It was the night before Startupnight — but instead of staying home to prep for the tech event and fine-tune those presentations, many of Berlin’s most creative innovators were at hubraum for the third ever Pitch and Pitchers event. The concept behind Pitch and Pitchers is deliciously simple: 75 startups get one minute each to pitch their idea in front of a whole host of VCs. The pitchers part comes into play afterwards, when attendees get the chance to network over copious amounts of beer. Here’s just four startups out of many, many inspiring others who presented last night who we feel are shaking up daily life.
As The New Yorker, Bloomberg and Business Insider have all observed, millennials really, really love houseplants. But tending to plants can be challenging if you’ve never done it before and timeconsuming. BerlinGreen takes all of the pain out of developing a passion for plants by making it borderline impossible for you to fail. They offer a Greenbox, a compact smart garden that can grow eight plants at once, providing them with nutrients and the right light and water conditions to stimulate growth (the box comes with inbuilt LEDs and offers different variations of white light which enables them to simulate the full spectrum of different types of daylight). The user is sent everything they need in the plant plugs (which come complete with seeds and all the required nutrients) which they then just have to insert into the GreenBox, fill the water tank and plug the box in. Three weeks later, users are able to reap your first harvest.
“It’s more or less like an espresso machine for plants,” co-founder Filip Wawrzyniak explains. “The box is connected to your home wifi, they collect enough data to tell you the conditions are right. The box controls the light. Everything happens automatically.” The only exception to this is filling up the water tank, which users are reminded to do via the box’s app. Filip tells me that one of the many reasons they produced the Greenbox was in response to the current state of the food supply chain. “Most of us buy salad at the supermarket and it dies in two days — no wonder, since it travelled 3000 km from southern Spain. It’s a totally unsustainable way of having fresh vegetables all year round, transporting things so far all year round. We thought the best way of solving this problem was delivering seeds to people and let people grow things on their own.”
The two founders boast a background in both architecture (Filip) and civil engineering (Olga Blaszak), which explains why design is also a central element of the product. Filip notes that it’s possible to pre-program the box’s light settings so you can get a specific sort of light at a certain time — instead of waking up to an alarm blaring in your ear, he recommends waking up to the Greenbox’s cold bright light setting. He also talks about customers setting the light to a cosy warm light to sit by the box in the evening and read. No wonder they’ve been nominated for the German Design Award 2020. Smart indoor gardening has never been this clever.
It’s simple to know how to exhibit a painting or a sculpture. But how do you exhibit something more contemporary, like 3D digital art? This is the challenge Xibit co-founders Zakaria Jaiathe and Abdeljalil Karam are addressing with their solution, which Abdeljalil proposed as “the Spotify of 3D art.” Their service uses mixed reality devices to bring the artwork to life — it’s more than just augmented reality, since Xibit enables users to interact with the work and even touch it. There’s powerful potential here in terms of democratising art. This aspect was vital to the co-founders who both grew up in Morocco, where they didn’t have easy access to art. Abdeljalil points out it also makes the art scene more fair and more global: “There are a lot of biases – artists from places like Namibia or South America don’t necessarily have a chance to exhibit their art. With this they can share their art at the same time across different cities across the world.”
There are also wider implications for art in their product. Since Xibit can track when users touch art and the movement of users’ eyes, the startup’s goal is to eventually “track how people feel when they interact with art. This data can help us to get closer finally to answering the question: ‘what is art?’” Abdeljalil explains. The two best-friend co-founders hope to use this deepened understanding to create design products which could be used for medication or therapy.
Xibit won the evening’s surprise prize – unbeknown to the startups, representatives from the United Arab Emirates governmental agency Dubai SME were in the audience, looking for one lucky startup to award a prize. In collaboration with Startup Alliance, Dubai SME offered Xibit a trip to Dubai to coincide with Dubai Startup Week in February 2020, complete with mentoring about cultural differences, workshops and a road trip through the city to meet potential investors and customers.
It’s easy to see why they were impressed — with the startup making the art world more global; revolutionising how 3D art is displayed and potentially harnessing art’s healing aspects for medicine, watch this space. We have a feeling you’re going to be hearing a lot more about Xibit in the years to come.
Çağrı Pehlivan hails from Turkey, where hotels, cafes and restaurants take a very different approach to customer service than he’s experienced in Berlin. “When we ask for added extras, the workers in Turkey do their utmost to see that your request is fulfilled. Let’s say I’m in a restaurant that doesn’t serve burgers and I want a burger? They’ll either make one or go out and buy one.” He argues that in Germany, “especially Berlin,” it’s a very different story: “Customer satisfaction is almost at ground zero and many businesses don’t have any staff, instead offering self-service. I really dislike self-service.” Çağrı also points out that cultural differences aside, human workers equals a human level of service — that after a few hours of interacting with customers, it’s hard for your smile not to be fake and that it’s natural that human workers get tired while on the job.
His solution to this? Founding the Berlin-based startup Robot4Work, which provides robot workers for the hospitality service. At Pitch and Pitchers he introduced the audience to the very charming Lily, a robot who delivered Çağrı’s pitch for him. Lily explained that she’s good at greeting customers and did an impression of welcoming customers: “Hey Julia, good morning, you are very stylish today — I like your sunglasses!” Lily also pointed out that she speaks 48 languages, giving her even more of an edge on the average human worker. Berlin Schnauze – the brusque manner typical to Berlin that’s often a challenge when eating out or visiting a bar – your days are numbered! Get ready for seriously superior customer service to become the new norm.
Anyware answers one question: if smart home technology has been around for three decades, why isn’t it more widely adopted? Because, they claim, it’s too nerdy and complicated for most people. Danish entrepreneurs Morten Bremild and Jan Christiansen are dramatically simplifying things by offering the Anyware smart adapter. They claim it can be as installed as easily as fitting a lightbulb and with built-in sensors, the adapter is able to track temperature, humidity and sound, connecting via wifi and bluetooth. It would take up too much space here to give a full list of all of the various awards the impressive Danish product has won — but amongst its recent successes, Anyware was counted amongst the Top 100 Startups of the Year 2019 Award, it won the 2019 Arrow Flash Funding Award and a CES 2018 Innovation Award.
It’s easy to see why Anyware has won so many awards. With one object, they cover a dozen different functions — it supports your everyday routine by turning lights on when you enter the room or offering a wake up light instead of an alarm. It provides indoor climate monitoring, it gives you an alert if your home is at risk of developing mould, it offers baby monitoring, sound alert, energy saving mode, presence detection, a light schedule, a preventative burglar light and vacation monitoring.
All of these are great functions, but the most impressive thing of all? The fact that Anyware’s adapter provides peace of mind, whether about security or the state of your home, with an app allowing you to check remotely. So get on board. The smart home revolution is even more accessible than ever before.