Thursday, January 22, 2009

Recap: Australian Innovation Shoot Out

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Australian Innovation Shoot Out, held in conjunction with G'Day USA Australia Week 2009.  Each state chose a single finalist to pitch folks here on Sand Hill Road, in hopes of landing further investment.  (I felt bad for the Northern Territory and ACT...hard to believe there's no innovation in the Top End or the capital)

The mix was a little different than the standard pitches typically seen here in the Valley.  Sure, a couple of the companies were nascent, looking for funding to help them take the next small step.  But, a couple others were firmly established companies looking to go big-time.

The format was interesting, although I think it could use a little improvement for next year; more on that in a second.  Robert Joss, Dean of Stanford's GSB, led things off with a talk on (appropriately enough) innovation.  After he spoke, Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat was introduced as moderator; he in turn welcomed the judging panel--Mark Fernandes (Sierra Ventures), Deborah Magid (IBM's VC Group), and Harold Yu (Orrick).  The panelists were responsible for listening to each of the talks, then voting to determine which company won first prize, valued at nearly US$30,000 in services.

Conducted in DEMO style, each company was afforded five minutes to make its pitch--one minute of professionally-produced video, followed by four minutes of presentation.  Upon conclusion, the judges huddled to determine the winner.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a company already publicly traded on the Australian Stock Exchange took home the prize--Impedimed, the entry representing Queensland.  The company makes a medical device used to treat lymphedema, a condition where fluid is retained in various parts of the body.  While each company's video served as an effective demonstration of their offering, Impedimed's enabled the audience to readily visualize exactly what lymphedema looks like.  With a solid business opportunity, investors from both the U.S. and Australia, and a compelling story, Impedimed ended up being an easy choice for the judges.

The other presenting companies were:
  • NSW--Nuix, providing e-discovery and investigation software
  • SA--m.Net, providing mobile Internet marketing
  • TAS--JadeLiquid, providing automated testing for web applications
  • VIC--E Ball Games, providing participatory sports simulators
  • WA--Sensear, providing speech enhancing noise suppression technology
I thought that each presenter had a compelling pitch for a relevant set of potential investors.  All told, the event was two hours well-spent--an opportunity to learn more about the state of innovation in Australia in a very conveniently packaged presentation.

Three thoughts for next year...

First, if the companies are truly striving for coaching and constructive input moving forward, a minute of public feedback per judge for each of the six companies would be very helpful--identified strengths, visible weaknesses, and potential market and partnering opportunities.  As it was, the audience wasn't entirely certain how and why the panel chose Impedimed as the winner--although I think that at least three-quarters of the crowd would've voted the same.

Second, this wasn't exactly a level playing field.  Impedimed should absolutely strut proudly as the winner of this year's Shoot Out.  But, anything less than first prize likely would've (and should've) been a disappointment to the one publicly traded company on the docket.  Six similarly-sized private companies (or six similarly-sized ASX-traded companies) would've evened things out quite a bit.

Finally, with the success of (I can't believe I'm saying this) shows like American & Australian Idol, Dancing with the Stars (U.S. and Australia), and many more, reality TV has demonstrated that audience participation is paramount.  With the rapid growth of social networking tools like Twitter, adding an audience voting capability would be both useful and welcome.  Embracing the audience for some portion (half?) of the voting input would further liven things up.

I'd certainly be interested.  As a Chicago-area native, I'm all about vote early, vote often.

No comments:

Post a Comment