Edtech, adtech, mushrooms, and drones
8 early-stage startups worth knowing about
Every month we publish a roundup of startups we’ve recently covered. And so… voila!
If you’re new to PreSeed Now, you should know that startups we cover are all UK-based B2B or deep tech startups somewhere between inception and the point where they’re raising a seed round.
This month we’ve continued to attract investors, founders, and others involved in the early-stage startup space from all around the world to the PreSeed Now community, so welcome.
And I really do want it to be a community rather than a subscriber list! Rather than try to force you all into a Discord server, that community aspect is currently happening through emails via me as I connect people who could benefit from each other, but I’ll expand this side of things when it feels right.
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Okay, let’s recap, shall we?
London-based Tutorbloc is what I’d describe as ‘a bit like a Substack for educators in the passion economy’, in that it sets them up with everything they need to run an online tutoring business. Still at an early stage but with some great potential, Atomico’s angel programme put the first external money into the company ahead of their incoming full pre-seed raise.
After speaking to co-founder Mercurius Saad, Andrii Degeler wrote for PreSeed Now:
Both co-founders of Tutorbloc — who had randomly met in a London church on a Sunday a couple of years ago, — have experience in one-on-one teaching. Saad had spent a few years tutoring maths, while Mendoza taught guitar and Swift programming.
With this background, they know exactly what kind of technology stack their target customer would be using — a site builder like Wix, Calendly for scheduling, Dropbox for file sharing, Typeform for onboarding, PayPal for payments, a messenger and a video chat service to communicate with students, and of course the almighty Excel or Google Sheets for general administration purposes.
The aim of Tutorbloc is to replace this entire list with either homegrown services, like a virtual classroom or scheduling platform, or with third-party integrations, like plugging in Xero or taking payments and holding them in an escrow account via Stripe's API.
Founded by aerospace engineering graduates in Manchester, Aeroknite is working on two different types of drone tech: one for fighting wildfires and the other using optical illusions to create a new type of display in the sky for events.
Aeroknite is now a team of six, covering mechanical engineering, software development, regulatory and legal issues, and sales and marketing.
CEO, Yusuff Yusuff says the startup has been bootstrapped to date through personal funds and money from awards such as the Nick Sanders Kickstarter Award and the Venture Further Award–both linked to the University of Manchester– and the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
While some investors might look at Aeroknite and want them to focus on either displays or firefighting, Yusuff is happy to continue to develop both for the time being. The display drone is closer to commercial availability, and the startup has signed up a manufacturing partner in Leeds. Yusuff says that while it’s tempting to get the drones built in China, having it done just across the Pennines in Yorkshire is far more convenient for having active involvement in the process.
Grow Your Own
When I got introduced to Manchester’s Grow Your Own I was assured they were doing something very interesting with mushrooms. As someone not particularly excited by mushrooms, I’m glad I took the time to discover all about their ‘automated mushroom farms in strategically located shipping containers’ plan:
Combining IoT with biotech and smart use of data, there’s a lot going on here.
The Manchester-born startup is developing automated farms to be housed inside shipping containers that can be located wherever there’s a need for them.
Once a farm is set up for a crop, the tech will automatically regulate the environment, monitor the crop, and harvest it when it's ready. Powered by solar energy and using collected rainwater, these containers are designed to be a sustainable, ‘set and forget’ way of producing food.
Like Aeroknite, this is another startup founded by an aerospace engineering graduate. He has a great story about how they came up with the idea while applying trying to improve on the little grow-kits they bought as students. I’d include it right here but I haven’t mushroom (sorry).
As I write this, I’ve just realised just how noisy the coffee shop I’m sitting in really is. That can be a real problem for millions of people in the UK alone.
London-based Mumbli’s combination of hardware and software helps businesses create less noisy, more inclusive environments, either via immediate action like automatically turning the music down, or by helping them design a layout that helps keep things quiet.
Mumbli’s tech is currently installed in nine London venues, plus two in Paris. These include members clubs, restaurants, and workspaces, and CEO Marion Marincat tells me that yesterday they signed up their first high-end hotel. This range of venues reflects where he sees the commercial potential for the technology.
“We have coworking spaces, we’re looking at large hotel groups where they have dynamic spaces - the restaurant, lobby, bars, and so on - and we’re looking at cafés. We’ll be looking at street food market spaces, where there’s a lot going on and lots of people to please when it comes to sound”.
With the impending demise of third-party tracking cookies in Google Chrome, online advertising is ripe for an overhaul. Tickle, from London, has a fresh take on adtech that isn’t creepy and is hopefully a bit more effective than your average online ad.
Essentially what Tickle is building here is a new kind of ad network for engaged consumers, allowing the interactive targeting that social media platforms can offer, but without the need to keep building the latest trendy social features to keep the audience around.
If Tickle can build up a strong base of advertisers and users, along with enough websites and apps using its SDK, it will be able to target ads based on specific, opt-in user tastes.
B2B sales is currently a messy mix of email, phone calls, PDFs and web links. What if it could all happen behind a single web link?
That’s what London’s Trumpet is building. Far more than just another microsite offering, this startup co-founded by the duo who started DesignMyNight is looking to make sales simpler for salespeople and customers alike, from initial outreach to customer onboarding.
Trumpet currently has 100 companies active on its beta, with 1,600 signed up on the waitlist, according to Sadler. The startup is testing its offering with startups and scaleups ranging from 22 to 300 employees.
Sadler says LinkedIn has proved fertile ground for growing the waitlist, with no money spent on marketing to date. The founders leveraged their networks to promote a free list of 300 sales tools they recommended. This proved popular, and a great way to attract exactly the right kinds of people to sign up.
Jakub Lenski is one of those founders who you just know has the drive and potential to go a long way. 11 years ago he came to Manchester from Poland knowing no English, and now he’s got Ecom Pilot off the ground while running a separate social enterprise startup, and juggling a full-time job and a degree - all at the age of 21.
Don’t worry though, he’s very much focused on growing Ecom Pilot now, having raised pre-seed investment from Pareto Holdings, the Miami-based firm co-founded by Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer.
“On average, a dropshipper spends around $500 to test one product, when you factor in Shopify costs for creating the website, and some advertising costs,” says Lenski. “And on average, speaking to our users, they test five to six products before using Ecom Pilot in order to find one that's finally profitable.
“Our northstar metric is to decrease the amount of products they test. Even if we achieve that goal by decreasing the amount of products they test by one or two, we’re creating $500 or $1,000 worth of value for them, by saving them from testing those unvalidated products.”
Consumers increasingly want businesses to offer reusable packaging. But setting up these ‘circular economy’ schemes can be complicated, and scaling them comes with real challenges.
Edinburgh-based Reath is already working with the likes of Marks & Spencer to help them use packaging over and over.
To get up and running with Reath, businesses need to attach a machine-readable tag (think RFID or a QR code) to their packaging, meaning that each individual piece of packaging has its own ID. The business needs to set up procedures to scan the packaging–either manually or automatically–throughout its lifespan.
From there, Reath’s software lets businesses understand how long it takes to get packaging back for reuse, how many times it’s been reused, and other data essential for running an efficient, circular system. From there, Reath’s software lets businesses understand how long it takes to get packaging back for reuse, how many times it’s been reused, and other data essential for running an efficient, circular system.
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