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SAN FRANCISCO — The startup battlefield is filled with skilled soldiers this year, and the contest is a lot more interesting.
Last year, I thought the cupcakes at TechCrunch Disrupt were better than the startups. The companies competing in this year’s event, however, come to the stage with more experienced founders and more compelling, technically advanced ideas. Two of the founders to present today have sold companies for upward of $100 million, and not one pitch triggered an eye roll.
Twenty-nine finalists are battling it out to win the startup launch competition. These entrepreneurs are pitching to a room filled with some of the biggest names and wallets in Silicon Valley. The grand prize is $50,000, the “Disrupt Cup,” and the buzz that results from emerging victorious from the battlefield.
The competition is divided into six categories. The three categories to present today were efficiency, experience, and transparency. Judges across the three categories include well-known venture capitalists such as Mike Abbot of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Rick Klau of Google Ventures, as well as entrepreneurs including Gentry Underwood from Mailbox, Rich Barton of Zillow, and Julia Hart from Eventbrite.
Here are the five most interesting startups to pitch today.
Ossia has created a system to wirelessly charge devices. Founder Hatem Zeine said that the company has been developing and patenting this technology for six-and-a-half years.
“Like many great inventions, this was discovered by accident,” he said. “We offer the only wireless power tech that can offer 1 watt of power and span an entire household, powering multiple devices.”
Ossia’s “Cota” device connects to a small chip in phones and will automatically charge the devices using what Zeine calls a “smart antenna” technology. It is working with electronic manufactures to get the chip placed directly into devices.
This is highly appealing for anyone (like me) who can never remember to charge their phone. Zeine also said the implications are huge for the emerging Internet of Things. The device is still in the prototype stage.
Dryft is a virtual keyboard that makes it far easier to type on tablet screens. It was founded by Randy Marsden, the same man who founded popular smartphone keyboard app Swype.
Swype sold to Nuance for $100 million in 2011. It replaces the tap-tap-tap of smartphone text entry with lines that you swipe on your keyboard from letter to letter. Based on your swipe pattern, the software guesses what you’re trying to spell and presents options for you to tap.
Swype now has more than 400 million downloads. Marsden said that as tablets began to take off, he saw an opportunity to bring the what he claims is the same better, faster typing experience to tablets and set out to build Dryft.
“Instead of moving fingers to keys, Dryft moves keys to fingers and you can type up to 60 to 70 words a minute on a tablet. This is amazing when you think of the kind of productivity this could yield. Dryft is an enabling ingredient to accelerate the transition to tablets.”
Tablets are taking off. Market research firm IDC predicts tablet shipments this year will be 57.7 percent higher than 2012′s. IDC also still expects to see tablet shipments at 407 million units by 2017.
While it is easier to type on tablets than smartphones, it is still not as easy as on personal computers. Marsden said that improving the typing experience on tablets will do wonders for markets where tablets are playing a significant role, like education and productivity.
Mardsen founded Dryft three months ago. It should launch early next year.