From dramatic mountains and pretty Italian towns to grand Victorian train stations and the world’s biggest library: The Idea Challenge journey moved on from Trento last week and hit London for the eighth – and last – final, but the views were just as spectacular. The urban life and mobility topic came to a climax high above the busy Euston Road, in between the grand London terminals of Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross and across the road from the British Library.
In fact, from the ninth floor venue, the Digital Catapult Centre, you could just about make out the enormous arch of Wembley Stadium in one direction and the controversial sculpture in the Olympic Park in the other.
To the south, meanwhile, the British capital’s ever changing skyline, not so long ago devoid of the skyscrapers which now define it, soared into the heavens. And the nine startups on display were also trying to hit the heights as they battled to impress the panel of judges.
Up for grabs for the winners was €40,000 as well as coaching and mentoring from Idea Challenge organiser EIT ICT Labs, integration into its big network and office space for six months. Second and third places were awarded the same package but with €25,000 and €15,000 respectively.
EIT ICT Labs is a pan-European platform promoting innovation across the EU. It has been running the Idea Challenge this year with the aim of supporting the next generation of tech companies in Europe, and the contest is spread across eight topic areas centred on eight cities.
A total of 790 applications were received across the two batches of four topics, with 187 bidding to take part in London. The nine finalists came from across Europe, including Germany, France and Italy, and featured a host of ideas looking at how technology can help the urban lifestyle – with London, an incredibly international and fast-growing city, the perfect place to consider the innovation happening in this space.
Dennis Moynihan is the London Node Director for EIT ICT Labs, and he believes that the British capital is a very fertile ground for innovators in the smart city space: “London is a unique city in many ways, in Europe and globally. It is a hotbed of innovation, it has a relatively strong entrepreneurial community – certainly as strong if not stronger than anywhere in Europe, and rivaling in many cases what’s going on globally in Silicon Valley, Boston, anywhere else you want to look.”
The city is on the front foot, he believes, thinking about how to make more data and systems available, how to modify infrastructure to make use of digital opportunities, how to improve the experience of its citizens.
“At the same time,” he added, “London is facing a particularly strong and unique set of challenges: Everybody wants to come to London and there is a huge pressure in terms of accommodating that growth. … That’s not purely a bricks and mortar problem. It’s a problem that’s going to take digital solutions to deal with.”
The nine finalists were hoping to convince the jury they could start tackling that issue, and in the order of pitching they included:
AudioGuideMe is a platform for location-based storytelling. Content like local stories, historic insights and unique perspectives from experts is often completely inaccessible in the places where it has the highest value. The startup’s solution is to use a mobile app to make information available at points of interest where it is the most relevant to the local audience.
This startup has a product called CityHunt, an interactive system for enhancing the experience of tourists in a city. Terminals are set up around the city and visitors use an app to follow a suggested route. They can then check in by bumping the terminals, and in doing so receive practical information and coupons. The app will be free to the users with the solution as a whole sold to tourist offices. The French Riviera is the first target.
Guide Me Right builds on existing activity booking platforms and adds a more social element: Visitors can book a ‘local friend’, somebody who shares their local knowledge and lifestyle, as they would with a friend. Each guide is paid at a rate depending on their ranking, and the company takes a slice. The marketplace is mobile orientated and is designed to help both the travellers and the locals benefit from their interaction.
Traffic and car-related pollution are no strangers to cities. Instant System is a smart mobility solution designed to reduce these problems, using real time data such as traveller information, route planning and available parking. In this way, it can provide a unified and transparent impression of al the available transport options, including a dynamic carpooling service.
Open Move says it is the first open platform for mobile ticketing. More than 85 percent of urban areas don’t have a mobile ticketing app, and so the solution is a platform suitable for every mobility need using open data and open APIs. Users can pay for all means of transport and parking with no extra fees, and can also find trip information and deal with season tickets on the same app.
Trying to get home from a late-night party can be a pain – the unpalatable options usually being trying to find a night bus, or taking an expensive taxi. But PADAM wants to change that by offering a shared minibus solution. You book the minibus via a mobile app with prices starting from €5, and share the ride with others heading in the same direction. The idea is for it to be as flexible as a taxi, and almost as cheap as a bus.
STOYL stands for ‘soundtrack of your life’. The startup wants to allow users to leave traces of music they are listening to as they walk around. By doing this, a continuously evolving network of individual and user-generated sound channels can be created and discovered by others, thus making the discovery of new places fun by creating a seamless music experience.
Trying to properly plan a travel experience does not always work out perfectly – the museum you really wanted to visit is closed on that day, for example. YAMGU is a social travelling platform which provides up-to-date information to help tourists enjoy a destination as locals do. The company claims its platform helps users save more than 70 percent of the resources they would have otherwise used to plan their trips.
The average driver in a busy metropolis like Paris will spend a year of their lives looking for a parking spot, according to Yespark. To solve this problem, the startup finds parking spaces in secure garages which are not being utilised, and provides them to users who subscribe to the spot using a smartphone app. Each participating garage has a special device attached to the entrance door which can be activated by the device.
And so to the winners…
GuideMeRight took home the honours by taking first place, with Yespark in second and Instant System in third. Afterwards, GuideMeRight’s Luca Sini told Silicon Allee: “I believe that we take advantage of the Internet and technologies so as to offer new offline experiences and opportunities. The first step to making a city smarter is to involve citizens in doing that. And that is what we do; we provide a tool for citizens to co-operate in the innovation of their own cities.”
Dennis Moynahan, meanwhile, added: “When you look at urban life and mobility, there are a certain set of challenges particularly around the mobility aspect, and I thought many of the finalists tackled the same set of problems but came up with very different and creative ways of dealing with it.”
And so, with trophy in tow, many of the teams joined the Idea Challenge staff and your intrepid correspondent as we found a nearby pub and sampled the local beer. It’s been a long road, but the final three winners were in the bag – now its over to them, and the other 21 winning startups, to prove they have what it takes to climb up the next rung of the innovation ladder.