Enplug Wins 4A's 'Startup Showdown'

On the last day of its Transformation conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, the 4As presented what was billed as a “Startup Showdown,” the brainchild of John Montgomery, the Chairman of the 4A’s Media Leadership Council and North American COO of GroupM Interaction.

It was a morning of five-minute presentations by start-ups broken into three categories, including creative technology, data and insights and media allocation. Each start-up was vying to win the hearts and minds of venture capital pros who served as judges as well as the attendees, who were able to vote for their favorite presenter in each category and an overall winner. The Grand Prize -- bragging rights.

The judges included Terry Kawaja, Founder and CEO LUMA Partners; Wenda Millard, President and COO, Media Link and Hani Nada, Founding Partner GGV Capital. TechCrunch writer Anthony Ha served as moderator.

A couple of lessons were learned pretty quickly once the presentations began. First, if you’re a starter upper making a presentation to seasoned pros who actually know the tech world and have highly refined BS detectors, do not come unprepared, or you’ll be skinned alive. And if you’re in a pitch competition, try not to go first.

Unfortunately for Blippar’s Patrick Aluise, he went first and he was unprepared, or at least the judges thought so. After his pitch, Luma Partners’ Kawaja remarked, “I’ve just listened to you for five minutes, and I don’t know what you do.”

Nada of GGV was also unimpressed. “I was disappointed,” he said. “You weren’t ready.”

Blippar uses image recognition and augmented reality technology to make brand products instantly interactive. Both of the VC judges struggled to understand the value proposition, although the company claims to have worked with some of the biggest brands and marketers in the business, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble and Maybelline.

Things seemed to go generally more smoothly for the rest of the field, although there were lots of pointed questions about differentiation, long-term viability, value proposition and scalability and whether the players had sensible business models. The pitch itself is critical, said Kawaja, noting that all the contenders could use some help with their presentations. Passion must be communicated, he said. “If you’re not passionate about your idea, then we’re not going to be passionate about it.”

By the end of the morning, a company called Enplug, a real-time interactive digital signage firm, won the overall competition and was tops in the media allocation subcategory. “It was a great pitch,” commented Kawaja, although he was skeptical of both the scalability (the firm currently has a thousand screens in 30 cities) and the long-term viability of the startup. The sector, he noted, “is littered with failed companies.” Nanxi Liu, co-founder and CEO of the firm, responded that the company’s dual revenue stream improves its chances for success. Not only does it charge advertisers for screen time, the firm also receives monthly fees from the locations where the signs are placed.

Winning in the data and insights category was Brander, a high-tech go-between that links brands with influencers. Mobile ad engagement network Paedae won in the creative technology category.

More on the competition and the start-ups involved can be found here.

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