BookTech pitch-off | Super six start-ups make the cut

BookTech pitch-off | Super six start-ups make the cut

BookTech, Futurebook’s start-up pitch off competition, is now in its fifth year and has come of age. Going through this year’s entries, I was struck by both the freshness and maturity of the publishing start-up scene.

Start-ups can move faster than established companies, so checking out the competition will give you a glimpse of future trends. But it’s not all hype. While the finalists score a full house on digital-lingo bingo—with artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality and, of course, apps—each company’s choice of tech responds to genuine audience needs. Take the use of virtual reality to create an online literary festival, or artificial intelligence technology to produce and co-publish audiobooks.

Often set up to address a specific customer need or problem, start-ups have a laser focus on satisfying their early users. Whether it’s increasing communication between parents and pre-verbal children, creating an online platform for cookbooks, or making bedtime reading more fun for families. Start-ups can also apply technology from one market to another, for example taking the mature self-publishing model to provide schoolchildren the opportunity to print and publish their own books.

As ever, the competition was fierce and hard to whittle down to five finalists—so much so that we have six on the list. The following companies will be pitching live at 4 p.m. at the FutureBook conference on Monday 25th November.

ckbk brings the world’s cookbooks online. This subscription service provides home cooks with seamless search, filtering and recipe recommendations, while applying smart home and third-party app integration. With licensing deals under way, it curates authored recipe content in an entirely new way.

DeepZen uses artificial intelligence technology to produce and co-publish audiobooks using proprietary emotive speech technology. It helps mid-size publishers and independent authors to take advantage of the growth in audio by giving them the tools to produce audiobooks in a matter of days, and monetise the rights they hold. DeepZen hopes to increase the choice of audio content available to consumers through the development of an audiobook retail and subscription platform.

MY VLF is the world’s first global virtual literary festival. Designed to overcome barriers to participation—such as a lack of time, money or ability to travel—the platform helps authors and readers connect, and is inclusive, free and accessible to all. With author interviews, live chats, a monthly book group and a virtual exhibition hall, MY VLF offers opportunities for writers to market their books and connect with their audience.

Make Our Book enables schools to self-publish their children’s work. Its platform brings self-publishing to the classroom by automatically typesetting the book to PDF and creating an elegant cover using children’s artwork. It helps schools to achieve their ICT and communication goals while also expanding children’s creative experience beyond the confines of the curriculum. The books use print-on-demand and web-app technology with a favourable business model: firm sale, no returns, no advances, no royalties, no agents, no stockholding, no typesetting or design costs—i.e., at no cost to the school at all.

NoisyBook adds sound effects to children’s books, empowering young readers to enjoy reading and physical books. NoisyBook is an iOS app that works alongside any physical book: as you read, the app understands your speech and responds with automatic sound effects. It also analyses a story to present a Q&A session at the end, and provides a speech-to-text transcription to create a visual recording of your story to save and share.

Vika Books aims to "Redimensionalise Reading" with publications that blur the boundaries between real and virtual worlds. Its first augmented reality book, Where is the Bird?, inspires families to interact in British Sign Language with a playful, interactive, multi-dimensional learning experience. The story moves beyond the page via the app to interact with everyday objects and increase communication between parents and pre-verbal children across the deaf and hearing communities.

The finalists will each get a chance to pitch in front of a live audience, and judges, who will then quiz each participant before deciding on a winner. The judges are Asi Sharabi of Wonderbly, Ahrani Logan of Peapodicity, investor and venture partner Tracy Doree, chaired by Bec Evans of Prolifiko.