Startups power the new economy

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Last week, I was the guest of Deutsche Messe AG, the organiser of the famed CeBIT exhibition. For those of you younger ones, who may not be familiar with CeBIT, IT stands for ‘Centrum der Büroautomation und Informationstechnologie und Telekommunikation or in English ‘Centre of Office Automation and Information Technology and Telecommunication.’

CeBIT is the largest information and communication technology (ICT) trade fair in the world and since 1986, it has been a flagship event for many of the who’s who in the ICT world. This year’s fair saw some 3,400 ICT exhibitors and over 200,000 trade visitors attending.

For some years, CeBIT has led the way where ICT trade fairs are concerned. But over the years, other new exciting shows in the field have challenged its dominance. 

These include the Mobile World Congress (MWC) held in Barcelona and organised by the GSM Association; the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, organised by the Consumer Electronics Association; and the Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (IFA), organised by the German Association for Entertainment and Communications Electronics. 

I won’t get into how Deutsche Messe is reinventing itself to take on the challenge – for that you can read this 

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Making sense of big data 

So what has this got to consumers, you may ask?

While CeBIT is essentially a business-to-business (B2B) trade show, where deals are being cut between companies, there is growing evidence that the chasm between B2B and consumer electronics is narrowing, if this year’s show is anything to go by.

For the past three years, the organisers had turned to younger, more hipped Generation-Y exhibitors, or Gen-Ys, to lead the way where new innovation was concerned. 

Since 2012, CeBIT has featured a specialised area known as CODE_n, which stands for ‘Code of the New,’ and was conceptualised with the goal of supporting outstanding business talents and their ideas, and to provide them with a platform to showcase their innovation.  

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Every year, there is a competition held amongst CODE_n participants to determine which startup is the most innovative at the show. This year’s winner is a London-based company called Viewsy and is started by a young man named Odera Ume-Ezeoke

A former employee of Royal Bank of Scotland and Groupon UK, the 30-year-old Ume-Ezeoke set out to form Viewsy, a company that aimed to become what he calls the ‘Google Analytics for the physical world.’ 

CODE_14_Award_Winner_ViewsyHis company’s solution helps retailers track customer behaviour metrics within a store just by utilising data that is transmitted off consumers’ smartphones, and boasts of the ability to track up to 45 different metrics. 

Some of the questions Viewsy answers are: How long customers dwell in the store, the path they take walking within the store, how many times customers come in a week, how much time customers spend on average in a store.

Other questions are: Which areas do they frequent the most in the store? How frequently do they visit the store? How many people come in to the store and whether that tallies with how much is received at the cashier till.

The goal of these questions? To help retailers improve their return-on-investment (ROI) by understanding and interpreting customer behaviour statistics. 

Viewsy’s technology acquires a variety of different data sources, such as foot traffic and interprets them using statistical methods thereby seeking to understand the behavioural patterns of customers.   

Customers can of course opt out of this, by turning off their WiFi connections should they not want to participate. All data collected is anonymously collected.

What’s great about such a solution is that it is created with businesses in mind but the data is actually collected from consumers. Thus, the intersection point between businesses and consumers is indeed coming closer together. 

This is a concrete example of what many call ‘big data’ analysis, where loads of data is being collected by sensors and things such as smartphones and turned into actionable intelligence that can be used to increase a business’ ROI.

Viewsy might have been the winner of the CODE_n competition but it wasn’t the only innovative company that’s using big data for the benefit of businesses. 

Other notable finalists that take raw data and use them to produce actionable intelligence in various areas like energy conservation were (Autogrid), healthcare (cosinuss°), and construction management (Sablono).

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Why startups are important to businesses

What’s great about these startups is that they are breaking out of the mould and hatching solutions that many larger companies may not be focused on.

Startups are nimbler, agile and they are able to move faster than most companies larger than them. They also comprise younger Gen-Ys, who are motivated, have boundless energy and are armed with lots of passion for what they do – a perfect recipe to address some of the world’s most challenging problems. 

My sense is that in the next decade, many new innovations in technology designed to help mankind are going to be powered by this new breed of entrepreneurs. 

Malaysia has for the most part thrived in the production-based economy in these past three decades. But in order for it to continue growing, it would now have to move concretely towards a knowledge-based economy.

And while the old school economy is on its way out, it’s time for the next generation to move towards a new economy and there is no better way than to do this by capitalising on what Internet-based technologies have to offer.

Thankfully, there are some innovative startups sprouting out here in Malaysia but there is much more room to grow further.

So to those who dare to dream big – equip yourself with the right academic and business skills, work hard and smart, expose yourself as much as possible to new ideas, and just go and do it. 

Perhaps then, we will see more startup champions coming our way in the near future.

About The Author

An engineer by training, Edwin turned his back on the engineering world to cut his teeth as an award-winning full-time journalist with his own editorial consultancy inSight Editorial Services. He is also stirring up the regional tech space as co-founder of the highly respected tech news portal Digital News Asia. You can find Edwin at http://twitter.com/yedwin01.