With elections on the horizon, the future of the UK's economy and investment in its tech clusters is up in the air. But as the year kicks off, these success stories show the UK startup space is far from losing its momentum.
If there's one area that will really snowball in value over the next year or so, it's 3D printing (just look at the sheer number of 3D printing services coming out of this year's CES). As the technology becomes more affordable and accessible, the race is on to be the first to bring their products to mainstream and provide the customer support to guide people into getting started.
London-based startup CEL is one of those innovators that is beginning to crack the elusive mass-consumer market. It raised £280,891 through Kickstarter in December 2013, and since then has shipped over 6,500 of its Robox printers around the world.
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The Robox printer is designed to 'work out of the box' in an office or workshop environment without much fussing or setting it up, and is designed to be great value for schools, startups and small businesses at around £999. It comes with a wide range of professional grade materials, colours and finishes for printing low-cost consumables. Much of 3D printing is aimed at engineers and geeks who want to tinker with things and but there's a huge market opportunity for products aimed squarely at those who just want to print and get results, and the Robox printer is set to be a strong challenger in 2015.
2014 was a big year for the online property sector, with the likes of Rightmove and Purplebricks winning big investments, and Zoopla going ahead with its IPO in June valued at £191m.
Digital estate agencies have been so far extremely successful at disrupting the traditional property listings firms, but there is a space in the market for the transaction process, traditionally handled by offline agencies, to be digitised, eliminating the hefty sale handling fees.
Enter eMoov– the online-only estate agent, founded in 2010, raised $2.3m in seed money this month. It's heading a new breed of estate agents that are determined to disrupt traditional estate agent retail spaces, having already sold over 3,500 properties. It claims to be saving home sellers around £11.5m in estate agency fees.
The mobile payments industry is another fast growth area that is set to take off in a big way in the UK this year. And with much speculation over when the UK launch of Apple Pay will be, there's room for a lot more payments options to muscle their way into the market.
London-based startup Judo is 'Europe's only mobile-first payments platform.' It picked up £6m in funding this month and took on KFC as its first high-profile client. It stands out because its API lets merchants seamlessly integrate the platform into their apps, offering a simple and secure way for customers to pre-order food and pay for things on the go without swiping at a till. Judo's deal with KFC, and its app for Tesco-backed coffee chain Harris+Hoole, will enable it to spread across Europe, and could well represent the future of mobile commerce in the food sector.
Also picking up a hefty chunk of funding this month was London startup Work Angel, which raised $5m in its first round of funding and is set to launch later in the year.
Rather than attempting to get a head start in an emerging industry, it's basically created a whole new market of its own in the area of employee engagement. The startup will help companies set up personalised, private social networks through which they can allow reward and recognition schemes for employees, with discounts and cashback at a number of retailers.
The voluntary benefits platform works with more than 1,200 online retailers and 6,000 UK restaurants, and claims to be an easy and cost effective way for companies of all sizes to motivate their employees.
With $9m in crowdfunding under its belt in January, Bitreserve is surely about to bring the esoteric world of crypto-currency into the mainstream. It functions as a bitcoin wallet that can bridge the gap between bytes and old fashioned currencies such as gold. Through Bitreserve, the company claims you can hold bitcoin as stable, real-world money, send it and recieve it internationally at no cost, and exchange it for different currencies as many times as you like. It has no contact with the banking system, so any money entering it must come from bitcoin.
It's the first service of its kind to offer total transparency, by offering real-time verifiable proof of solvency, designed to eliminate fraud and risk-taking. The startup's tagline claims it's the 'end of bitcoin volatility,' meaning it could spur on adoption by letting merchants confidently use it as a completely open commercial platform, and let people exchange bitcoins in whatever form they're comfortable with.