Meet Alpha, a robot that more than carries its weight

6:23PM | Sunday, 29 June

Tired of lifting and carrying those back-breaking loads? An Australian firm has launched a crowdfunding campaign for an autonomous robot that can do the hard work for you.   Sydney-based robotics and drone manufacturer Lev Enterprise, founded in 2010, has launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the Alpha Robot, which will be controlled through an app designed for Android tablets.   The device consists of a platform mounted on six wheels, fitted with sensors, cameras and lights, with rechargeable batteries powering up to two hours of continuous operation.   A purpose-specific carrying tray can be placed on the platform, turning it into a hydraulic scissor lift, a wheelchair for two passengers, or mobile solar panel.   Depending on the model, it will have a total carrying capacity (including the carrying tray) of 250 kg, 500 kg or 1 ton.   The device can either be set to work in ‘autonomous mode’, be remotely controlled through tablet, or be guided by a magnetic strip up to 50 metres long.   Autonomous mode works by launching the control app on a tablet and then walking along the path you want the Alpha to follow. The path is automatically translated by the app into directions, which are automatically uploaded into robot.   The Alpha Robot has a large potential market, with practical uses for a range of different businesses, including the removalist, warehouse, logistics, construction, farming, retail, emergency services and film industries.   Founder Teeray Murphy told StartupSmart there has been a lot of positive reaction from businesses about the concept.   “We’ve had quite a bit of interest in industries we visit. In the removalist industry, they require autonomous robots, and we want to make it affordable enough to be able to use in the home,” Murphy says.   “We aim to make it as flexible as possible.”   Murphy says the crowdfunding campaign will help Lev Enterprises move the project from the concept stage towards prototyping and testing.   “We’ve spent the last four months working on the design and concept. Now we’re moving on to assembling components, building prototypes and testing,” he says.

THE NEWS WRAP: Kickstarter simplifies campaign rules

6:58PM | Tuesday, 3 June

Kickstarter has simplified rules for campaigns in an attempt to make the service easier to use than ever before.   It’s announced Launch Now, a new feature which gives creators a choice to launch their projects whenever they’re ready, or to get feedback from one of Kickstarter’s community managers first.   Kickstarter’s guidelines have also been boiled down to three basic principles: projects must create something to share with others; projects must be honest and clearly presented; projects cannot fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items.   Google is making end-to-end encryption easier Google has launched an alpha version of a new tool called End-to-End, a Chrome extension that is intended for users who need additional security.   End-to-End encryption means the data leaving a user’s browser will be encrypted until the message’s intended recipient decrypts it.   Zenefits raises another $66.5m After raising $15m in a series A funding round four months ago, cloud-based human resource startup Zenefits has raised an additional $66.5m from return investor Andreessen Horowitz along with Institutional Venture Partners.   The startup was founded on the idea of simplifying the process of HR companies by providing a simple user interface for personnel departments as well as the rank and file, making it easier to keep track of their pay and benefits.   Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 21.29 to 16,722.34. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.

Five Australian start-ups to watch in 2014

1:03AM | Wednesday, 8 January

The Australian start-up ecosystem continues to grow rapidly, with hundreds of start-ups and several new funds and incubators emerging last year.   Here’s our pick of five Australian start-ups to watch in 2014.   Pozible (Melbourne)   With crowdfunding taking off across the world and in Australia, this home-grown platform is one to watch as they take their show on the road and start targeting the United States.   Pozible’s communications manager, Reuben Acciano, told StartupSmart in September they’d grown 550% in the last 18 months.   Despite their solid growth and big plans, the Pozible team will also need to keep an eye on their home market with major international competitors such as Kickstarter set up Australian offices and targeted campaigns.   “The nature of start-ups is we have strategies for anything that can happen, we know where we want to be but we need to be a little reactive. When the situation changes, we’re ready to move with it,” Acciano said.   Ollo Mobile (Brisbane)   This start-up burst onto the scene last year, taking out a series of pitching competitions, heading off to Silicon Valley briefly and launching a crowdfunding campaign, all steps in their promotional strategy to build awareness about their alternative to the panic button for elderly or unwell family members.   Now targeting the United States for both consumers and funding, the start-up will begin their international roll out in 2014, tapping into an international demographic trend of ageing populations.   “What we’re doing is a bit different and finding investors with experience in our space and access to the market channels has been difficult here as it is such a small community and what we’re doing is quite specialised,” co-founder Hugh Geiger told StartupSmart.   Your Fork (Sydney)   Despite only being a few months old, this start-up sits amid several trends that could take off in 2014.   A hyperlocal, peer-to-peer network for delivering homemade meals, Your Fork taps into collaborative consumption, internet enabled connections and crowdsourced solutions as well as Australia’s growing interest in foreign and unusual foods.   Launched by brothers and start-up veterans Roshan and Shanu Mahanama, Your Fork is currently overseeing their first alpha test location in Sydney.   The Mahanama brothers aren’t the only start-ups to have connected the trends that could make this kind of start-up take off in 2014. Several other start-ups are exploring the idea and experimenting independently across Australia.   But Roshan says the idea is so new they’d welcome competition from other start-ups to develop the model and public understanding.   “Ironically what we need is more than one start-up attacking this space,” Roshan says. “A big challenge is raising awareness of this emerging market. So if there are more of us we can accelerate it, and consolidation will happen later down the track.”   CoinJar (Melbourne)   Everyone is talking about bitcoin this year, which comes as no surprise to Asher Tan and Ryan Zhou, the founders of CoinJar who have been passionate about the digital currency’s potential since before it was news.   In December, Tan told StartupSmart despite the ups and downs in bitcoin’s value, its time had come.   “A lot of people talk about a bitcoin bubble, but the case is too strong to ignore,” Tan said. “One of the unique draws of bitcoin is totally people-powered. As long as people remain interested, bitcoin won’t die out.”   Experimenting at the forefront of innovation and digital practice has brought challenges to the team, who found their personal accounts at the Commonwealth Bank frozen without warning or explanation in August.   Despite the newness and risk of bitcoin, the AngelCube accelerator graduate recently received $500,000 from Blackbird Ventures. The funds will go towards speeding up their global expansion.   Tan described the investment as a credibility breakthrough for their start-up.   “We’re very new to this, so the investors are bringing legitimacy to our business. A lot of people ask us how do they know we’re not a scam, so having such well-known and respected investors means people will trust us more.”   Ingogo (Sydney)   Launched in 2011, ingogo started life as a taxi booking app and has grown steadily ever since, with chief executive Hamish Petrie telling StartupSmart in August 2013 they had reached 15% of the Sydney taxi drivers.   2013 was a huge year for ingogo, who announced a partnership with ANZ, successful million dollar fundraising rounds in February, August and December.   They also announced a game-changing payment platform via a partnership with ANZ. Not only is the payment system an additional revenue stream from their taxi business, but also has significant potential to be rolled out into other industries.   “A lot of the IP we’ve built up is applicable to other environments that are possibly less demanding,” Petrie said. “We’ve learned a lot about doing payments in a mobile and challenging environment. Taxi payments involve a lot of issues with mobile internet connections, drivers speaking different languages and the need to process payments reliably and rapidly.”   Petrie told StartupSmart the start-up will break even early this year, and shared his plans to list the three year old company on the ASX in 2014.

TheReadingRoom raises $US2.75 million for growth, moves sales and marketing team to New York

12:26AM | Friday, 13 December

TheReadingRoom, an independent social platform that allows users to share their favourite books and access reviews, has raised $US2.75 million from shareholders to improve the platform and invest in marketing to grow its community of users.   Launched in Australia in 2009 by founder and chief executive Kim Anderson, the platform currently has 700,000 members, with 75% of those in North America, 15% in the United Kingdom and the rest in Australia.   Anderson told StartupSmart the business had focused on developing a global audience, with much of the growth in membership coming from word-of-mouth.   She says she sees the demise of the physical bookstore in the future, “which is why it’s important to take that independence online”.   “There aren’t actually that many truly independent sites out there about reading and the love of books.”   The website also allows users to connect with other readers, share their reading experiences, recommend books to each other, join online reading groups and track favourite authors.   Anderson, who’s had a career in publishing in Australia and the US and is a non-executive director of online car classifieds website, says TheReadingRoom has grown from its difficult early days.   “I always say when we launched our alpha we got it 90% wrong and our beta was 70% wrong,” she says. “We made poor decisions on the technology platform originally.”   She says the problems forced the company to “face our demons” early on and help them make better decisions.   A lesson she’s learnt is the need to have good technical people on board and people who understand the markets you are seeking to enter.   Anderson also warns other start-ups to not focus on money in their early days.   “If you focus on the money you won’t achieve what you want to achieve,” she says.   “You’ve got to focus on being successful and having a first class product, the rest will happen.”   TheReadingRoom has also announced it will move its sales and marketing team, including Anderson, to its office in New York.

Meet the new hospitality workforce ready to revolutionise what’s for dinner: Tech-enabled home cooks

11:49AM | Friday, 15 November

An online platform connecting home cooks with local paying customers has launched in Sydney after a successful alpha test with 45 signs-ups and five operational stores.   Online platform Your Fork enables people to buy home-cooked meals from their neighbours, and co-founder Roshan Mahanama says they’re hopeful the platform will disrupt the Australian $37 billion takeaway industry by making more niche cuisines available.   “When my sister-in-law returned from her holidays craving a Peruvian dessert she couldn’t find anywhere, we realised how mainstream the takeaway options here were,” Mahanama says.   Mahanama and his brother Shanu exited their first start-up, a purely online mobile virtual network operator in May this year. They came up with the idea in August and launched an alpha test in September.   “It was a pivot of another business: a coffee and food reordering app that failed. We were trying to build a two sided marketplace with unmotivated sellers, so decided to kill it quick without burning too much cash and use what we learned in this offering instead,” Mahanama says.   The brothers were cautious about the idea first and set up a splash page to see how keen home cooks were before investing a platform.   “We were surprised how many people were keen to be home cooks and chefs and decided to go for it,” Mahanama says.   Your Fork takes care of the aggregation, promotion and payment for the users. They take a clip off the processed order. Home cooks manage the delivery in their local area.   The key focus for them in the coming months will be recruiting new cooks in target areas to test the idea.   “We’re effectively a transactional Yellow Pages,” Mahanama says, adding liability for health and safety rests with the home cook themselves but they’re developing systems to make sure everyone involved is looked after.   “The most powerful indicator we can build is the review system. That’ll be our way to control the good from the bad.”   Mahanama says the idea is so new; they’d welcome competition from other start-ups to develop the model and public understanding.   “Ironically what we need is more than one start-up attacking this space,” Mahanama says. “A big challenge is raising awareness of this emerging market. So if there are more of us we can accelerate it, and consolidation will happen later down the track.”

Entrepreneurial insomnia

3:46AM | Wednesday, 13 March

This article first appeared on June 26th, 2012.   “If you're not embarrassed by your first product release, you've released too late,” wrote LinkedIn founder and start-up guru, Reid Hoffman.

Which social media platform best suits your business?

2:28AM | Wednesday, 20 February

I had lunch with some close friends of mine who own a gym.

A simple strategy: Make something people love

1:53PM | Monday, 7 January

This article first appeared June 13th, 2012.   We were set to launch Posse in retail.

THE NEWS WRAP: James Murdoch resigns from BSkyB

4:25PM | Monday, 9 April

James Murdoch has stepped down as chairman of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) in a bid to protect the company from being damaged by the News Corp phone-hacking scandal.

Tech start-ups warned of funding shortfall

12:46AM | Monday, 6 December

A leading Australian start-up has claimed there needs to be a better understand of the potential of new technology firms after being forced to look overseas for funding.