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On JFDI-Innov8 Bootcamp Demo Day, startups pitch and score homeruns

Watching each startup deliver their pitch at the JFDI-Innov8 2012 Bootcamp Demo Day, I get the sense of witnessing a child taking her first tentative steps or going to school for the very first time.

At the accelerator program, the first of its kind in Singapore, promising entrepreneurs, who had nothing but ideas, had to undergo an intense regimen of mentoring, training, and product development.

Mentors in the bootcamp came from all around the world as well as from Singapore, consisting of entrepreneurs who have gone through the whole agonizing process of creating a product people actually want.

Glancing across the room, amidst the glaring stage lights and about a hundred curious investors, those very same mentors are egging the startups on stage to succeed. The incubatees took turns to demostrate their products: Refined, refreshed, and in some cases, completely rehashed after the 100-day bootcamp.

And they rocked. The consensus among the attendees was that the pitches were polished and well-delivered. There wasn’t a single bad pitch.

Business ideas were solid and addressed valid pain points, although some were concerned about how easy it is to copy some of those products.

But the fact that the presentations were nice and shiny isn’t an accident. The pitches were appalling at first, Edgar Hardless, CEO of Singtel Innov8,  and vastly improved only with much coaching. Many of the startups pivoted after much critical feedback as well.

An extreme example is Gradeful, a mobile app for dads, which pivoted on Day 80 to become Remember, a mobile photo scrapbook for families. HobbyMash, too, pivoted in Day 50 to become FamilyKo, after realizing that it would be hard to monetize their original idea.

At the end of the pitches, the startups went to their corners and waited as investors flocked to find out more about the teams and their products.

While there was quite a lot of variety in the 11 teams, SoLoMo, a term which I use grudgingly, is still very much alive and well. Most of the startups have some element of each, and it looks set to be the wave of the future.

Analytical tools featured big as well in startups like TradeGecko, Stubb (formerly Qryo), and FetchFans, indicating how businesses are increasingly embracing data-driven decision-making.

What is surprising to me are the amount of family and child-oriented startups around. FamilyKo and Remember deal with the themes of using mobile devices to bridge the divide between children and their busy or geographically distant parents. Kark and Wildby revolve around educating children in interactive and age-appropriate ways.

From what I have seen and heard, many of the teams have generated great interest and buzz from investors, and some were oversubscribed.

Angel investing is a little like playing Poker -- lots of educated guesses.

The value of the Bootcamp in sharpening the various ideas was apparent. According to Amit Anand, managing partner of Jungle Ventures, incubators like JFDI.Asia fills a gap in the ideation stage, identifying great problems to solve (video interview).

Granted, there is room for improvement, such as balancing between frank feedback and more gentle guidance, but Demo Day was the best send-off possible.

At this point, there is still a lot for startups to do. The next step for them, naturally, is to secure funding, and whether they receive it could determine which country they would be based in.

Wayne Soh, business development manager at Plug and Play Singapore, believes that some companies might find it easier to raise money at home with their own contacts.

For angel investors, their challenge is to make educated guesses about which entrepreneurs to invest in, based on the very limited information they have about each startup: Current market positions, whether the product addresses a pain point, and whether the team is positioned to succeed.

It’s a bit like playing Poker, a fact I was reminded of when JFDI.Asia co-founder Meng Weng Wong gave us, the media, millions in Poker chips to play Fantasy Investor for a day.

It certainly isn’t an easy call to make. The ball is now in the courts of the investors and startups to work out partnerships that will take them to growth stage and beyond.

Additional reporting by Sharon Lourdes Paul. Photo album of the event here.

More coverage of JFDI-Innov8 Bootcamp and its startups here.

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