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Innovative and international – this year’s ten nominated startups 19.06.2023

Considerable interest from promising startups across the globe: ten startups nominated for the CONTENTshift accelerator, this year out of 44 applications from three continents.

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Now in its eighth year, the Börsenverein’s CONTENTshift accelerator continues to forge a successful international path. In 2023, applications were received from a total of 44 startups in countries such as the US, Philippines, France, Rumania, Netherlands and the German-speaking world, each vying for one of the coveted spots in this year’s funding programme. Ten of these newcomers have now made it through to the next round. The following provides a brief description of the innovative ideas behind these exciting startups (in alphabetical order)! 

The ten nominated Startups

Anna Heimer and Marco Dzebro were inspired to come up with their idea for Bookplay after hearing the shocking findings of a study on childhood reading. The German non-profit organisation Stiftung Lesen had determined that almost 40% of children under the age of eight were not being read to, and this prompted the Heidelberg-based team to take action. Their platform makes books interesting for young children while simultaneously relieving overburdened parents. Children are invited to experience classic books in digital form in a truly fun reading experience. The app combines storytelling with digital content and rewards reading aloud with points that can be redeemed. The texts are gamified (for example, in the form of short films and games) and users can use voice recognition to display holograms by means of a special hardware called Holo Box.

The appbookscreener from LeReTo was developed by Veronika Haberler and also seeks to streamline the research process. bookscreener is a data search engine that makes it easier to search for and find published content in digital form. Aimed at users and the book trade in general, the app minimises the potential for frustration involved in traditional research and provides wider access to the content held by reference book publishers. The search engine lists the hits in attractive and intuitive graphic form – displayed as real-time hits in the digital pages – that makes it quicker and easier for users to find the information they’re looking for in the scanned books.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about artificial intelligence (AI) and especially ChatGPT, which uses AI to generate text. However, since chatbots are based on AI rather than human intelligence, the texts they produce are often misleading and may even contain harmful content. This is exactly why the team of Maria Amelie and Vinay Setty from Norway developed Factiverse, a web browser extension that scrutinises content for evidence of prejudice, disinformation and intentional fake news. Their extension makes it possible for users to be sure of the information’s validity and reliability.

Back to kids: the startup GoLexic is also eager to help improve the reading skills of children and young teenagers. But this app created by Samantha Merlivat has a more targeted goal, namely to support kids with a specific reading-related challenge called dyslexia. GoLexic invites six- to fourteen-year-olds to choose from 50 lessons, each lasting 15 minutes, designed to help them practice their reading and writing and also identify any particular gaps they might have. The topic is particularly close to the founder’s heart: Merlivat’s brother is dyslexic and her mother runs a dyslexia institute in France, so she’s aware of how little support dyslexic children receive in schools. GoLexic is currently available in German, English and French.

The information generated by ChatGPT is not always reliable, which is why Rene Zeilinger developed his own chatbot, KAP by HeadwAI. KAP stands for knowledge access point, which pretty much encapsulates the idea behind the app: it’s designed to help users save valuable time when carrying out research. The chatbot is fed with high-quality – that is, trustworthy – information drawn from non-fiction books, trade journals and legal literature. This information is then summarised and processed coherently using AI so as to guarantee the validity and reliability of the answers provided by the bot.

Which books have the potential to be bestsellers? The publishing industry has been asking this question since the beginning of time. And although Lit-Xby Lars Leipson and Sebastian Hermanns doesn’t come with any bestseller guarantee, their literary-data-analysis tools mean that success is definitely more likely. Lit-X makes it easier for German publishers to identify which books are currently trending on the US market so that they can either acquire translation rights early on or develop their own books with comparable themes. Lit-X also strives to determine the most appropriate price-setting in that eclectic realm between rising inflation and price-conscious book buyers, thereby using literary data to help foster a book’s success.

Maple Tales also addresses one of the most important issues of our present day and future, namely low reading rates among children. How can we encourage children to read more and perhaps even get them to truly love reading? The app developed by Marlene Damm and Timur Zorlu offers a solution to this challenge by combining reading with the advantages of smartphones. Children are invited to give characters their own names, chose their own animations and decide every few minutes how the 10-to-15-minute story should continue. This prompts the children to be further draw into the stories, all of which were, by the way, written especially for Maple Tales.

Flora Geske’s SUMM AI can be thought of as a kind of Google Translate for the accessible language known in German-speaking countries as “Leichte Sprache”. The idea of creating accessible, low-threshold content is a hot topic these days; it’s seen as being both politically and socially significant in efforts to provide online access to as many people as possible. This is where AI comes into play, as it does for so many startups these days: SUMM AI is an AI-based tool that allows users to translate complicated texts into accessible language. It’s all done with the touch of a button, making the texts easy to understand and thus achieving a greater level of participation for all.

Artificial intelligence is also at the heart of to teach by Thea GmbH and literally takes users back to school. The startup headed by Felix Weiß and Marius Lindenmann is designed to help teachers create individual exercises optimally tailored to their specific lesson plans. With only a few clicks of the mouse, teachers can create worksheets and other material consisting of texts as well as audio material and gamified content. In other words, teachers can create the perfect in-class exercises to keep students interested while also relieving their own workload.

Aside from children’s learning and AI, there are many other publishing industry areas that deserve attention. For example, although the field of audiobooks is still booming, it nevertheless hasn’t undergone any kind of significant progress or innovation in decades. This is exactly the challenge taken on by xigxag, an app created by Kelli Fairbrother from Bodmin, England. Fairbrother wants to bring audio books into the future, which means making it possible for audiobook users to look up words, make notes and display illustrations. The app offers readers these functions as well as the ability to switch between reading and listening and to exchange information with fellow users on the xigxag social media platform.

What happens next?

The founders heading up these ten nominated startups will present their ideas and visions at a special pitch event on 27 June in Frankfurt am Main. After that, a jury of experts will select five of the ten startups for the final shortlist. This year’s jury includes Martina Fiddrich from Cornelsen Verlag, Nina Hugendubel and Per Dalheimer from Hugendubel, Detlef Büttner and Leif Göritz from Lehmanns Media/Thalia bookshops, Colin Hauer and Magia Ramm from Hörbuch Hamburg, Wolfgang Pichler from MANZ publishing house, Jasmin Ahluwalia and Philipp Neie from Schweitzer Fachinformationen, Stefanie Penck from TeNeues Verlag, Ronald Schild (MVB/Börsenvereinsgruppe) and independent consultant Lennart Schneider.

The founders of these five startups will participate in an exclusive funding programme that involves customised coaching sessions and access to a high-calibre network of experts as well as investors drawn from the book and media industry. The 2023 CONTENTshift accelerator Startup of the Year will be chosen on 19 October from 11am to 12 noon at the Frankfurt Book Fair’s Frankfurt Studio. As every year, the winner will receive a €10,000 funding prize to be used towards the implementation of their business idea.

Text: Isabella A. Caldart

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