AdTech Startups and Trends in The Europas


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Last week, a shortlist of the finalists in “The Europas” was published. The Europas is a competition that showcases the hottest tech startups from Europe. It was founded by Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher) in 2009 and it concentrates on not only new, but also the mid and late stage technology startups, leading investors and founders in the EMEA region. This year, more than 150 startups were nominated and are competing for awards in 25 categories, and of course, The Europas Grand Prix Award.

In one of my previous blogs, I talked about the analytics and ad technology startups that were shortlisted in The Europas last year. This year, there aren’t that many analytics startups (except maybe Qubit and DataSift – the latter was mentioned in my previous blog), but looking at the Best Advertising, Marketing Startup category, you can clearly see the current trends on the market:

  • programmatic multi-screen audience buying (cross-device targeting),
  • native and video advertising formats.

The thing that surprises me the most is that there are two companies that have been nominated in the social media monitoring space – both are very well-funded companies and both have been on the market for 7+ years.

We will now take a closer look at these three trends and the startups representing them.

Programmatic multi-screen audience buying

Cross-device targeting (aka multi-screen audience buying), is one of the trends that is becoming increasingly important for marketers. The number of tablet and smartphone users is growing rapidly – the total web traffic from mobile devices accounted for 31 percent of all website traffic in Q4 2013, not to mention the fact that app usage overtook PC Internet usage in the U.S.. Due to this fast growth, marketers are now looking for solutions that will enable them to reach their audiences.

It’s no wonder that two out of the six nominees in the Best Advertising, Marketing Startup category are addressing the cross-device targeting problem by using advanced algorithms and programmatic (RTB) media buying (which gives them access to the global ad inventory).

Adbrain (founded in 2012, $9M in funding) is a DSP (Demand Side Platform) that enables advertisers to run multi-screen campaigns.

In order to build a user profile, they identify the same user, even if they are using multiple devices. Unlike companies such as Facebook and Google, they cannot use the common account id or user handle, so they use proprietary algorithms for statistical (probabilistic) identification by studying the user’s journey and thus connecting their devices together.

What’s interesting is that they also claim to be able to identify users based on their behaviour, even if one particular device is being used by a number of different users (e.g. think of a tablet that is being shared among different users in a household).

You can find an informative article that explains their technology here.

Struq (founded in April 2008, $8.5M in funding) enables retailers to retarget users across devices. Struq is designed to serve the e-commerce market by providing tools to create product recommendation ads and retarget the users across devices. To support cross-device targeting, Struq integrates with AdTruth, which provides a way to identify a user in mobile environments where cookies aren’t as effective or supported at all.

Native advertising and video advertising formats

I must say, I was a bit disappointed not to see a true native advertising startup in this year’s shortlist, but maybe we need to wait another year.

Brainient (formerly BrainRolls, founded in January 2009, $2.7M in funding) is a web-based program that creates interactive video ads. The company went through a long journey of application development and it took over 5 years to release the product’s current version, but the end result was worth the wait.

It enables users to create, deliver and measure interactive video campaigns across many platforms, devices and formats. Check out their video ads gallery.

Future Ad Labs (founded in 2012, funding $96k) centres their main product “Play Captcha”, which is an attempt to move away from the old-style captchas by introducing a new, fun and engaging experience for users when they have to prove they are a human being. For example, let’s say a car company would like to advertise their latest model. The Play Captcha would ask the user to colour this branded car with a particular colour by moving the corresponding coloured paint brush to the car. This combination of advertising and simple gameplay is a profitable alternative to the mundane, often hard to read, crazy text that exists in other captcha solutions.

The program intends to provide an additional revenue stream for publishers while at the same time provide a new, engaging tool for advertisers so that they can reach more customers.

Social Media Monitoring

On one hand, this is the least exciting space, but on the other hand, the nominees in this category are very mature companies and have clients all over the world.

Brandwatch (founded in October 2005, $31.7M in funding) is a social media monitoring system. It reads through and summarises what’s being said on the web about brands, people and products. It lets companies monitor and respond quickly, which is crucial in today’s two-way brand communication strategy.

Social Bakers – The Europas 2013 Winner – (founded in October 2008, $34M in funding) is a social media analytics platform enterprise which enables brands to measure, compare, and contrast the success of their social media campaigns with competitive intelligence.

It is one of the most comprehensive solutions on the market that I have ever seen, and it looks like they are growing into a very successful company.


I would like to wish all the shortlisted companies success (and also to those who didn’t get nominated!). My personal favourite is Adbrain, even though it’s a competitor to Kanary NEST, a data-driven DSP platform which I co-founded and that will soon be launching a private beta version.

You can find all the companies that made it to the shortlist (including all the categories) here.

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