Guess we can tick this off the startup “bucket list”.
It’s Monday morning in LA, and Screach CEO Paul Rawlings is sitting about 20 feet away from music man and tech investor Will.I.Am, who’s being interviewed on future technology by Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales.
In a little while, he’ll be pitching his own digital innovation to a crowd which includes international entertainment bosses, investors, and hotly-tipped startup talent.
“It was an amazing experience. The audience was a lot more influential than any I’d ever pitched to before. So, yes, I ended up drinking a lot of water beforehand.”
A few weeks ago, Paul got a call from an organisation called Founders Forum, a community for CEOs, entrepreneurs and investors. They asked him if he’d like to be part of a delegation of UK talent heading to Los Angeles for Innovation Forum 2013, which was supported by UK Trade & Investment. The guest list included top executives from Universal Music Group, Sony Corp, FX Network and DreamWorks Animation.
“I thought it sounded great. So I said yes”.
So, instead of overseeing the development of Screach from his desk in Newcastle, Paul found himself wandering around Beverley Hills on a Sunday afternoon, practicing his pitch to some of America’s top entertainment bosses.
Paul launched Screach two years ago to enable brands and businesses to create interactive experiences connecting a smartphone with a digital screen. In that time, the company’s worked with people such as Bauer Media, PepsiCo, Disney and Newcastle United.
However, this was a really cool opportunity.
“The quality of the people appearing was just ridiculous. I got so many notes in just a couple of days.”
The UKTI and Founders Forum tailored the event to allow UK companies to mix with major US entertainment, media and technology firms, and each invited startup founder was given two minutes to pitch during the afternoon, as well as a demo table to show off their product to interested parties.
“There was a range of people there, from entrepreneurs developing apps to websites to kids stuff and broadcast stuff. Michael Acton Smith of Moshi Monsters was there. Songkick too, which is great because I like that company a lot.
“We were aiming to interest partners and possibly investors, and the product went down pretty well. One person said it was one of the coolest things they’d ever seen. It was pretty energising.”
Delegates were invited to a cocktail and canapé event at the British Consulate residence, with jaw-dropping illusions from Dynamo. The following day, they got the chance to check out some heavyweight panels featuring entertainment CEOs, investors and digital leaders.
The opening event featured Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge, Sony Corp chief exec Michael Lynton, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, FX Network president John Landgraf and William Morris Endeavour co-CEO Ari Emanuel.
A lot of the discussion centred around content and delivery. As shared in an article in the LA Times, Jeffrey Katzenberg said that movies might be available on a pay-per-screen-size basis within a decade, with smartphone viewers paying less than a dollar while high-quality theatre-goers pay $35 or more.
John Landgraf believes that technology will soon enable advertising to be far more targeted, while Michael Lynton said that viewers are moving increasingly from owning content to paying for access on a subscription basis.
It was an interesting topic of conversation for Screach, which is currently rolling out a plug and play box called ScreachTV. The box allows pubs and venues to subscribe to a feed of interactive content such as quizzes, games, tweetwalls and news, allowing customers to get involved using their smartphones.
“There’s definitely some potential content partners I’m going to be following up with.
“There was a lot of discussion about the democracy of control of distribution. People are decentralising the way that content is distributed now. That’s interesting, and inevitable. It’s already happening.”
After listening to panels on both digital and investment, the delegates went on a tour of Sony Studios before heading to Lucian Grainge’s house for drinks and a performance by musician Emeli Sande.
“It was pretty epic. The marquee was as big as my house.”
Guests of the Innovation Forum were addressed by California governor Jerry Brown, while British PM David Cameron gave a speech by video link. TechCity CEO Joanna Shields hopes the event was an opportunity for entrepreneurs to forge valuable new business links.
Paul agrees that is was a great experience.
“You get to spend time with other people trying to do similar stuff, and that’s great. You also get to mix with American companies and the thought processes are so different. They think bigger, and there’s more of a can-do attitude. I reassessed things that I was doing, and thought differently about a few others.
“It’s brilliant to be able to test your product in a new market and to take some time to think outside the office. I don’t know if enough people know about UKTI at the moment, which is a shame because stuff like this is amazing. It’d be great if the message was out there more.”