Pioneers Unplugged rolled into Prague again 24 April for their fourth visit, with a twist. The event, which is partnered with scene stalwart TechSquare, was actually hosted in the Wayra Academy as “shared” amongst the community. This event is just indicative of the startup scene here in the Czech capital – there are close relationships amongst the players, and this genuine camaraderie is a win-win for everyone.
Petra Hubacova, who is also a Pioneer’s Ambassador, and her team from TechSquare have expertly overseen the event, and it’s fair to say it gets more slick (and more catered!) with each incarnation.
Innovation in banking
A spokesperson from Raiffeisen Bank presented first, discussing how they, as an organisation, are seeking to incorporate innovation into their business unit. The bank currently solicits for one page of ideas and ultimately chooses projects to experiment with to the tune of one million Czech crowns (or 36.000 euros). The bank has been very “forward-thinking” in the choosing of projects to pursue – a new product whereby customers can pay for extra and better banking services, and a product that helps people choose real estate. Someone at Raifeissen needs to google “innovation”. Raifeissen were also a sponsor of the night.
This is a drone, or one “of these crazy things flying around”
Next was the very entertaining drone presentation by Tomas Meiser – think Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride crossed with a mad scientist. Meiser is a researcher and developer from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at Charles Technical University in Prague. He was discussing other uses for drones in in the 21st century beyond those of the military. Perhaps someone should tell the US Government. UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) can also be used in mapping, transportation, 3D modelling, inspection, and filmmaking, for example. Meiser believes that now the military has had its turn, the startup world should get on board with drones and develop better real world applications for the technology.
Current limitations for drone tech are electrical and legal. The biggest hurdle is battery life and that will hamper wider implementation until it is overcome. Ironically, Meiser himself said he was scared of, “all these crazy things flying around”, and he believes that drone tech will be best utilised for the farming industry in the near future as opposed to built-up areas where they can hit people, power lines or, as he warns, “get shot down by gangs.”
Getting medieval on the gaming industry
The main speaker for the evening was gaming developer Daniel Vavra, the creative director of Warhorse Studios which is making the most ambitious medieval RPG ever. Vavra (creator of Mafia and Mafia 2) was excellent in outlining his gaming studio’s journey and how they hacked their own industry. Daniel and his co-founder detected a hole in the market and low competition in the Czech Republic, so the plan was simple – get funding from a VC or a publisher, develop a prototype game to sell to a publisher, develop the game, establish new IP, then develop sequels. The plan quickly came unstuck when they realised you can’t start a company without money, and you can’t get money without a company. Fortunately a friend of a friend was looking to invest and the project started in 2011.
Over the next 18 months, Warhorse struggled with development, funds and publishers, and it wasn’t until early 2013 that they had a fully functioning prototype. Problem was, they still needed more money and a publisher. Publishers liked the team but there was a general thinking that gaming on next generation consoles was over and nothing but free-to-play MMOs on tablets would sell. Warhorse needed validation for themselves and their nervous investor. By this time though, the crowdfunding landscape had developed around them and so they took their game to Kickstarter. They wanted 300.000 pounds and validation, they got 1.1 million pounds and 35.000 people offering them money was pretty good validation.
Being able to self-publish meant that they could do everything by themselves, with a little PR help along the way. Vavra sees crowdfunding as the death of publishing as we know it, and he seems very proud of the fact that his studio managed to prove the naysayers wrong and end up exceeding all expectations. “We were pissing in the wind, and it worked for us, everyone we met along the way wrong. We just kept going our way,” said Vavra.
Life’s a pitch
Finishing off the night was a pitch by Brno-based startup Citis.cz. Founder Tomas Kroner pitched and unfortunately failed to grab the audience’s attention. The app allows users to see special offers and discounts around them on an interactive map. Businesses send the deals to the server and they are pushed to the map, with Citis taking 1-15% commission. It seems like a good idea and there were questions ready to be asked, but time was up, and unfortunately for Kroner there was the pressure of the mountain of pizzas behind him and a hungry audience.
Pioneers Unplugged has hit upon a nice formula as the little brother to their main offering of the festival, and it seems to be getting tighter and brighter. The evening was the most entertaining Unplugged event in Prague yet, there were lots of laughs, and Meiser and Vavra were definitely worth the entrance fee.