Danish Ideas: Be My Eyes – a visionary startup

The Danish startup Be My Eyes has a lot of traction in Silicon Valley. We had a chance to talk with Christian Erfurt, CEO, about the story of Be My Eyes and what lies ahead.   

Be_My_Eyes_Logo

In January this year, a team of talented Danish entrepreneurs launched the app “Be My Eyes” for iOS devices. The app connects blind and visually impaired users with sighted people, who want to make a real difference in their everyday lives. At any moment, a blind or visually impaired person can request help through the app and is then connected to a helper in the same time zone, who can provide assistance via live video chat on an internet enabled device.

When asked how it all started, Christian Erfurt, CEO of Be My Eyes, puts it this way:

“The beginning of our story is actually quite straightforward. Hans Jörgen Wiberg, our inventor, participated in Startup Weekend Aarhus in late 2011, where I met him. After that weekend, development took off. It took twice as long and costed twice as much as planned, but timing-wise we were actually quite lucky since 3G and 4G networks, along with improved live video quality, gained momentum while we were in the development phase.”

Since launch, Be My Eyes has rocketed forward, and the company participated in Innovation Center Denmark’s 10th SCALEit program in March this year. First week after launch, the app was already featured on the world’s five biggest television stations. The interest has just kept growing since then and the company hasn’t had to spend anything on marketing with the app going viral.

Be My Eyes is now a network of eyes with more than 305,000 helpers and 23,000 blind or visually impaired, who have participated in over 107,000 sessions. This scale and impact has exceeded Christian Erfurt’s wildest imaginations:

“To get a grasp of the scale, I sometimes try to visualize how many people are on board by imagining soccer fields with our users on them. I am just really proud and grateful for the positive reactions to Be My Eyes. It has gone so fast and it’s crazy that we’re already in 140 countries.”

Lend Your Eyes to the Blind

Often blind people find themselves in situations, where they could really use a pair of helping eyes. Smart phones and their existing features sort part of this problem and have helped a lot of people with visual impairments, but the problem with the existing video peer to peer systems is that you have to call somebody. Be My Eyes solves this problem by bringing together a community of those who need help with those who are more than willing to provide it.

With Be My Eyes it doesn’t cost anything to help someone distinguish between a can of tomatoes and a can of coconut milk; something that can make a huge difference, if spaghetti Bolognese is on the menu.

Be My Eyes has also proven that the limits of the app are constantly being pushed by its users.

In one example, a blind woman went to her son’s first soccer match and if it hadn’t been for Be My Eyes and its eager community of helpers, she wouldn’t have experienced much of it. But the app put her in contact with a helper, who could see and comment the match.

Another example illustrates the value of Be My Eyes in helping visually impaired people orientate in complex situations. A blind man and his wife were driving in their car, when suddenly the car stops, and the wife exclaims “Accident!”. While she runs out of their car to lend assistance, her husband is left disoriented. Fortunately he was able to get a live overview of the situation by filming the events through the car’s sunroof with his smart phone and receiving updates through Be My Eyes.

These examples illustrate how a platform and its users can solve important problems in seemingly simple ways.

What’s Next?

Be My Eyes already has a lot of traction with it being the largest community of blind in the world. To leverage this position, the company has relocated to Silicon Valley and it speaks to the potential of Be My Eyes that the dedicated and skilled team behind it have been chosen for the prestigious Singularity University Accelerator.

“We have had our first weeks at the Singularity University Accelerator. It’s a great opportunity and we’re being pushed to go forward with full speed. The Accelerator had 400 applicants, but only seven were chosen, so we consider ourselves really privileged. It’s such an amazing program and the six other projects are great – we can learn a lot from them.” says Christian Erfurt.

The next step for Be My Eyes is scaling and doing some analysis:
“Our focus right now is to reach more users and make a difference for more people globally. We also have to try to understand the users we have and how they use the technology before we press the marketing button and start hitting the PR-drums.”

Word of advice

Christian Erfurt and his team have experienced a lot along the way and are full of great advice to Danish entrepreneurs considering taking the leap to Silicon Valley:

“The best piece of advice I can give to other startups is that they should pack their suitcases and participate in ICDK’s SCALEit program, which is a great way to network and get vouched into the system. SCALEit has been invaluable for us and made it a lot easier to get into places and establish contacts that would otherwise be out of reach. It is also highly recommendable to stay for a month afterwards to discern whether Silicon Valley is really the right thing for you and your business. But be warned, Silicon Valley is a really exciting place, and once you’ve been here, it’s quite probable that you’ll want to come back!”

Obviously, a lot has still to come for Be My Eyes and ICDK looks forward to following them on their exciting journey.

Scaling it at Danish doorsteps!

Coming up: SCALEit Inspire events in Aalborg, Aarhus and Copenhagen

The SCALEit team is ready to hit the Danish roads to bring Silicon Valley to the doorstep of entrepreneurs around Denmark. We want to inspire you on how to take advantage of the Valley’s unique ecosystem and use it to grow your startup. If you are working on a technologically driven scalable idea, have some early traction and passionate about taking it big, we are the perfect fit for you.

If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, you should consider coming by as well. We’ll offer concrete and actionable insights on how you can take your company or idea to the next level.

Meet us in Denmark?SCALEit

Aalborg: 28th of August, from 13:00 – 17:00

Aarhus: 7th of September, from 17:00 – 19:00

Copenhagen: 9th of September, from 17:00 – 19:00

Danish Ideas: Making Solar Power cheaper than Fossil Fuels

Welcome to our new series aiming to present a number of Danish developed ideas and new technologies that showcase what the Danish start-up scene is all about:

Heliac in action at Roskilde Festival. Photo by Trendsonline
The sun foil from this month’s start-up Heliac in action at Roskilde Festival. Photo by Trendsonline.dk

Despite a population of only 5.6 million people, Denmark boasts a large number of talented entrepreneurs as well as skilled developers, scientists, and engineers.

In the coming newsletters, we will highlight some of these ideas and start-ups.

Are you a start-up yourself, ready to present yourself to Silicon Valley? Then let us get in touch!

Danish technology start-up focus on sun-foil as an energy source
The Danish newly launched company Heliac produces cheap thin plates of plastic, a product using a “sun-foil” technology. Among other uses, the foil can concentrate sunlight in order to cook food or clean water, without having to burn wood or garbage. The ambitious target is to revolutionize the field of concentrated solar power through low cost micro-structured foils.

The foil is named SMILE: Solar Mobile Independent Low-Cost Energy system, and earlier this summer, the foil was presented in a rather untraditional venue – at Roskilde Festival, the biggest music festival in Scandinavia – that being the closest Danish comparison to a camp in a developing country.

Latest, Heliac has launched a Kickstarter campaign that runs until late August, where contributors can either get a SMILE-foil for themselves to be used for camping, or can donate kits to families in the developing world.

Check out the campaign here.

More than 80 Danish startups have been immersed in the Valley

SCALEitCopenhagen

This year we celebrated the 10th edition of our SCALEit program. To mark this milestone, we have decided to bring the valley spirit to Copenhagen. Therefore we invite every interested entrepreneur to join us on June 1st in Founders House in Copenhagen. This day we will host the biggest pitch workshop ever held in Copenhagen, and also tell you more about doing business the Silicon Valley way.

Continue reading “More than 80 Danish startups have been immersed in the Valley”

The-Bubble-That’s-Not-A-Bubble

Venture Capital Background - Grunge Wordcloud Concept.

By Shomit Ghose, Managing Director & Partner at Onset Ventures, member of ICDK’s advisory board

In the midst of Silicon Valley ‘s current climate – specifically The-Bubble-That’s-Not-A-Bubble in which we live – we’ve seen an explosion of company financings and an explosion in company valuations. At the earliest stages, there were an astounding 70,730 start-ups receiving angel funding in 2013. At the same time, at the latest stages of financing, there are now over 100 private companies – “unicorns” – with valuations in excess of $1 billion. In this frothy environment, what’s the best way for a start-up, particularly one based in Denmark, to secure interest and start-up funding from Silicon Valley venture investors?

Despite today’s frenetic funding environment, the best path to getting start-up financing remains the same well-worn path that’s always prevailed: getting a personal introduction to a partner at the right venture fund; focusing on an addressable market that’s multiple billions of dollars in size; having a disruptive business model; having unique and defensible technology; having a talented and tenacious founding team; and deal terms that are appropriate for the company.

In addition, companies that garner the most investment interest nowadays are the ones with business models that are relentlessly data-centric. Whether it’s wearables, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3-D printing, next-generation cyber-security, or the sharing economy, everything today is driven by masses of data. For example, wearables and the IoT provide an interface for the physical world to the Internet; these devices are producing huge volumes of data at the network’s edge. But wearables and the IoT can only provide value when their data can be captured and analyzed. Consequently, the business model here is explicitly not about the devices themselves but about understanding the data produced.

Similarly, 3-D printing largely presents an exercise in personalized manufacturing that is driven by data. Just as Big Data personalizes content in print (Google), video (Netflix), and audio (Pandora), Big Data will also drive the content (aka. personalized manufacturing) of 3-D printing. With the Big Data dynamic in mind, Danish IT start-ups wishing to attract the attention of Silicon Valley VCs today should be advised to define their value propositions and business models from an acutely data-centric perspective. The IT industry has only just begun to harness the power of Big Data, and start-ups who are pioneering new ways of examining and gaining insight from huge volumes of data will be tomorrow’s biggest success stories.

In addition, Danish start-ups should be prepared to move their management teams – though not the rest of their companies – to Silicon Valley for the first few years of the company’s life. Early-stage start-ups face extremely high execution risk, and those risks are best mitigated by having the founders proximal to their company’s Silicon Valley investors. Of course, about half of US venture capital dollars today continues to be invested in Silicon Valley. But crucially, the Valley also has the world’s deepest supply of risk-willing investors, the majority of whom are former entrepreneurs and battle-hardened veterans of the start-up wars themselves.

Today, the climate for early-stage start-ups in Silicon Valley is the best it’s ever been. The combination of passionate entrepreneurs, experienced investors with plentiful capital, and new business models founded on Big Data make it the best time in history to start a company that may become tomorrow’s Next Big Thing.

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