The Czech capital city of Prague has a thriving tech start-up scene. On a whistle-stop tour of Prague Siliconrepublic.com met 12 start-ups that are changing the world.
The Czech Republic is famous for its baroque capital, rich culture and wonderful beers, but when people think of technology and innovation they forget that contact lenses were invented in the Czech Republic, that AVG security software was born in the country and that Socialbakers, the company that measures social data for half of Fortune 500 companies, was founded in Prague.
The country established its first technical institute in 1707. It currently has 304 start-ups listed on Angel List and has captured €3.4bn of the EU’s Horizon 2020 R&D fund. The country’s start-ups raised €68m in venture capital last year and it is home to popular games studios like Bohemia Interactive and Kings of Bauhaus.
We spoke to Czech start-up community expert Lenka Kucerova about the start-up scene in Prague and observed pitches from BrandEmbassy, CDN77, Cognitive Security, Corinth, Gamee, Warhorse Studios, GoodData, Invea-Tech, Imagemetry, Lavendr, Skypicker and Geewa.
The start-ups of Prague (video):
BrandEmbassy helps 100+ enterprise companies like T-Mobile, GE Money and Samsung provide excellent customer service for today’s impatient social customers. By unifying all digital customer service channels into one Social Customer Ecosystem they help you to be loved by your customers.
“I hate waiting,” admits founder and CEO Vit Horky. “Especially when something gets broken, every minute feels like an hour. But today people are using their phones for anything but phone calls. That is a fundamental shift for business in terms of new customer behaviour. We built Brand Embassy to provide new customer care channels and help customer service to be even more relevant and friendly.”
CDN77 is a Central European Content delivery network (CDN) start-up. Its goal is to disrupt the dominance of the big (mostly US) players in the market. CDN77’s network includes 27 PoPs (Points of Presence) around the world and the company claims it offers one of the best European and South American reaches in the market. CDN77 has been ranked among the top five fastest and most reliable CDN providers in a number of the world’s countries and regions.
“We are a two-and-a-half-year-old company and we employ 40 people in Prague and we are focused on disrupting the dominance of the big players like Amazon and Akamai,” CEO Zdenek Cendra said. “Our goal is to capture 1pc of the CDN market within 2015.”
The company is easily going to achieve this goal and has won a contract to speed up the delivery of photographs, videos and other large data files for the Hubble telescope.
Cognitive Security is the creator of a highly precise and sensitive network behaviour analysis system, featuring both the ability to catch novel (e.g. custom built) and relatively sophisticated threats and produce only a comparatively low number of false alerts.
The company was acquired by Cisco two years ago and as a result brought a major R&D centre to Prague, growing its numbers of 20 to 60.
“Instead of building a start-up slowly, we wanted to change the world of computer security,” explained CEO Michal Pechoucek.
“We wanted to change the way people perceive security and protect privacy.”
Pechoucek says the current methods for protecting consumers from malware doesn’t scale as the competition is massive and malware is getting increasingly sophisticated.
He says Cognitive uses machine learning in the same way many industries use it to predict behavior.
“We are ahead of our time and as a start-up we haven’t made many mistakes. We are still a small start-up within Cisco and because we are so far from San Jose we have the liberty to do our best.”
Corinth is a K-12 3D content technology company based in Prague and Silicon Valley. Using advanced technologies such as real time 3D objects and environments, augmented reality, microscopic deep-zoom images and 3D printing, the start-up has hit the journey to become one of the hottest innovators in educational technologies globally.
Corinth’s 3D content is now being used in 109 countries, being loved by teachers, students and education experts worldwide. Some of the world’s top universities verify Corinth’s content, including Stanford in the US and Charles University in Prague.
Corinth is among Microsoft’s top partners in education, while partnering also with Dell, zSpace and Qualcomm.
“Our vision is to change the whole publishing industry,” said Corinth key account manager Daniel Koren.
“Our technology transforms publishing from traditional flat publishing into 3D, with deep zooming that can fill the gap between the capabilities of hardware.
“The company’s software can allow publishers to introduce interactive 3D into websites, e-books, content management systems and more.”
Gweewa is comprised of a team of more than 40 individuals that deliver a fun and engaging experience to 10m players each month across multiple platforms. Top games include Pool Live Tour and a self-operated social games portal.
“We have 2m players a day and we support 100m players overall,” said CTO and founder Milos Endrle.
He said the company’s next endeavour, Pool Tour 2, will be out this summer, and the company will be focusing on transforming TV by introducing interactive games for smart devices to coincide with live TV programming.
“TV is stuck in the 20th century,” Endrle said. “We want to make viewers part of the show and they can play against other TV viewers to see who is smarter.”
Warhorse Studios is an interesting indie gaming company that is in the midst of creating an online game called Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Led by games industry veteran Daniel Vavra the company raised US$1.8m on Kickstarter and the game is publicly available at Alpha 3.0 stage. The company has raised a further US$500,000 and employs 70 software developers.
“Good things are never born easy and there is a lot of hard work behind luck.
“When we started out we realised that the expectations of investors and publishers and everyone else was wrong. Everyone said we should create a Facebook game, a market we consider dead. Big-name publishers are now in trouble because they fell behind the indie game scene. Our strategy of pissing against the wind has worked so far,” Vavra said.
The game will be fully released next year.
GoodData enables more than 100,000 users to store, combine, analyse and visualise data to quickly answer business-critical questions. GoodData’s Insights Network mines the accumulation of the company’s experience, best practices, and the millions of user interactions to propel organisations to analytic maturity and business success. Its Open Analytics Platform helps companies manage and analyse that data in one seamless, interactive environment and create breakthrough applications to empower their customers and users.
GoodData is headquartered in San Francisco and is funded to the tune of US$111.2m and is backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital, Fidelity Growth Partners, General Catalyst Partners, Next World Capital, Tenaya Capital, TOTVS SA, and Windcrest Partners.
“We describe what we do as Insights as a Service,” explaind SVP Radovan Janecek. “Our technology hides the complexity of the physical representation of data.”
The insights platform runs in the cloud and currently the company sells directly to brands like Time Warner, Target and ZenDesk. The platform is used by more than 5,000 sales representatives.
“We aggregate the data and then feed and distribute it to our client organisations.”
Companies such as T-Mobile, Siemens and Konica Minolta use Invea-Tech products to know and to secure their networks. The company analyses network traffic, reports on traffic structure and alerts on threats that are not detectable by standard signature-based approaches. Invea-Tech has been recognised by Gartner and recommended by Cisco and Check Point.
“We began by doing R&D for the US Army,” explains co-founder Jiri Tobola. “Cybercrime is one of the biggest problems today and more than 50pc of enterprise networks are compromised by malware. They are mostly about waiting for a problem to come. Companies like Target, Sony and Home Depot have been hit by hackers for hundreds of millions of dollars. If they used our technology it wouldn’t happen to them.
“Because of our technology there are 500 customers who can sleep well at night, including telcos and data centres that we monitor and protect their networks against attacks.”
Verifeyed helps companies worldwide achieve lower fraud rates. The company’s system detects fraud by automatic analysis of digital images and scanned documents. The company’s secret technology is the result of eight years of efforts by sceintists and it is used by insurance companies to detect fraud as well as forensics labs to study evidence.
“Our software enables you to detect if a photo has been digitally manipulated or not,” explaind Babak Mahdian, CEO. “We are focused on secure paperless communications and our main customers would be banks and insurance companies. We can detect files that are fraudulent such as if a picture of a damaged car has been photoshopped.”
Mahdian said that the company is entering the US market by helping banks ensure secure remote cheque deposit.
Strv is a network of games and apps that provides Tinder-like experiences for gay men. The team is behind The Game dating app that was acquired by SparkNetworks and Hornet, which is a 5m-strong gay social network.
It’s latest app Lavendr is currently the number two gay dating app after Grinder, and boasts 54,000 monthly active users.
“Our users are willing to pay for services on the app and this has seen us achieve revenue growth of 200pc,” said co-founder Lubo Smid.
“We accelerate through growth-hacking strategies and focusing only on the US market. We are chasing Grindr and we would like to occupy the top spot in the gay space.”
Skypicker is changing the online air travel industry by allowing travellers to find and book the cheapest flights. Skypicker’s unique technology is based on data collection and combination algorithm that integrates low-cost flights with classic airlines and creates new unique routes up to 90pc cheaper than the existing offer on the market. Since January 2015 Skypicker already multiplied its revenues three-fold to reach €3.3m in April 2015, selling more than 2,000 tickets per day.
“We are changing the online air travel industry by allowing customers to find and book the cheapest flights available,” said CFO Lucie Brestova. “We do this by clever data collection and a combination algorithm that helps people get where they want to go by combining flight options and achieving savings of around 50pc.
“We are creating flight combinations that never existed before and are creating new routes.”
Led by Bozena Rezabova, an ex-Googler and wife of Socialbakers CEO Jan Rezab, who is also an investor in the company, Gamee is the first social network for casual gamers.
“Think Instagram for games,” said Rezabova. “Players can play directly from the feed, which reduces the friction of getting games installed. One click and you are in the game.”
The Gamee app is full of short and catchy games from arcades to puzzles and are playable across social and online. The social feed also shows what games are trending and how your friends are doing.
“We soft-launched in five markets in April and we have so far attracted 10,000 users. We will be launching globally in June.”
Charles Bridge, Prague image via Shutterstock