The NewsXchange in Edinburgh; “the news industry’s most provocative and insightful experience”. That is what the site mentioned, and we – three startups from Belgium, France and The Netherlands were invited to show what we built. We considered it an honour in itself.

The organization gave us also a clear idea of the two-day annual conference at the 14/15th of November 2018, and we found out that all of it was true. I quote, again from newsxchange.org:

“We bring together 600+ executives, journalists, presenters, bloggers and start-up entrepreneurs from all around the world to share, learn and cross-pollinate ideas with an array of experts, scientists, artists and thought leaders. We are the only conference that aims to remain intimate because we believe in the art of conversation.”

O yes, a lot of people showed up and talk, they did. There were lectures and workshops about a whole array of subjects – data, immersive journalism, storytelling – and a protest outside on the street reminded us that Steve Bannon was invited to speak on politics and journalism. But primarily they talked to each other. Just in front of our booths, these influential media people drank a lot of coffee and grabbed shoulders and laughed as a prelude to drinks and dinner later.

We looked around. There were around 25 demo stands, varying from BBC (wonderful nerdy research), Facebook (great coffee) and Reuters (fancy appearance) to the starting and ambitious startups that we represented, and were selected in accordance with the Sandbox Hub, the European network created by VRT Sandbox: Kiswe’s cloud-based video solutions turn video into an interactive experience. It had a very attractive demo about micro-broadcasts and TV blending into something that can attract new audiences at a low cost. Obviously a very good idea.
In the booth next to that, Newsbridge had an AI-based video indexing tools for publishers and broadcasters. To show it off, their mobile phone recorded the Bannon speech at the venue after which the system in near-real time recognized the speaker and made a transcript of the dubious talk. Impressive! No wonder they had some interesting interaction with the visitors (and they later confessed under the pressure of dark beers that something really nice will come out of that).

And to conclude that world storming team, we – SmartOcto – were showing a unique solution to data-driven storytelling. SmartOcto basically serves real-time story graphs and on top of that gives you actionable tips on each of them, to give it more impact. Big broadcasters got interested in our actionable promise. We will confess the results later.

To be fair, the first day was a little slow for all of us. We had a tough spot at first but the organization moved us quickly to the front. Also, you could tell that these media people that flew over from all over the world were eager to see each other, learn from old friends and making new ones. The big round conference floor was filled with buzzing conversations illustrated by screens showing news footage, face recognition software and data systems. CNN had a news desk where you could surprise your friends with your new anchor job (fake news people!). There were ice cream carts and dining opportunities.

But after we hit the modes party scene at night (thanks CNN and Dataminr!) and got people connected to our stories, the second day was an interesting experience. Newsbridge, Kiswe and SmartOcto all had their promising talks with high-level operatives. Now we talked and talked and showed our demos to whoever was glancing to the screens.

A nice side effect of being two days in one place is that you get to discuss the future with colleagues, big vendors and platforms and ambitious startups. You admire their heroism in beating the odds of entrepreneurial Darwinism and the love and energy that has gone into their product. We transferred prospects and had a great time on the floor and when we visited the Scottish pubs together, shared war stories. We recognized that we had shared customers, adjacent dreams and use cases, and even after NewsXchange we helped each other and laid the simple sympathy groundwork if our roads would cross some more. It is a small media world after all.

After two days we went home with dozens of business cards and thoughts on how to improve the product and sell the promise. World domination and better journalism of course. Thank you, Sandbox Hub.

Erik van Heeswijk
CEO SmartOcto

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