Start-ups pin hopes on MWC platform


Minor British talent will get lost on the bustling showfloor in Barcelona, when the global mobile phone industry descends for Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2010 (February 15-18).

The UK Government’s Trade and Investment (UKTI) body brought together 20 small UK firms in Central London last month to afford them a chance to pitch their wares in isolation.

Britain boasted the second-largest presence at last year’s MWC, and will repeat the trick this year.

But the grim economic climate has made funding essential for many start-up businesses, and the UKTI offers a select bunch crucial support to make the Barcelona trip.

The UKTI has enabled 20 small UK innovators in the mobile arena either a pass or exhibition space at MWC, and will travel with similar partners to other major global networking events through the rest of the year.

A speed-dating style networking event last month saw UKTI-backed companies talk up their propositions ahead of the event, and the bluster of the big guns.

Most were looking to strike international distribution of their products and services. The UKTI wants to enhance the UK’s reputation for research and development in the mobile space in the process.

The UKTI delegates at Mobile World Congress:
AlertMe – mobile home security
Bemoko – mobile marketing
Creativity Software – location-based services
Eseye – M2M
Ether Books – mobile publishing
Fluid Pixel – software platforms
Hypertag – Bluetooth marketing
IP2 Mobile – platform provision
Nujira – infrastructure provision
Masabi – NFC
Picochip – Femtocells
Stream Comms – M2M
TheAlloy – design consulting
Touch Type – predictive text
WorldSIM – roaming SIMs

Selling the UK to the world

Sarah Forsey chats with the UK Trade and Investment head of key events for ICT Steve Williams and global strategy and technology advisory for ICT John Davies

How influential is the UK presence at MWC?
SW: The UK has always been a significant player at MWC, certainly in the last two years where, in terms of exhibitors, we have been the second largest at the show, only marginally behind the US. This shows that the UK is a serious player in the mobile space and shows what a significant contribution we make.

What does UKTI hope to achieve at this year’s event?

SW: It provides a great opportunity for government to get behind those companies to push the message about UK excellence within the sector to a global audience, and also to drive business to individual UK companies. We have supported MWC for the last six years to varying degrees.

This year, we are supporting companies with exhibition grants, and probably between 25 and 30 companies will get support through a programme we run called TAP (Trade Access Programme). Eligible companies that have entered can get grants of up to £800 to exhibit. We are able to provide a platform at MWC for small businesses, giving them credibility to prospective partners.

We provide that stepping stone. We really wave the flag of UK activity in the mobile sector and to try to drive business to UK companies.

How have you selected UK start-ups to exhibit with you at MWC?
SW: We have eight exhibitors on the stands, five of which were selected and given a place on the stand after winning a competition earlier this year.

We had a ‘Dragons Den’-style competition with live audiences, where shortlists were drawn up as a result of two finals, one in Cambridge with Cambridge Wireless and one in London with Mobile Monday.

Ten finalists were pulled from each board with two winners selected from each. All entrants had three minutes to pitch to a judging panel, which included representatives from Sony Ericsson and from 3 UK.

The companies that won had to go through a strict judging panel to prove they have something innovative and unique.

What were judges particularly interested in from applicants?
JD:: They had to prove they had something innovative to appear on our stand. We wanted companies that could attract punters, so they had to be innovative and cutting edge so we could use them to pull more people in and then drive that business out to the right UK company.

For the UKTI, then, the focus is as much to demonstrate local prowess to an international audience?
JD: Yes, we are trying to show national figures how good the UK is within the R&D space. Through MWC, we are trying to demonstrate where we are really, really good, with live examples on the stand to show this.

How will you help generate new international business for UK mobile companies at the MWC?
SW: We will run a number of events during the show to explain how to do business with international markets, notably the US and Japan. We have individuals from US and Japanese companies there to talk about their expectations from UK companies and advise on what opportunities there are available and how to do business with them.

The minister of trade and investment for small businesses, Lord Davies, will be attending on the Wednesday (February 17) to raise the profile of the UK and attract interest to the wider UK offer.

We’ve got a large team attending MWC with around 15 UKTI international officers there from different markets, who will work with major companies from international markets to make sure British companies get information on how to do business with them.

This is the sort of opportunities we are offering. There is a big infrastructure from UKTI offering UK companies advice on how to get into these markets; that is our main focus.

How much work goes into MWC from a UKTI perspective?
SW: We’ve been doing quite a lot of work in the six months building up to MWC particularly looking at what the international themes are and what themes are developing at other conferences across the world in the build up.

We’ve worked closely with the GSMA to understand what the conference programming is and then we have identified major themes and interest and made sure we’re aligned with the current topics. It’s not just about pitching up at MWC and hoping for the best.

We actually try and make sure we’re doing something relevant.

What are you hopes and plans for UKTI-led initiatives in the mobile space in 2010?
SW: We want to have a more global position in the mobile world chain and qualify what we do with particular focus on China, the US, Japan and India.

As well as MWC, we have the Shanghai EXPO which runs from May to October where we are hoping to promote British companies to China. In 2010, we are looking to go beyond what we usually do – that is, simple introductions – and to extend into the value chain so we can introduce UK capability to international businesses.

We are trying to demonstrate UK capability to a number of places in a company value chain, particularly in operator communications.

There are large operators around the world who are not inclined
to work with small UK companies, so we provide a platform to give them credibility where they do not have the resources necessarily to do it themselves.