Meet the Rising Stars semi-finalists: the East of England’s top three startups

Esme Caulfield, January 7, 2019 5 min read

With the Rising Stars Semi-Final fast approaching, we’re finding out more about the 33 early-stage UK startups that have been selected to next week’s Manchester pitch event. Here, we’ll discover more about our semi-finalists from the East of England.

Eastern excellence

With bags of ambition and a comprehensive digital tech agenda, the East of England is on the path to success, led by thriving ecosystems such as Norwich, Ipswich and Cambridge. The region reported an impressive digital tech turnover of around £8.3bn in 2017, as well as a digital tech enterprise count of 19,090 last year, and these figures are only set to grow.

Tech East, the collective voice of the region’s tech sector, has big ambitions for the future, aiming to be one of the UK’s top five tech clusters by 2020. Backed by Norfolk and Suffolk local authorities, the organisation supports businesses and engages government and decision makers in key policy areas, and it’s also leading the charge on the Digital Tech Skills Plan for New Anglia, which is designed to meet the demands of the sector – an expected 10,000 skilled tech roles will be needed in Suffolk and Norfolk by 2024.

Universities are also playing an important role in stimulating action. The universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent have been awarded £4.7m in government funding to support the AI, digital creative and agri-tech sectors, Suffolk has launched the Suffolk Centre for Female Entrepreneurship, and Cambridge continues to provide world-class talent. Meanwhile, projects like Step into Tech and accelerators such as TechVelocity, both based in Norwich, alongside a wealth of bustling co-working spaces, including Cambridge’s Bradfield Centre, have helped make the region a force to be reckoned with.

Below, we find out more about our Rising Stars semi-finalists from the East of England, Developing Experts and Thyngs, both based in Norwich, and Royston’s PlayerLands.

Developing Experts: Empowering you to teach science with confidence

Developing Experts, founded in October 2015, is an award-winning startup aiming to create a ‘fit-for-purpose’ curriculum platform that provides teaching staff, parents and pupils with an ever-evolving library of content. Developing Experts proposes a more agile approach to homeschooling and global travel.

Its cloud-based platform contains over 700 lesson plans, educational videos, digital resources, and tracking and monitoring solutions. It can be accessed by multiple users, and secure data can be analysed as widely as by government or region-specific authorities, allowing them to track and monitor the performance of each child in real time, helping to raise standards while reducing costs. The platform also features more than 100 specialist scientists and professors, and has a sales funnel that allows for direct B2C market access, or to governments and educational bodies.

Following the launch late in 2017, the company has attracted worldwide attention, including from national governments and key players in the learning industry. Developing Experts has secured 156 school customers through its own direct sales efforts, and the platform is currently benefiting pupils in 15 countries. The company also has a patent pending in the US and owns various trademarks throughout the world. And, with around 200 million schools globally, and an estimated 1.8 million home-schoolers, the opportunities for further growth are huge.

To find out more, watch the company’s video pitch for the Rising Stars competition below, or follow them on Twitter – @DevelopExperts.

Thyngs: It’s time to rethink consumer engagement

Brands are increasingly reliant on digital platforms for brand engagement and marketing, but the most compelling opportunity for most sales is from real world engagement. Startup Thyngs, currently part of the Tech Nation Fintech programme cohort, was founded in April 2016 on the belief that people will demand the best of both the digital and physical worlds, and that the mobile phone will be the best way to make this happen.

Thyngs’ solutions cover consumer engagement, connected payments, customer loyalty and cashless donations. At the heart of these, lies its proprietary platform, which uses smartphone technologies, including QR codes and NFC, to connect consumers to mobile-optimised content and commerce direct from physical objects, converting offline interest into instant mobile engagement, purchase and loyalty. Customers can set up new marketing, payment and loyalty programmes quickly and cost-effectively, with the platform providing ready-made mobile experiences, management tools, detailed reporting and integrations with payment providers.

At nearly three years old, Thyngs has achieved a lot. The platform is being used by major brands across different sectors, as well as 65,000 unique consumers so far. The company has secured partnerships with Apple Pay, Stripe, Paypal, Worldpay and Barclays for payments, plus major outdoor media owners, publishers and printers/manufacturers, and is working with 12 of the UK’s top 30 charities for cashless payments. With much more growth in the pipeline, Thyngs is well on its way to revolutionising consumer engagement.

To find out more, watch the company’s video pitch for the Rising Stars competition below, or follow them on Twitter – @thyngs.

PlayerLands: Friendly, secure in-game monetisation

E-commerce startup PlayerLands is changing the world of video game micropayments by supplying a simple, elegant platform for developers to create and run shops in their games. The market for downloadable content – the add-ons for games that make developers most of their revenue – is forecast to be $17.4bn in 2019, slightly larger than the global music industry. PlayerLands was built to disrupt this market, bringing both enterprise-grade technology and professional customer service.

Founded in November 2017, PlayerLands is set up to help games developers make money from their games. The company provides an easy-to-use, secure infrastructure that lets developers create in-game shops to sell items and subscriptions to players, using elegantly-designed windows inside the games, or via a handy mobile interface. For developers, it offers the ability to recruit new gamers, find influencers and the tools they need to maximise revenue, and for players, as well as offering a fun, secure shopping experience, PlayerLands uses algorithms to introduce them to new games they might like.

The final element is the connected community of players and game makers. The company will create a curated, editorialised forum to share key success stories with each user group to help them grow their own businesses. The global video game business is expanding rapidly, and PlayerLands is poised for growth. To meet future demand, as well as supplying shops, inventory management and marketing, it will also work to blend in a range of other compatible services for both industry and players.

To find out more, follow them on Twitter – @PlayerLands.


The Rising Stars Semi-Final will take place on 16–17 January 2019 at Barclays Eagle Labs in Manchester, where the semi-finalists will receive pitch training before presenting to our expert judging panel. Only 20 of these companies will make it through to the Grand Final at London’s Rich Mix on 5 March 2019.

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We’d like to thank our Rising Stars sponsors, Microsoft, Bing, BDO Drive and TLT LLP.

Cambridge, East of England, Rising Stars, Early Stage