Tech Nation is one of the UK's most prominent startup incubators and tech entrepreneur networks. This year, the organisation launched the Rising Stars award, which seeks to discover some of the most competitive early-stage tech startups in the UK.
The 20 companies taking part in last night's final had been whittled down from over 260 applicants. They'd previously taken part in a semi-final held in Manchester and since then had received training to perfect their final pitches.
The monetary value of the prize of each of the 10 winners amounts to £4,000 per startup, but this is not simply a cash-in-envelope affair. Instead, the award is broken down into sessions aimed at unleashing the startups' growth potential and providing advice on the next steps to success.
It also includes a £500 coupon for Microsoft Search Advertising with Bing ads, as well as a tête-a-tête with one of the chief Bing-ers to discuss boosting presence; legal advice; one-to-one mentoring with an industry specialist; introductions and networking opportunities provided by Tech Nation with investors; bespoke PR from Jam PR; and pitch training and coaching provided by Sunderland Software City.
Each founder had three minutes - counted down menacingly on a large screen placed at the right of the stage - to pitch, then another two minutes to answer questions from the judges.
The five judges hailed from investment and startup incubator backgrounds. For example, the co-founder of Diversity VC, Head of Microsoft for Startups, and an associate at Seedrs. The five did an excellent job of maintaining an impenetrably stony demeanour throughout, with the occasional smile carrying enough weight to shock you out of your collapsible chair.
But it wasn't only the judges that the candidates were attempting to woo. The audience itself also contained a range of fearsome industry talent, as well as the odd semi-inebriated techology journalist, naming no names of course.
Serelay Limited - This was in all fairness a pretty solid idea. Basic premise: Online, we can tell whether certain sources are verified or not, but it's increasingly difficult to discern whether photos and video footage are real. Serelay boasts that its technology can quickly check images for veracity, and even locate the points at which they've been doctored. In the coming age of deep fakes, this technology is surely set to become increasingly valuable.
People Matter Technology - Possibly one of the most heart-warming of the pitches, cued by feel-good walk-on tune, Here Comes the Sun. People Matters is all about corporate wellness. It tracks employee data (with permission), as well as ingesting self-reports that are used as the basis for providing personalised health advice to employees.
PPC protect Ltd - So good that they didn't even need to turn up to be a winner. Instead, we were shown a video from their semi-final pitch. The idea is about preventing 'click-fraud' on pay-per-click ads. Apparently click fraud (the repeated clicking on these ads and simultaneous leeching of ad budgets) is the most profitable illegal business, more so even than the drug trade. We haven't fact checked the statement, but it's startling if true.
SeedLegals - This startup was pitching to exactly the right crowd and they knew it. It even has 'seed' in the name for goodness' sake. The business aims to combat time-consuming legal processes for startup funding rounds with the twin power of big data and human experts - cue rapturous applause and adulatory squeals from the audience.
Developing Experts - This startup's central concept is based on the finding that many non-specialist teachers don't feel comfortable teaching science to children. To remedy this, Developing Experts offers teachers a platform hosting hundreds of lesson plans, educational videos and digital resources collated with the help of experts in the field.
Metasonics - Metasonics describe themselves as 'the next generation of customised, scalable acoustic metamaterials'. The startup is currently partnering with the automotive industry to develop technology which separates in-car audio between drivers and passengers (with the promise of saving Uber drivers everywhere from the interminable iniquity of Spotify house playlists). The startup is also working with the health industry to develop ultrasound capabilities in wearables.
Tended - After his mother suffered a fall while he was abroad, the founder of this startup came up with the idea of a bracelet with advanced sensors embedded in it that could discern - apparently with 98 percent accuracy - whether a certain movement constitutes a fall or not. If the wearable determines that its wearer has fallen over, it will then send an alert to pre-selected contacts.
Tickr - Tickr is an investment tool that allows customers to invest for profit, but in positive causes. On signing up, users select their causes of choice: climate change, or gender equality, for example. The number of investment apps are proliferating, but the humanitarian twist and slickly delivered professionalism of the founder may have cinched this one for Tickr.
Vet-AI - This startup promises mobile, on-demand veterinary care. Vet-AI is a wider platform that has recently launched 'ASK JOII', an AI-driven pet symptom checker.
Vitaccess - This startup has developed a platform, MyRealWorld, that gathers data about how illnesses and health difficulties impact on patients' lives, as gathered by apps on their smartphones.
Foodomnia - Riding high on the food delivery boom, Foodomnia helps to build delivery-only food brands, already partnering with UberEats on making decisions about location and cuisine selection based on data.
Heliocor - We all knew it was coming. Maybe it was the name, maybe it was the beehive pattern on the slides. Whatever it was, we knew the word ‘blockchain’ was coming before it managed to escape the co-founder's mouth. Heliocor offers regulatory technology that helps companies cope with changing regulatory demands in relation to global transactions.
Kani - On first glance, Kani had it all: an endearing pitch, impressive looking graphs, the phrase 'one billion' bandied about. But it was not to be for the fintech startup that pitched itself as a reporting and reconciliation tool for fast-moving digital banks like Monzo.
Techworld best walk-on anthem winner: Kani's musical tribute to Newcastle (walking on to the Ant and Dec's favoured classic, Let's Get Ready To Rhumble) was one of most memorable entrances.
Gorilla in the Room - Walking on to Gorillaz's Clint Eastwood was inspired. Particularly because it was so long before the founder's made an appearance that the audience was left wondering whether we were to partake in a spontaneous dance interlude. Gorilla in the Room's technology is targeted towards helping supermarkets analyse consumer behaviour by digitally recreating the shopping experience on-screen rather than asking them to self-report on their behaviour.
Techworld most fashion-forward-founder award: One of the founders was dressed daringly in a striped shirt splashed with loud peach-coloured flowers. Yep, double print. He went there. Although his twirly-edged moustache appeared as if it was about to take flight, the startup idea, sadly, did not.
ProtectBox - Founder Kiran Bhagotra was one of the most dynamic and likeable pitches, sizzling with energy as she announced her company's launch earlier that day. Her startup offers businesses a cybersecurity comparison site that helps SMEs navigate this sometimes confusing world.
Techworld honorary winner: Our people's heart award, which has, of course, absolutely nothing to do with Bhagotra giving our own venerable publication a shout-out.
Thyngs - If you've ever wanted to give money to a cause but not had the change in your pocket, IoT, digital marketing and ecommerce company Thyngs is proposing a solution, with the impressive mission of bringing contactless payment technology to charitable causes.
Techworld most millennial of startup names award (runner-up being Tickr).
All 4 Games - This Glasgow-based startup - a spinout from Channel 4 - was offering publishing support to game developers and helping market to them. But after being lambasted by one judge for being more of a ‘channel proposition than a tech proposition’, sadly it was never going to happen for them.
Carbon Performance - This startup claims to be the world's first automotive component 3D printing company, using emergent technologies such as the famous wonder-material, graphene. The company also aims to produce organic, lightweight and sustainable components. They say that they save over 80,000 litres of fuel every year and 195 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Equiwatt - An intelligent management platform that aims to save household energy by paying them for using less energy at times of peak demand, and managing smart home technology to be more energy efficient.
PlayerLands - Another video game-centred proposition, PlayerLands run on the promise of helping developers create and run shops within their games, reducing the need for micropayments.
There's plenty of time to refine your startup's pitch before applications for the next competition open on 19 September. Applications can be filed online, and will first go through a regional shortlisting process - where 33 companies will be selected - and onto the semi-finals in January 2019. The lucky few will have the opportunity to become a 'rising star' at the grand final on 5 March 2019.