European Internet startups vie for moment in spotlight

4th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

Twenty-five companies paid EUR 2,500 each took to the stage to present a five-minute sales pitch.

4 April 2008

AMSTERDAM - Executives from a bevy of young European companies took the stage in Amsterdam on Thursday, hoping to strike it big in the second Internet boom.

Twenty-five startup companies paid EUR 2,500 each for a chance to give a pitch of five minutes or less to some 1,000 venture capitalists, journalists, bloggers and fellow entrepreneurs at "The Next Web." Similar conferences have been held for several years in the United States, but they are relatively new to Europe.

"A lot is happening in Europe, I think you can see that here," said conference organiser Patrick de Laive. He said European entrepreneurs were hungry for access to capital, and for a chance to meet each other in the real world.

"I hope that some of them will break through."

Few of the companies at The Next Web conference appear revolutionary at first glance - but neither were search engines when Google appeared on the scene.

Many seek to give users more and easier ways to slice and share information online or via mobile phones.

One of the most straightforward models is that of Belgium's Zilok. Think eBay Inc., only for the rental market.

The company, which operates in France, the U.S. and most recently The Netherlands, is "becoming a phenomenon," said founder Gary Cige.

"Experts are saying that ... renting is going to become a major way of consumption in the future."

He said the company had expected power tools to be its bread and butter, but was surprised to find that professional-quality photo cameras and baby strollers had turned out to be big hits on the rental market.

Robert Goldberg, a partner at YL Ventures who travelled from San Francisco for the conference, said Europe suffered a lack of "early-stage" venture capital.

"That's why we're here," he said. "There are incredible educational centres (in Europe), and unbelievable entrepreneurial spirit, but now there needs to be a little bit of energy and capital to be provided to foster that."

Twingly, a Swedish company, is primarily a search engine for blogs. It employs user ratings to help make good blogs easier to find. Though it competes in a crowded field - one that includes giants like Google Inc. - it is finding luck with a paid service it offers to newspapers.

When a high-quality blog discusses a newspaper article, it pulls a selection of the commentary off the blog and sticks it on the newspapers' comment section - with a link back to the blog. Bloggers like that because it increases traffic to their sites.

Newspapers in the Scandinavian countries, Spain and Portugal have adopted the service, and the largest Dutch daily, De Telegraaf, began using it this week.

[AP / Expatica]


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