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CONTENTshift Success Stories: How startups are gaining a foothold in the book industry 18.03.2021

Through the CONTENTshift accelerator, the Börsenvereinsgruppe (Group of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association) aims to draw innovations into the industry and to connect startups with publishers and booksellers. Is it succeeding? Experiences of previous winners SciFlow (2020) and QualiFiction (2019).

Preparations for the CONTENTshift accelerator 2021 have been in full swing since the beginning of March as the application phase for the three-month sponsorship programme has begun. Entrepreneurs from Germany and abroad have until 1 May to submit their startup ideas from the book and content industry. This is an exciting time for the jury, who will be looking at many innovative business ideas and whose members include Sabine Haag (Wiley-VCH) and Stephan Dietrich (Junfermann), among others. Five startups will make it into the sponsorship programme, in which the founders will be extensively coached and advised by experts.

This is very worthwhile for young, emerging companies. Numerous cooperations have already been established as a result of the accelerator programme. Carsten Borchert, founder of SciFlow, who won the competition in 2020, can attest to this. Even though the coaching phase and award ceremony had to take place under Covid restrictions, he was still able to network with the industry and establish lasting collaborations during the mentoring phase. "At the workshop weekend, we gained valuable tips and contacts from experienced jury members, mentors and investors, which helped us enormously. Where else can you discuss your business idea with the who's who of the industry?”

The business idea behind SciFlow is a collaborative online text editor for researchers and students, with which scientific texts can be created, edited and formatted as a team. This can simplify the writing and publishing of theses, dissertations and research articles. "We already had an established product but by exchanging ideas with the mentors, we were able to work on new project approaches that are aimed directly at publishers," explains Borchert. The result: cooperations with partners such as specialist bookseller Lehmanns Media, publisher Duden Verlag and the self-publishing platform Books on Demand. 

The idea behind CONTENTshift is to bring together startups, experts and investors from the industry and to jointly promote digital innovations related to books. Does the programme live up to this claim?

Carsten Borchert
"Where else can you discuss your business idea with the who's who of the industry?" Carsten Borchert, SciFlow

"Absolutely," says Gesa Schöning from QualiFiction, the 2019 winner startup (seen here in a video of the award ceremony). Based on artificial intelligence, her company analyses texts for content, style and marketability and thus helps publishers and authors to automatically classify fiction texts, enrich metadata and make predictions about sales success. "At the time, we were not completely new to the industry and had already made contacts. However, through discussions with the CONTENTshift jury, we have been able to make great progress ourselves with the company," Schöning reports. "We discussed in which directions we could open up our software. It also quickly became a matter of collaborative approaches and the question: what problems can we solve together?" The partnership with technology and information provider MVB also came about during this phase: "Together we have just launched the browser for the Reading Rationales, the new classification standard for books," says Schöning.

"Through discussions with the CONTENTshift jury, we have been able to make great progress ourselves with the company." Gesa Schöning, QualiFiction

The idea behind the rationales: deliberately addressing the subconscious needs of the customer to provide greater orientation in the book maze and therefore generate additional impulses to buy. QualiFiction has used the current market research results based on neuroscience to develop an AI that assigns books to the appropriate reading rationale. Together with MVB, this new standard is now to be used nationwide via the books-in-print catalogue Verzeichnis Lieferbarer Bücher (VLB).

"It's really great to see that the industry is becoming more open-minded when it comes to digital innovation and that we can work together on solutions," says Schöning: "The CONTENTshift accelerator is making a significant contribution to this."

Startups can apply until 1 May:

Text: Carolin Dau

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