The Luxembourg-City Incubator can finally rejoice. Two of its startups are among the fifteen selected for the StartupsVsCovid19 hackathon. A great recognition for the work accomplished over the last two years by the startup incubator to support entrepreneurs in the capital.
by: Charles-Louis Machuron
photo: Kaori Anne Jolliffe
featured: Caroline Assaf
I start this discussion with Mike Sebban, the co-founder of the Shawbe startup. Together with his partner Kim Bliksas, they got into entrepreneurship three years ago by following the “Garage Band” programme of nyuko, the support structure for project leaders. Six months to discover the key stages of creating a startup, challenging their ideas and finally launching Shawbe. The initial project? To create a “TripAdvisor” for independent shopkeepers in Luxembourg.
In the spring of 2018, when the House of Startups opens, the team moves to the ground floor, in the offices of the Luxembourg-City Incubator – the nyuko team is already integrated there before joining the structure of the Chamber of Commerce and its House of Entrepreneurship a few months later. Mike and Kim are eagerly developing their initial concept and accompany independent shopkeepers by creating their Facebook pages and organizing contests. “We soon found ourselves doing the marketing campaigns for them,” says Mike. At the same time, the two partners created three other services: SOS (Sales Outsourcing Service), an outsourced business development service for companies – and the main source of revenue for Shawbe, Rebrain.io, a tool aggregating training in Luxembourg, and finally the latest addition, Boosterr.io, a service to connect salespeople with companies.
“Walk-in customers can walk around town, book a table in a nearby restaurant, receive a notification when it is ready (and clean) and come to the place in a few minutes.”
“When containment was declared we ‘lost’ many customers for our SOS service and the launch of our Boosterr.io platform was put on hold,” Mike reveals. The call for projects launched by the Ministry of Economy and Luxinnovation was therefore an opportunity for the two entrepreneurs to think about a useful service for local shopkeepers. “At the beginning we were thinking of presenting a platform similar to the one launched by the Chamber of Commerce, JobSwitch, for matching candidates with temporarily available jobs. By talking about it, we received valuable advice to focus our efforts on the target we knew best, the local business community,” says Mike.
“That’s when Kim told me about a situation he had experienced in Japan. On a family trip, he had noticed that the restaurants were crowded but there were no lines. Based on this idea, the two entrepreneurs went around their networks, contacted restaurants, federations and representative associations and after a few days presented their new idea: CheckQ, a mobile application to reserve a table in a restaurant in a nearby radius at the last minute. “Walk-in customers can walk around town, book a table in a nearby restaurant, receive a notification when it is ready (and clean) and come to the place in a few minutes. A simple QR code will be scanned when they arrive to identify them,” Mike explains. No more queues in front of the restaurants or at the entrance to the establishments. Hello virtual queues! With the reduction in the number of seats due to the sanitary conditions, restaurants must now find a way to optimize their occupancy rate. ‘Touch points’ are also reduced to the strict minimum (service). “Restaurants can extend the time slots for their services and manage availability in real time, the so-called seating capacity. The aim is to help them generate the closest possible turnover to the pre-Covid turnover. They will also receive feedback directly from the application,” concludes Mike.
In terms of timing, the Shawbe team expects to deliver a first version of the application in mid-June and then release its free application in September – premium paid options will be considered in a second phase. The summer will be hot for the startup which will have to convince – its core business – restaurant owners to use the application.
“Young people prefer to work in teams. Even if they are fond of social networks (WhatsApp, SnapChat…) they lack a platform to study together.”
The same satisfaction and relief for CoCo World and its founder Caroline Assaf, for whom this announcement is the culmination of two weeks of intensive work to come up with a new idea. “We conducted a survey among more than 1000 young people to find out their expectations and needs in terms of training and online courses,” says Caroline. “We wanted to find out from the outset what added value we could provide.
The Ministry of Education put in place from the very first days the computer tools necessary to follow the courses at a distance, to encourage learning at home and to maintain the link with the students. Confinement forced many of them to feel isolated in their daily homework. “Our survey showed that young people prefer to work in teams. Even if they are fond of social networks (WhatsApp, SnapChat…) they lack a platform to study together. This is the project for which we have been selected for the StartupsVsCovid19 hackathon and which we are currently setting up with four pilot schools,” says Caroline.
The name of this new platform? Peer-Square. With the inverted e’s in its logo symbolizing exchange, this new free marketplace for young people – not teachers – will be both a place for young people to study together but also to share their knowledge. A gamification system with “community points” is being developed to enable those who share with their peers to access additional training modules and obtain certificates. “The motivation and commitment of young people is the main driver of this new platform,” says Caroline Assaf.
Very involved with the educational sector, the startup CoCo World is already deploying its community programs, its collective intelligence tools and its communication tools with schools in Luxembourg (see our article “CoCo World: promoting peer-to-peer learning“). The test phase – research unit – with the four schools will enable the team of seven people to analyse the reactions of young people and to implement its continuous improvement tools. The founder hopes to be ready for the start of the school year in September and to launch its platform in six new pilot schools.
Mike and Caroline now have six months ahead of them to implement their respective projects and prove that their solutions can effectively combat Covid-19. With the support of the Ministry of Economy and Luxinnovation they have all the cards in hand to deploy, save businesses and promote the education of young people and collaborative distance learning.