How these five startups push the boundaries of publishing
The finalists of the CONTENTshift accelerator bring new perspectives to the industry
Helping young business ideas enter the industry: That is the declared goal of the CONTENTshift accelerator. These five startups will be in the finals of the funding programme in 2021 - and are ready to take off. Let us introduce our promising startups to you.
Startup #1: Buuk - SEO and metadata management for books
Buuk is ready to go; the launch of the startup is planned for mid-August. Managing directors Jens Helbig and Christopher Klein have the vision to relieve publishers of an unpleasant but extremely important task: managing the metadata of their books. This idea is based on their own experience. "We ourselves founded a publishing house over ten years ago," says Klein, "but our sales were rather slow." They then changed their approach, put a big focus on data, and: "That made quite an impact on sales." Buuk wants to help other publishers improve their sales in the future - something that is particularly interesting for the backlist.
Metadata relevant to the visibility of a book, including in particular indexing, product group, subject classification, BIC/BISAC, as well as other status-relevant fields, can be managed by Buuk. The difference to the Verzeichnis Lieferbarer Bücher (VLB) is: "We are more or less the frontend to the VLB backend.” This also means that the software can be used to visualise, among other things, how the sales of individual titles are developing. It is possible to set certain events, be it a reading or the appearance of a positive review, to see how they affect sales figures. Anyone who wants to test the software can start free of charge with a demo book to see exactly how Buuk works.
Startup #2: READ-O - "Dating Advice" - Book recommendations based on emotions
How can people navigate the multitude of new publications? Should you trust bestseller lists, recommendations from friends or reviews in the press? There must be another way to find the perfect book, thought Jonathan Mondorf, whose father is an author. And so, he came up with the idea for READ-O. READ-O is an app that "matches" readers with the right book, a principle very similar to that of dating apps. Ben Kohz, part of the five-person founding team, explains: "We wrote an AI that analyses written reviews available on the internet and identifies themes and emotions." Users of the app can use sliders to select how sad, serious, exciting or challenging their next read should be, in addition to selecting preferred subjects. "Then titles with match quotas are suggested. For example: This book is a 90% match."
READ-O is also intended for those who like to browse – but rather digitally. "You can let yourself drift," says Kohz. "There's a Discover page with lists, videos and recommendations." The app, which is free for readers, is already used by 47,000 people. For small and medium-sized publishers in particular, READ-O increases the chance of being found, not least through advertising. The cooperation with publishers is to be expanded in the future.
Startup #3: talking hands flipbooks - Putting sign language into flipbooks to remove language barriers for children and increase inclusion
Sometimes the greatest inspiration comes from close to home. Laura Mohn's sister has Down's syndrome and therefore has difficulty communicating her wishes in such a way that others can easily understand her. Signs can help. Mohn came up with an idea that is as simple as it is ingenious: why not illustrate flipbooks with individual words in sign language? And so, together with Maria Möller, who she met during her studies at the European School of Design, she founded talking hands with the aim of making sign language tangible. "Until now, only the kids who needed it had to deal with it, and that's why the signs were often on index cards that weren't very nice to look at," says Möller. talking hands has changed that. They currently have 100 words, whether it's food, drink or terms like "stomach ache". The flipbooks make it easier for children to communicate, and also those without disabilities can benefit. "The flipbooks are meant for all children to promote inclusion. We don't just want to break down language barriers, we also want to raise awareness about this issue."
The 8.5 x 8.5 cm flipbooks are sought after by both speech therapists and teachers. So far, they have sold around 30,000 flipbooks, and the next edition is planned at 50,000. "We've received great feedback," Möller says happily. But Mohn and Möller are by no means complacent. They recently started Baby Signs, sign language for babies, which trains them to express their needs non-verbally. An app is also being planned, the beta version of which is to be launched in autumn.
Startup #4: DayOff - Train soft skills using daily challenges in a fun and engaging way
The problem with seminars on topics such as soft skills or team building is that you do exciting exercises - but as soon as they are over, the exercises are quickly forgotten. This is where DayOff can help: Using the app (or the browser, depending on your preference), small challenges can be integrated into everyday life and thus realised on a daily basis. "For example, time management is trained with the Pomodoro technique, which involves working for 25 minutes, taking a five-minute break and then working again," explains co-founder Lino Jenner. "Another task is to tell colleagues what they have done particularly well in the past week. Especially in times of remote working, this kind of conversation at the water cooler is lacking." Other challenges encourage critical thinking, for example, with the question: "What would your mother say about what you did today?
The goal is, of course, to establish a sustainable system and for participants to carry out the challenges automatically in the long term. This is supported by a gamification approach: by collecting points, teams can reach certain levels and then organise joint events such as pizza dinners, mystery dinners, or, if everything goes well, even gain extra annual leave. So far, DayOff is working with five customers, including K&K Business and the Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikation (Key Skills Centre) at the University of Kiel, and plans to have 20 by the end of the year. They are also looking for investors. In the future, DayOff hopes to work with authors who write about topics such as time management to combine tasks in the books with the challenges in the app.
Startup #5: BotTalk - Automatically convert text to speech
We have all been there: you leave the tab with an interesting article open with the intention of reading it later - and never find the time. That's where BotTalk comes in: the text-to-speech software automatically converts texts into audio files so you can listen to them on the go. It's not a completely new idea, however, "With other solutions, you can't listen well for more than a couple of minutes because, for example, the captions are also read aloud," says co-founder Andrey Esaulov. In addition, the quality of the voices in well-known software solutions leaves a lot to be desired, whereas in BotTalk they are very close to real human voices. 26 languages are currently offered, including Arabic in three variants, Cantonese and Urdu, and there are even children's voices for some of them.
The software is also capable of learning. "If a name is pronounced incorrectly and changed by the author, the others no longer have to correct it," says Esaulov. The startup has already convinced many customers; for example, the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (the German Press Agency), the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper and the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper to integrate BotTalk into their articles. In addition, it is also interesting for publishers: with BotTalk, audio books can be created quickly and inexpensively. The plan is that in two years at the latest, there will no longer be any noticeable difference to real human voices.