In the first in a two-part series we showcase five startup companies from around the world that offer innovative solutions to disrupt the traditional technology ecosystem.

The global startup community is expanding with pioneering and agile technology offerings that challenge established companies and disrupt the marketplace. However new media startups face unique challenges from funding, generating revenue and establishing a sustainable business model.

Startup Funding Club (SFC) invests in early-stage digital companies to advise and assist in the successful launch and longevity of the enterprise. Since its launch in 2012 it has invested over £15 million in 120 companies.

Chief Operating Officer Angelika Burgawska says startups often have an idealistic approach, can be inventive in spotting consumers’ needs and are able to respond in a creative and flexible way.

“Startups are selected and receive funding [by SFC] because they bring a new quality to the media ecosystem by serving undeserved consumers, providing them with the content they want or with more flexible and affordable ways of consuming content.”

Angelika Burawska

Angelika Burawska

Burgawska says the biggest challenge linked to investing is finding startups that have a solid business model and a chance to scale.

“Scalability and ability to reach enough consumers is particularly important for media companies and this requires budget and funding,” she says. “In today’s world, consumers are accustomed to receive content and media related services for free hence finding the right way of monetisation is a challenge.”

The following showcase highlights five startup companies from around the world who have created innovative solutions to disrupt the traditional technology ecosystem – with artificial intelligence (AI), new immersive gaming experiences, machine learning (ML) for media monitoring, or agile video streaming.

Country: United States

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 51-200

Specialities: Video transcription, artificial intelligence, video captioning and interactive machine learning.

Verbit.AI offers industry standard transcription accuracy which is timely, competitively priced and offers high-volume processing. The multi-domain specific solutions are powered by ML and AI to transcribe the world’s verbal data to make it searchable, accessible and documented.

Why was Verbit.AI formed and what do you offer your clients?
Verbit.AI was founded by Chief Technology Officer Eric Shellef and VP of Engineering Kobi Ben-Tzvi along with Chief Executive Tom Livne. Verbit was created to fill the gap in the marketplace where the output of transcription services was found to be unreliable, Verbit was created to provide accurate and well-priced solutions that provide fast results. Our vision is to textualise the world’s audio to become the search engine for the world’s voice.

What makes your company stand out in the crowded market?
Traditional transcription companies face a few major problems: low gross margins, poor accuracy, slow turnaround time and high prices. Built on a custom automated speech recognition technology, our three-layer approach makes us unique in the industry.

The first layer is our proprietary speech recognition technology that reaches 85% accuracy. The second layer is the first human layer; essentially a transcriber who reviews and corrects the first draft outputted by the ASR. The AI technology then trains itself by learning from its mistakes and then another transcriber editor reviews the transcription file to ensure it surpassed 99% accuracy.

Once you’re a Verbit customer, you receive almost all of our services including transcription, captioning, timestamps, verbatim, long files, templates, accents, and background noise. We have an unlimited volume and no issue with scale. This allows our customers to be able to submit as many files as they need at a competitive price.

How important is staying abreast of cutting edge technology?
Extremely important. 2017 was the year of AI, and we hopped on the bandwagon. It’s true that AI technology can perform things that humans can already perform, but what it can do is save us a lot of time.

What challenges are you faced with as a startup?
We face similar challenges that most startups face. One of them is advancing on limited resources. In the beginning it’s hard to achieve all of our ideas and achieve them with the limited employees or funds at hand.

Adapting to the constant change can be difficult. The startup culture is fast-moving and fast-growing. Having a workforce willing to [adapt] with the company and move fast with it is crucial.

How do you receive funding or backing?
Verbit is extremely proud to work with its incredibly supportive investors: Vertex Ventures, Orzyn Capital and HV Ventures. We consider ourselves fortunate to have had this great combination of investors from the beginning.

Their continuous and increasing support has created a valuable and trusting relationship among our incredible staff. Seed funding of $11 million is something exceptional and not seen every day in our region. The ability to build a company that today is one of the world leaders in its field is only the beginning for us.

Where do you see Verbit.AI in 12 months’ time?
The AI aspect of our automated speech recognition technology allows us to grow at an extremely fast rate. We expect our employees to double by the end of 2018 and in a years’ time I see Verbit the worldwide market leader for transcription and captioning.

Stirfire Studios
Country: Australia

Founded: 2010

Number of employees: 2-10

Specialities: Virtual reality, augmented reality, gaming and app development.

Stirfire Studios supports gaming developers and digital media professionals to best employ emerging mediums including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

Why was Stirfire formed?
Stirfire Studios was founded in 2010 and produces games for entertainment as well as serious games, corporate gamification, and AR/VR experience. It was founded in Perth, Australia originally as an incubator and mini-publisher but quickly morphed into more of a traditional game studio and consultancy.

What makes your company stand out in the crowded marketplace?
Our games Freedom Fall and Symphony of the Machine feature a very identifiable look [as coming from Stirfire Studios]. Our games often feature a very distinct sense of humour and voice. When it comes to the third-party work we do, we approach everything with a distinctive creative sense coupled with extensive testing for efficacy, particularly for the gamification and serious games side of the business.

How do you receive funding or backing?
Stirfire has a relationship with a capital firm in our home city of Perth, Australia.

What challenges are you faced with as a startup?
Like every other small studio, we face issues around discoverability and monetisation. Australia provides a number of geographic challenges when it comes to attending international events, it always takes longer and is more expensive for us to go anywhere. We do not have a large games industry based in our home country.

Where do you see Stirfire in the next 12 months?
We will have grown into a serious games business and Stirfire will have completed its third in-house title, which is soon to be announced.

The studio is also making the ambitious move of aiming to list on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

Country: United States

Founded: 2015

Number of employees: 11-50

Specialities: Broadcasting equipment rentals, audio, camera, drone and media sharing.

Reimagining the Hollywood production studio as a local marketplace, KitSplit enables content creators to become their own studio with access to renting equipment and access to production services regardless of budget or background.

Why was KitSplit formed?
Co-Founder and President Kristina Budelis, a freelance video producer at the time, was frustrated with kit rental experiences so came up with the idea of the platform as a way to solve her own problems.

KitSplit grew quickly and in early 2017 it acquired a competitor, CameraLends, making the combined community the largest camera rental platform.

What solutions does KitSplit offer clients?
KitSplit saves filmmakers, photographers and other visual creatives time and money, making it easier to get the kit and insurance that they need. They can rent from thousands of vetted owners and get a better experience, with individualised attention.

The platform enables individuals and businesses to earn extra income renting out their kit and marketing their services to other vetted members of the community. We have been called “the Airbnb of creative equipment” by Forbes and Fast Company.

What is unique about your offering?
The KitSplit rental process offers instant insurance, on-demand delivery and customer service from kit experts, seven days a week. Renters save time and money renting on KitSplit, while supporting local creators and small businesses in the process.

KitSplit sources kit from rental houses, production companies and individuals across the United States, offering one of the widest ranges of inventory in the country. Renters can source kit, compare prices, pay and purchase insurance through the streamlined platform within minutes.

KitSplit also offers a new stream of revenue by allowing owners to rent out kit when it’s not being used. Renters are fully insured and vetted via a proprietary 40-point, risk-assessment system that combines both state-of-the-art machine learning as well as human eye and hand touch.

Where does your funding come from?
KitSplit is proud to be supported by several investors who support our ‘creator first philosophy’ to democratise the visual creation process. These include HearstLab, Broadway Video Ventures, 3311 Ventures, ERA, WTI, Aspiration Growth, and Instagram Chief Technology Officer Mike Krieger, among others.

What challenges are you faced with as a startup?
The demand was there, but the ultimate challenge was creating a good user experiences for our customers, ensuring we are available by phone or email, because we are not sitting next to the customer.

Where do you see KitSplit in the next 12 months?
We’re focused on growing our community and serving more visual storytellers. In addition to empowering creators via easier access to kit rentals, we are also excited about connecting our community members to one another and to resources they need both online and offline.

Signal Media
Country: United Kingdom

Founded: 2013

Number of employees: 51-200

Specialities: Media monitoring, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science.

Signal Media is an AI-powered media monitoring company that transforms information into accessible and actionable business knowledge. The AI technology enables businesses to track changes to their competitors in real-time with accurate information to make better business decisions.

What makes Signal Media stand out in the market place?
Signal Media was founded on the principle to help businesses make better decisions. We use AI technology to make the unknown known for our clients. We are a SaaS platform that takes in large quantities of content in over 100 languages, processes the data quickly and delivers a report which horizontally scans the subject and monitors updates and changes.

Originally the company goal was to give decision makers across any business the ability to make educated decisions at any time from junior staff to chief executive level.

The vast quantities of data available is almost impossible to process in its entirety. We aggregate the data and process it with ML on top. The system understands topics as well as subjects, which means our clients can track themes related to topics. To take for example, ‘sexual harassment’ – ordinarily you’d only get information on the words, but our platform can also track hashtags and themes associated with this.

What challenges are you faced with as a startup?
Talent is always hard to come by, especially skilled staff who are efficient in understanding the technology behind ML; they are often not based in the UK.

From the technology perspective, the system is extraordinarily smart which means we can train it, but the challenge is in limiting the data. There is too much information for a human to process but the AI can read it all. We ultimately need to train it for how we want to use it.

What has been the driving change for Signal Media?
The accuracy and speed and the limitless nature of what we offer. Those three things are what AI does.

Where does your funding come from to reach your top priority?
We have funding from a range of leading venture capitals including MMC Ventures, Hearst Ventures and Frontline.

Where do you see Signal Media in the next 12 months?
By May 2019, Signal will have tripled our revenues and client base for the second successive year, having launched in new industry verticals and brought on a range of alternative data sets to complement our comprehensive news media sources.

Our ultimate goal is to be the central source for a company’s external data, the single source for external platform to track risk, opportunities and reputation.

Country: United States

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 2-10

Specialties: Video streaming, broadcasting and BitTorrent

Seedess is a serverless, decentralised video streaming network for browsers, servers, desktop and mobile apps to share video content.

What makes Seedess unique in the marketplace?
Seedess brings the success of BitTorrent to the web for open peer-to-peer (P2P) serverless video streaming. The platform cuts the cost of streaming video by up to 70%, giving broadcasters and video publishers the opportunity to own their video streaming content, while viewers subsidise the streaming costs.

The cost of streaming video can be costly for the majority of video publishers to own their own content as well as pay a third-party video publisher in revenue ad sharing or platform fees. Seedess solves this issue by using BitTorrent technology to stream and broadcast directly.

Broadcasters can upload video directly to BitTorrent through Seedess and share video from the browser without using a server.

What solutions do you offer and who are your primary clients?
We currently are working on an open source solution for video streaming P2P in the web browser using the BitTorrent protocol with support for the BitTorrent network.

We also offer the same P2P streaming solution as a cloud-hosted peer-assisted CDN on top of Amazon web services and Cloudflare, with a push service to BitTorrent, YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and other social video sharing platforms.

What are the challenges do you face as a startup?
The greatest challenge is often explaining who we are and what we offer our clients. The technology solution means that streaming 4K UHD video can be done efficiently, processed in real-time chunks by the browser and distributed to peers over encrypted BitTorrent.

The reputation of BitTorrent is closely associated with piracy and content fraud. It is estimated that 99% of BitTorrent sharing is illegal, which puts a negative cloud over the platform. We are working hard to share the positives of BitTorrent and the solutions we can offer the industry because BitTorrent as a technology is extremely successful at streaming video efficiently to a large number of viewers at no cost.

Where does your backing come from?
Seedess is a bootstrapped open source project which was also developed into a cloud-hosted solution to scaling video streaming P2P.

Where do you see Seedess in five years time?
Ultimately, we’d like publishers to be able to stream video to eight billion people without a third-party streaming platform. Initially we built Seedess to stream video to and from BitTorrent in the browser.

However, the five-year goal is to augment and monetise video streaming with blockchain smart contracts. This would enable an open platform for publishers to publish their video, while viewers participate in an open market for subsidised video streaming on behalf of the publisher.

We would also to change the view of BitTorrent into a platform for sharing original licensed video content.