Michael Newington Gray
"Financial wellbeing" startup Squirrel has beaten out 14 other companies to win HRH The Duke of York`s second Pitch@Palace event.
The competition, held on 5 November at St James` Palace, saw 40 companies gather to demonstrate their products and business plans to delegates, while 15 took to the stage -- compered by WIRED magazine`s editor David Rowan -- seeking investment, mentorship or introductions. The winning company, which plugs its budgeting and savings tool into employers` pay rolls to provide employees with greater control over their finances and emergency cash injections, was awarded a month in Silicon Valley in 2015 courtesy of Wayra, with office space, an introduction to the Telefonica investor and partner network and a place on Microsoft Venture`s accelerator.
But, as HRH The Duke of York pointed out, there was added value for all 40 companies in the room -- from gaming startups to robotics ventures.
"My vision for for Pitch@Palace is based on many years experience visiting many great British companies, often hearing requests for some sort of followup activity that would help their businesses grow faster or bigger. I have created this platform to enable at least some of those requests to be answered." He urged the audience to each take one followup call or meeting with one or more of the 40 companies on show during the evening. And to the startups in the room, he said: "Be imaginative and creative in what you ask for."
Squirrel cofounder Mutaz Qubbaj delivered the winning pitch, having reached the prestigious event via the WIRED2014 stage in October. During the annual WIRED conference a number of startups were given the opportunity to pitch to the audience -- including guest HRH The Duke of York -- in a bid to secure a place at Pitch@Palace. Squirrel, along with Therapy Box -- which develops communication aid apps -- and Poetica, a digital editor, won spots on the Pitch@Palace bootcamp after pitching at WIRED2014. Therapy Box got the vote to go through to the final pitch, while Squirrel was in fact a wildcard option.
Squirrel`s cofounder Qubbaj explains that with half the UK population living on £8 a day, and the necessary credit card or pay-day lending debts that spiral out from here, 4 percent of a company`s bottom line can be lost to the kind of stress this puts on an employee. "That`s £120m a year to a company like Tesco," he told the audience.
Squirrel is designed to take away that anxiety so many people feel, by acting as a total savings, budgeting and bill management tool that`s linked to your employer`s pay roll, helping people save directly from their pay, or get emergency funds straight from accrued wages if in need of a cash injection. The service also helps people automatically switch to the best suppliers to save on bills. The company charges employers a fee, considering the service as an employee benefit.
Qubbaj said: "We want to help 50 percent of the UK population."
Runner-up Sam Labs was awarded a spot on Microsoft Venture`s accelerator as well, and came just four votes short of Squirrel`s winning total. It has designed an internet of things tool for the average person to learn about connected objects, or create their own. This venture might be based on the fact that some projections put the internet of things` future economy at $4 trillion. But for Sam Labs it`s now about teaching the next generation how to create them. Sam Labs joins with schools and universities to deliver the tech.
"They can learn coding whilst creating," said the company`s cofounder. "Anyone using it becomes an instant innovator."