First things first: The competition is called the Samsung Springboard and prizes include a $30k cash prize, $10k in Samsung tech, workshops and introductions etc. Promised at the event was judges talking about innovation, a real-live example of a pitch from an up-and-coming Kiwi tech company, and the chance to have a chin wag with some local business leaders and entrepreneurs.
I arrived fifteen minutes early at the Polperro Building, ground floor, GridAKL, and chose the unique entry point of the fire exit. A few 'is this a push door or a pull door?' moments later I was in, and nobody was any the wiser.
To say that the business shirt and jeans brigade (of which I am well and truly a card-carrying member) was in attendance would be something of an understatement. Business and entrepreneurial types were milling about, enjoying the excellent food – of which there was plenty – and checking out the two Samsung displays. There was a coffee cart in attendance too, and one scalding hot trim latte later, I was ready to mingle.
Everybody in my direct vicinity was in a closed conversational pair, so I cut through the crowd, shaking one or two free hands as they presented themselves, but aiming squarely for the tech tables.
Image: Samsung table number one.
The first table was the lesser of the two: tablets, phones, headphones and wireless charging stations. Indulging my audio-nerdness a little, I tried a pair of noise cancelling, wireless headphones (“comparable to Sennheisers,” said the demo guy), but they seemed pretty standard stuff. (Gallingly, the device they were plugged into had a volume lock on it, apparently for my own safety, so I couldn’t really hear if they were any good or not. Thanks, Obama).
No matter. The next table was where the real money was: the Samsung Gear VR. A few other people were already wearing the devices, so I orbited for a moment before moving in for an awkward hover. The strategy worked and I was promptly offered a go, which I excitedly accepted with a now regretted double thumbs up.
I prepared my mind for a good blowing and slipped the unit on.
Image: Messing up my 'do with the Samsung Gear VR
Wow. It’s amazing just how immersive the VR experience is. One moment I was standing in the cologne-drenched environs of a pretty standard glad-handing event, next I was in some surreal Cirque du Soleil-type marquee. Crazy contortionists, grimacing clowns and a crazy cat lady were all in attendance.
A typical Friday night and just as blurry.
I started fiddling with the focus dial on the headset and the guy conducting the demos assured me that the low(ish) resolution was the result of the content was being streamed to the unit.
“When the content is on-board," he said, "it’s hi-def”.
Blurry or not, the Samsung Gear VR is bad ass.
Incidentally, the unit retails for just $299, but the core cost comes from the Samsung S6 or S6 Edge required to run it. Those handsets aren’t cheap, so if you’re in that sort of phone market, a couple of hundred bucks for real working VR seems pretty darn reasonable.
It seemed like the show was about to begin, so I pretended it was time to give someone else a turn, grabbed a fruit kebab from the buffet and started making my way to the chairs.
On the way I struck up a conversation with Mat Blamires, CEO from Yeahnah. Yeahnah is an interesting-sounding piece of tech coming out soon that I’m not sure if I’m supposed to talk about or not, but it’s a platform that plays short video loops that you can share via your social media channels. The videos have a header, and that header poses a question, à la ‘do you like what I’m showing you?’
Image: Mat Blamires, CEO, Yeahnah, getting virtual
You send that clip out on your social media channels and people can then respond with a ‘yeah’ or a ‘nah’ to your video – hence the name – providing a sort of instant crowd feedback to whatever your issue is.
It’s a simple idea that just might be mad enough to work.
But the presentation was getting under way.
Icehouse CEO Andy Hamilton took the stage, and after battling with a microphone that appeared to have a rapidly flattening battery, talked a little about the Icehouse mission in general.
“Innovation is hard,” says Hamilton. “It’s hard to get noticed, it’s hard to get access to the right people and it’s hard to actually do something with that. Put all those challenges together? It’s really hard.”
To that end he talked about the rationale behind the way the prize pool has been structured, offering finalists a range of mentoring assistance and financial assistance: “The cash prize, introductions and access to the landing pad”, rather than being a token gesture, will actually “make a difference to the winners” he said.
Image: Andy Hamilton, CEO of The Icehouse
While this was going on, our second technical difficulty emerged, the Wi-Fi login screen for GridAKL Ground floor appearing on the monitors, obscuring the actual details of the prizes on offer for a minute or two, but the audience got the point regardless.
Next up, Kenny Yeon, managing director of Samsung Electronics NZ took the stage.
Yeon’s talk was surprisingly engaging, as she described Samsung’s 1938 trading company and sugar refinery origins (“at the time, that was high-tech!”), the company’s 1969 move into semiconductors, (“the rice of the electronics industry”) and other, less known elements of the company: Samsung financial services and medical centres? Who knew?
Image: Kenny Yeon, managing director, Samsung New Zealand
Next up was a real-live pitch demonstration from Chris of Parrot Analytics.
Parrot Analytics is a small company specialising in big data for TV production. It's been through the Icehouse and has been very successful in raising funds.
The pitch went something like this:
In the TV industry, the current model of survey-based audience measurement, or ‘post-release content performance’, is a pretty poor way to measure audience engagement.
“Data-driven decision-making is poor in TV”, said Chris, due to “increasing platform proliferation and increasing audience fragmentation”.
Parrot Analytics has developed a platform that takes this big data and makes it usable to the TV industry. How it does that, I couldn’t quite make out, and not for lack of concentration. With or without my understanding however, Chris assured the crowd that Parrot Analytics is “the world’s first cross-platform demand measurement device”.
With the pitch presentation finished, a short and sweet, but not particularly memorable, Q&A session with Samsung enterprise director, Verdon Kelliher got underway.
He answered a couple of softballs from the crowd, and thanked the Icehouse for using a “pre-children” photo of him on the collateral material.
Image: Samsung enterprise director, Verdon Kelliher, with Kenny Yeon and Andy Hamilton
A minute later it was all over and guests were making for the exit.
Before doing likewise, I cornered Kelleher, thanked him for the invite and asked him what the next big thing for Samsung was.
“IoT,” he said without hesitation.
“We acquired US Company SmartThings a year ago,” he said, “and now we’ve bought that product to launch in New Zealand.”
Of course, everyone says the internet of things is the next big thing, so I pressed him for an example.
“We’re looking at smart business and smart buildings,” he said.
“Imagine the hotel experience. When you arrive, with geo-fencing, the hotel can see that you’re on your way, so you’re asked ‘Would you like to check in? Would you like to order dinner?’ When you get to the hotel you don’t go for the front desk, you head up to your room and check in with keyless entry, via your phone. Then, in your room, it’s all on your phone. You’re controlling Netflix, changing the channel, controlling the lights.”
It’s obvious Kelleher is convinced, and the way he tells it, I was getting convinced too.
Still, I try and offer something of an objection, asking how, for home use at least, Samsung intends to streamline the whole set-up process so the IoT phenomenon doesn’t just fizzle out in a puff of “I-can’t-be-bothered-with-another-bloody-remote-control.”
“Samsung’s eco-system,” he said, is the secret sauce. “Anything that will share its API with us, we can use. We’re going to make it easy.”
“Believe me, I’m a farmer from Southland, so if I can understand it, it will be easy.”
At that moment, I did believe him, too.
Entries for the Samsung Springboard competition are open now, with the selected finalists set to compete in a live pitching event on November 5th. Enter here.