Cupcakes better than startups at TechCrunch Disrupt

SAN FRANCISCO — TechCrunch Disrupt was full of noise. Startups inundated the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco, waving colorful banners, donning emblazoned T-shirts, and attempting by whatever means they can to attract attention.

Press releases have been flowing into my inbox with launch announcements, interview requests, and event invitations, and by noon, I had already been plied with cupcakes, tacos, chocolates, sushi, and the most effective gift — booze. The afternoon was dedicated to Startup Battlefield, where company after company pitches to an audience and a panel of judges asks them questions.

During the breaks, I wandered the lanes of Startup Alley looking for companies that caught my eye. I tried to ignore the allure of sugar-coated treats and free sunglasses and seek out startups doing something outstanding, something different, something meaningful. Very simply, I tried to find companies that motivated me to write about them, and I came up with nothing.

I saw endless variations on discovery and sharing apps and a host of tools to help people grow, manage, and leverage their social networks. Companies trying to get consumers to buy more, and companies trying to save consumers money. Instead of creating new paradigms, the residents of startup alley seem to be offering trivial products with buzzword-heavy taglines.

The lack of innovation I encountered was all the more pronounced when juxtaposed with some of the biggest names (and wallets) in Silicon Valley. While Jack Dorsey, Ben Horowitz, Michael Arrington, and Ron Conway are speaking, it’s hard to take companies built on jargon seriously.

I admit that in the space of a few hours, I was by not able to thoroughly encounter and vet every company here. There may be inspiring companies here with incredible potential I have overlooked, or innovative ideas that I simply do not get. Sometimes, it is not innovation that heralds success, but rather execution, an untapped market, and often luck. I am not writing off these entrepreneurs, and I admire their efforts to build a business from the ground up, which is far more difficult than working for something that already works.

My mind is open, and tomorrow I will keep trolling the Concourse for startups that intrigue me, of products I would actually use, and business models that may change the way business is done. Rumor has it the presenting companies improve as the event progresses.

For now, I will go enjoy some of those free cupcakes, assuming there are any left, and keep my hopes high for tomorrow.