Pitchfest looks ahead in HR technology and finds hybrid mentoring is en vogue! Attending the HR Tech conference and expo in Las Vegas is always exciting, and this year was no different. We live in an era where virtual attendance is becoming the norm, but nothing is more revealing, engaging and productive as in-person meetings, and we had loads of them at this annual gathering.The expo floor was crowded and buzzing, with overwhelming attendee interest in the second annual Pitchfest competition. Of the 100 entrants who entered, 30 were selected to pitch their startup companies at the event. The quality of the ideas was good and the offering very diverse. These included blockchain, matching technologies, chatbots, talent-centric solutions, various platforms and so forth. Founders with diverse backgrounds came from all over the world and were well prepared. Each gave a passionate argument for their ideas and competently fielded questions from the panel of judges, of whom I was one.The judges’ mission was clear: qualify the startups’ target market, the problem or client need it intended to solve, understand who are the team members or advisors driving the vision, their market strategy, demonstrated performance to date and their growth plan. Based on the information gathered, the panel then determined the most promising technology presented. Expo attendees also were able to vote for their favorite solution, although the judges’ decisions were more weighted.The importance of the Pitchest, amidst all of the other commercial solutions on display is that it provides a look ahead to see what is coming. As the sponsor of the Pitchfest prizes, the Randstad Innovation Fund is hoping to encourage the brightest minds with the most promising ideas.Since HR Tech is a market for buyers, it’s interesting to see that attendees who voted at the Pitchfest tend to choose solutions that enhance productivity (like chatbots), while the judges focused on what is really new and innovative. There was a lot of focus among the contestants on making working life easier and more productive from an employee perspective. This is one reason that the mentoring platform PILOT, a hybrid coaching solution, won the $25,000 overall prize. Blended mentoring is the way forward, and we see many companies popping up in that space. The jury is still out on whether it is more effective at increasing employee productivity, engagement, and retention, but if this support proves to be valid, it will be a must-have employer benefit for many organizations.One valid comment I heard was that this year’s conference was all about the employer and the talent, but when are we going to make life easier for the hiring manager? For this year’s competition, we included a special award for solutions aimed at the gig economy because we hope to encourage more innovation in that field. There was a clear winner: Icon Savings Plan, which provides portable pensions for gig workers and contractors. There will be a huge demand for solutions catering to the needs of the flexible workforce for benefits that are normally provided by employers, and pensions and other retirement savings are one of those categories.We see the growth of contingent talent accelerating. For instance, the majority of Google’s workforce consists of contractors, and we see this trend at all large employers. Contractors, gig workers and SOW providers are becoming a larger portion of the global workforce. Having a holistic approach for delivering services to contingent workers from an enterprise perspective is difficult, and more solutions are needed in that space.And speaking of large enterprises, it is clear that many of them do not have a problem with attracting talent as their brand name often helps. Their challenge is having the right core systems properly implemented, accessing their own talent pools and making their HR teams more data proficient. Companies that want to be successful as a startup in this space need to provide seamless integration with core systems operated by large enterprises.The HR technology market has become crowded, so that’s why I encourage startups to be more certain about which market segment they plan to target, which will also help generate buyer interest. This is important because they will need to tailor their market strategy to their target. The needs of small and midsize businesses are very different from those of large enterprises. Startups who show a real understanding of how their product fits a specific segment tend to do much better.The CEO of our by now very successfully exited portfolio company was always talking about Zebra clients; clients who are having the right stripes/demands for your product. Identify your Zebra clients and go for it!