. And I can think of two right now in the UK – QRpedia and the QR Treasure Hunt in Brighton.

1. QRpedia

Mobile Monday London regular, Terence Eden, demonstrated QRpedia at one of our demo nights and it was very warmly received. Simply put, it’s a way of adding more information about a museum exhibit in multiple languages viewed on your phone or other mobile device. This is done by creating a QR code for each exhibit and linking it to its relevant Wikipedia entry. And because the system knows which country your phone is from, it shows you the article in the correct language – be that Korean, Spanish or Arabic. You can see Terence showcasing this in the video below filmed at the event.

The reason I like this implementation is because it engages people. You can engage with the local museum’s fans and volunteers and have them come in on an open day or an open evening and get them to create all the QR codes for their favourite exhibits. You can engage the local Wikipedia fans who can write about things that weren’t previously written about – thus expanding Wikipedia at the same time. It means you can have multi-lingual content that’s easy to access for your visitors and it can be free too if it’s on wifi. And providing wifi could be a great opportunity for a sponsor to get involved in a practical way with a museum so that everyone benefits. I think this could also be developed to help the visitor keep track of their favourite exhibits – it’s very easy to forget everything you’ve seen, especially when faced with huge museums like The V&A or The Natural History Museum. This has already been trialled successfully at Derby Museum and Terence has shared some of what he learned there.

2. The QR Treasure Hunt in Brighton

Now this seems to me to be a bright idea, and a lot of fun to boot. So if you fancy it, you can head down to Brighton on Saturday 24 September and snap QR codes around the town for a chance to win prizes whilst exploring and learning about the area. You can read about the background to the event here and here. Tickets are just £5 with all proceeds going to the Rockinghorse charity and you can buy them here.

I really like the idea of a treasure hunt. Back in my ZagMe days we organised SMS treasure hunts around Lakeside Shopping Mall and they were a lot of fun and got people to areas of the centre they may not have been familiar with before. I can see a combination of SMS, twitter clues and QR codes achieving the same ends. Hey, maybe you should throw in a bit of NFC while we’re at it!

Carnival of the Mobilists #252 is up

And I’m in it! Amazing to think that there have been 252 Carnival of the Mobilists postings so far.

This week’s carnival is hosted at Dennis Bournique’s long-running Wap Review and is well worth a read to get the lowdown on everything from usability to mobile advertising, from apps to mobile cities, and much more besides.


Accessibility Workshop in Edinburgh

Some of you who know me know that I’m putting together some accessibility workshops on behalf of Mobile Monday London, The Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards and ICT KTN. Well, the first one is this Friday in Edinburgh. And I’m really excited about it.
Accessibility really isn’t my area, although it’s becoming increasingly important to me and many of those around me. Both my parents are partially deaf and my mother’s eyesight is failing her. Despite their agility and good health bearing in mind their age, there are so many things I take for granted that I know in years to come, I just won’t be able to manage. In the same way my Mum is frustrated that she can’t thread a needle easily or manage to read a newspaper, I expect in the future I’ll be frustrated that I can’t type at speed, that I can’t manipulate a touchscreen or access my digital files to watch TV/listen to music/interact with the world. TV viewing is already a more complex operation than before and all the things I’m used to now may become just too difficult unless we start thinking about accessibility now.
The more I’ve looked into this area, the more I realise that accessibility issues have to enter the mainstream and have to be everyone’s area. This is not a niche consideration. Nor is it a nice to have any more. This is certainly a business consideration. I think it’s 10% of the UK have some kind of disability and about 40% of the population are classified as elderly, that’s an awful lot of people that we may, unwittingly, be excluding. But it’s also a human consideration. We should be helping each other as best we can and surely technology is one of the ways to do that? I for one, am hoping to come away with some top tips and some inspiration of how this accessibility jigsaw puzzle fits together and how it can and needs to be applied day to day.
So, if you’re in Edinburgh on Friday, and fancy joining me and the Mobile Monday Edinburgh crew to chat with some other people about this area and how it relates to mobile apps and services, then come and join us. Registration is open here and it’s FREE to attend. The agenda is a good one with a mix of demos, discussion and presentations. We kick off at 3pm and we’ll finish around 6.30pm with drinks and networking afterwards.
The presenters will be:

* Jonathan Anderson of Vodafone will tell us about their Smart
Accessibility Awards

* Ian Osborne of ICT KTN , @ianfosborne, will speak briefly about what ICT KTN is and how they can support businesses interested in this area.

* Kate Ho of Interface3, @kateho, will share some thoughts on how multi-user multi-touch interfaces can be used to help people with particular challenges.

* Dr Nava Tintarev on the How was School Today Project Nava will describe the functionality of a (partially mobile-based) system which helps children who have severe cognitive impairments and have trouble speaking, talk about their day at school. She will also highlight some of the challenges of developing this sort of system, and share her experiences of deployment in a special needs school.

* Gary McFarlane of Access4AllApps on the business case for accessibility. Assist Mi, their first app which launches next month, is the first mobile LBS services to offer comprehensive access to disability-related information and services for people on the move helping you find disabled parking spots and
virtual booking capability. You can also request and book assistance and services from a wide range of places including restaurants, cafes, hotels, cinemas and more.

* Alison Smith of Pesky People, @peskypeople & @alisonvsmith, will tell us about her personal experience with disability and digital and share with us the background, research and insight that went into building Go Genie.

* Anthony Ashbrook of Mobile Acuity, @anthonyashbrook, will show a brief demo of their "What Can Is That?" prototype - helping visually impaired people to shop and cook independently.

* Matthew Aylett of Cereproc will show off some of their mobile voice generation technology, and talk about the work they have done in recreating the voices of people who have lost them due to illness - in particular Roger Ebert.

The full agenda is on lanyrd and that's where we'll be adding resources and links too.

The event is being held at Inspace, 1 Crichton Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AB. There is wheelchair access and we will have a BSL sign interpreter available for some of the sessions.
Further workshops will be happening this month in London and Belfast (26 September) and Manchester (tbc).

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Accessibility and Me–A True Story

Some of you may know that I’m currently working on some accessibility workshops and that this is a new area to me. I’ve always been a bastion of common sense, but accessibility, for whatever reason, this hasn’t really been of any major (or minor) concern. I’d always thought it was about disability and I’m not disabled. Most people aren’t disabled so not something for me to worry about. Or so I thought.

I consider myself pretty normal. I’m of average height, average build and weight, average fitness level and so on. I do need glasses though. Not that much. Only if I’m really tired, if I’ve been working at my computer too long, if the print is really really small or if I’m in low light (restaurant menus in Italic script in low ‘romantic’ light are my nemesis these days). It’s an age thing. As you get older, your eyesight deteriorates little by little and for me, that process has just begun. And it isn’t going to get any better I don’t suppose. But I’m not used to wearing my glasses as I don’t need them all the time so I forget to carry them with me a lot of the time.

It’s not that big a deal, right? I can still do everything I used to be able to do. I only need glasses for a smidgeon of my time. And it can’t be that big a deal when we’re talking technology? Or so you’d think. My experience with mobile devices and my not-quite-as-good-as-it-used-to-be eyesight is pretty appalling:

  • Going to a website on my phone and being forced to view the mobile version where the font is fixed and is too small (only by 1 or 2pts) to read without my glasses. Why can’t I zoom in or increase the font size?
  • Going to a mobile site where having squinted at the article I’m reading, only to find that I can adjust the font size right at the bottom. That should be at the top, no? There’s little point in struggling to read the page only to find at the bottom, I could have made it a whole lot easier for myself.
  • But neither of those are as bad as the app situation. Oh my word. That is simply horrid and a frustration. And I’m speaking having used apps regularly on Android, Windows Phone 7, Nokia N95 and N8, Android and Palm Pre II. Why can’t I increase a font size in an app? Why does the font have to be so small in the first place?

It really is ridiculous. I shouldn’t have to put my glasses on to read my phone. Are you telling me that in this day and age, that this can’t be sorted by a bit of up front thinking about design, usability and accessibility? Isn’t technology supposed to make life easier? Isn’t mobile technology about the convenience of it all. It sure ain’t convenient for me to have to dig around for my glasses just so that I can read your dumb app or game. And I can’t imagine what it’s like for people with a more serious impairment or disability.

So, app developers, accessibility isn’t just about the disabled minority. It’s about the able-majority. Your day to day customers. If you’re taking the business of apps seriously, then it’s about time you took your customers seriously too and took some simple steps to address this. Maybe the first step is to read up on this over at the Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards website and maybe attend one of the upcoming workshops in Edinburgh, Belfast or one of the other cities we’re visiting.

And if you’re in the fortunate position of already having done something fantastic in this area, don’t forget to enter the awards. Let’s hear it for the good stuff out there.

Vodafone Smart Accessibility Awards open for entries

smart accessibility 2011 fb imageAs you may already be aware, the lovely people at Vodafone Foundation have set up the Smart Accessibility Awards which I am actively involved in. To remind you quickly, these awards are to celebrate apps that help people in four key areas: Social participation, independent living, mobility and well-being. The awards are open for entry now and the closing date is 15 October. These global awards are open to businesses of all sizes. This one isn’t just about start-ups.

ict ktn logoAs part of this initiative, Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards, ICT KTN and the UK-based Mobile Monday chapters have teamed up to bring you a series of half-day workshops looking at this area specifically which will run in September and early October. Registration is now open for the workshops in Edinburgh and Belfast and we’ll have details in the next few days about further workshops in London, Manchester, Amsterdam, Madrid and hopefully Frankfurt.

Sign up here to attend the workshops in either Edinburgh or Belfast.

And if you’re interested in attending one of the other workshops, please add your name on this form and we’ll notify you when the registration goes live for the workshop you’re interested in.

A bit more about the workshops…

The goal of the workshops is to inspire and enable application developers to create useful tools for people who have visual, aural, cognitive or other impairments by helping them understand and empathize what life is like for people in this situation. This empathy and understanding is created by bringing together developers and accessibility advocates and people with impairments to exchange information, and allowing developers to experience simulations of being impaired.

App developers who have had the opportunity to experience as directly as possible, first or second-hand, what it means to live with specific impairments, and have been put in touch with the larger community around accessibility, create more effective apps to better the quality of life for everyone. The result not only helps people with major disabilities, but also people with minor or temporary impairments, for example due to ageing or illness.

The format of the workshops will be discussion based and there will be technical people on hand to answer specific questions related to Android, but there will be different speakers and contributors to reflect the local scene.

In planning these workshops, I’ve been researching this area as it’s not one I knew anything about. But I’ve come across some fantastic case studies and personal stories so I think the workshops will be both interesting and useful if you’re into any kind of mobile app development. And it has really made me think differently about what accessibility means as it’s all to easy to think that it’s just about severe disabilities. My plan is to share some of the workshop findings and case study examples here, time permitting.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Food for thought from Yiibu

I love Yiibu’s Bryan and Stephanie Rieger’s presentations. They always provide so much food for thought. This is their latest one about letting go which was presented at DConstruct in Brighton today. I defy you not to get something out of flicking through this presentation – not least it’s been put together so beautifully. And it’s essential viewing (and thinking) for mobile designers, developers and entrepreneurs.

Give me just a little more time

And my love will surely grow.. Yes, that’s the lyric to a song from the 70s by The Chairmen of the Board. But it’s how I feel about so many location-based, time-based, relevant-for-me advertising.

Like a lot of people, I’ve signed up to my localised Groupon, Living Social and other services and it feels like I’m being bombarded by time-based deals. I’ve also recently signed up to Moshogo, which tells me about events going on my local area. A useful service in theory. But they’re all making the same fundamental mistake. They’re not giving me enough time.

With Moshogo, I receive a daily mobile-optimised email of what’s on today in my local area. And it’s really comprehensive and well put together. But by the time I read the email – even if it’s first thing in the morning, it’s simply too late. I don’t have time to get myself organised and friends organised to go and do something that starts in an hour’s time – no matter how amazing and how relevant it is for me. I probably need a selection of what’s on highlights twice a week and then I click through to the site for more. Or maybe I need to have the choice to hone the selection even further so it’s truly personalised.

Like a lot of folks, I do love a bargain. So in theory, Groupon style deals should work for me. But it doesn’t. With Groupon and its clones, it’s the same. I’m worn out with being shouted at as to what to buy right now. I’m just not that impulsive when it comes to shopping and making decisions about what to buy and what not to buy. I don’t think I ever was. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Back in the mists of mobile time at the start of the century, I worked at a start-up called ZagMe where we sent text message coupons to shoppers at Lakeside and Bluewater shopping malls (the two largest in Europe at the time). These text messages were offer-based and sent while shoppers were actually out shopping. (Yes, I know. We were at least 10 years ahead of our time. We learned that one the hard way). We experimented a lot with timing of offers. And we learned two key things.

Firstly, the offers we sent as people arrived at the shopping mall were the ones most likely to be redeemed.

Secondly, time-based offers had to give the shoppers enough time to redeem the coupon without them having to charge across the shopping centre to meet the deadline of the offer. So offers that were time-limited to an hour were a no-no, but offers that could be redeemed any time that day were more successful.

So Groupon, Living Social, and those of their ilk. Please, give me just a little more time.

The UK Mobile Movement–we’re mad for mobile

For those of us who have worked in the industry for a while, none of this new research from Google about the UK mobile market will come as a surprise. The upshot is that UK smartphone customers are using their mobile phones for everything from search and entertainment to buying their weekly groceries, and more. But if you still need some convincing, or your client needs a nudge in the right direction, then tell them to look at this video from Google and download the full study here.

You can also go straight to the video’s page here

UK mobile internet usage on the up

No big surprise in that headline I guess. We’ve only seen an upward trend with mobile internet usage, but it’s nice to have the facts to hand in the latest report from the Office of National Statistics (that’s a UK government department in case you didn’t know). You can download the full press release from

Key points:

  • 17.6m mobile phone internet users in the UK which represents 45 per cent of Internet users used a mobile phone to connect to the Internet compared with 8.5m (23%) in 2009
  • 6 million people accessed the Internet over their mobile phone for the first time in the previous 12 months
  • The use of wireless hotspots almost doubled in the last 12 months to 4.9 million users from 0.7m in 2007
  • 21 per cent of Internet users did not believe their skills were sufficient to protect their personal data
  • 77 per cent of households had Internet access

Interesting to note also, that women are joining the mobile internet generation: the number of women using mobile phones to access the Internet has more than doubled, from 18 per cent of Internet users in 2009 to 39 per cent in 2011. And also there is strong usage from younger people. This is a change in pattern and I guess is down to more economical ways of accessing the mobile internet (via hotspots and better managed data pricing) as well as more usage of touchscreen phones which makes the experience more enjoyable.


I’ll leave you to read the rest about online habits. Bottom line is, everything is going up.

Hat tip @addictivemobile