Business

Startup battlefield round 2: No power behind the punches

Image Credit: VentureBeat

SAN FRANCISCO — It is the second day of the startup battle at TechCrunch Disrupt. Fifteen startups “disrupting” collaboration, discovery, and measurement presented their ideas onstage to an elite panel of judges and a tech-savvy audience. Tomorrow the best of the 31 contestants will compete in the finals.

Yesterday I was impressed by the caliber of the startups.

Five companies really stood out as interesting — Ossia, Dryft, Regalii, Fates Forever, and Ansa. I was also intrigued by Outline, “a public policy simulator for real life” that gives citizens greater insight into how governmental policies will effect their lives (and taxes).

Today, alas, I was less impressed by the competitors. Only Trail and SoilIQ really stood out to me.

Disrupting Collaboration

Monsieur is a cocktail-making robot. While this is cool, and while I understand the appeal of waiting less time for a drink at a crowded bar, the panel of judges questioned whether this was really a “desperate problem.”

The founders have a background in mechanical engineering and saw an opportunity to innovate on bar tending and social drinking, which founder Barry Givens said has not been innovated in centuries, despite the fact that 66 percent of Americans are social drinkers.

They are starting out by targeting nightclubs that offer table service, hoping to convince them that Monsieur will provide a better experience for consumers. Monsieur also includes business intelligence software and monitors the consumption of visitors so they can anticipate when they need a refill or service in real time.

BRANDiD is building a marketplace that connects men who hate to shop with people who are willing to online shop for them. Guys provide basic information about their size and preferences and will be matched with a personal shopper who fills a cart for them. While marketplaces are a hot area of e-commerce right now, the judges were skeptical that the process is easy enough and that men would actually use it. Brandid claims to have 20,000 men on its waiting list.

Disrupting Discovery

Feed.fm was one of the more impressive startups to present. The company offers “music-as-a-service,” and founder Jeff Yasuda said it has been described as “Stripe for music.”

“Music increases spending, time in venue, and the perception of brand, but using music online is a legal nightmare,” Yasuda said. “This is a legal, turnkey way to add popular music to your website app or game, and we take care of all legal brain damage.”

Feed.fm offers an API, SDKs, and Shopify and WordPress plug-ins that install an HTML5 music player on websites. Businesses can curate playlists on their own or choose from curated playlists. Yeshuda said that every single customer who has used Feed.fm has seen an increase in session time, more return visits, and a significantly lowered drop rate. It sees opportunities in e-commerce, video games, and online dating, and is currently working with the University of California.

Trail was one of my favorite companies to compete today. Its platform, JobScout, helps people acquire basic Internet skills so they can get hired. Founder Christina Gagnier said a staggering one in five American adults do not use the Internet. These 60 million people are predominantly senior citizens, non-native English speakers, adults with less than a high school education, people from low-income backgrounds, and adults with disabilities.

JobScout seeks to address these oft-overlooked segments of the population through its easy-to-use educational platform that offers 39 interactive lessons. Topics are presented in simple language with a step-by-step methodology that focuses on practical skills.

JobScout also has resources to help people with the job-search process, including tools for creating resumes and cover letters and managing applications. Its data analytics system, Compass, helps organizations such as libraries, schools, and workforce development centers monitor the progress of their clients. Today it is launching a Spanish language offering and an Android app. HealthScout is coming soon.

Disrupting Measurement

Tidepool is on a mission to quantify your brain health. The company develops gamified tests that reveal information about how users’ personality, relationships, cognition, physicality, and emotions drive and impact their daily life. Based on this data, Tidepool will offer insights about when during the day you are the sharpest and makes recommendations on how you can improve your brain health. It integrates with biometric devices like FitBit, or with Lumosity quizzes, to provide a comprehensive perspective on your mental well-being.

“A quarter of the U.S. population and 2.5 billion people around the world face brain health challenges,” said CEO Vamsee Nalamothu. “This is not just about avoiding Alzheimers, it’s about understanding our health today.”

SoilIQ wants to change the way the world grows food. The company makes a wireless sensor that you stick into the soil to collect data on humidity, moisture, temperature, pH, and available light and streams it to the cloud. The device is powered by a solar panel, so it can run indefinitely in the field.

SoilIQ’s analytics system then recommends optimal crops, fertilizers, and watering schedules for their area. Growers can also share information with friends or growers nearby and can also use the app to find and purchase fresh local produce. The company’s goal is to make it easier to grow food in home gardens.

“This has the potential to be the “Nest” for home gardens,” judge Shervin Pishevar said.

SoilIQ participated in French telecom giant Orange’s first accelerator program. It also has a social mission. The company has worked closely with Kenyan farmers to make their farming efforts more efficient and help them grow more food at a lower cost.

SoilIQ has a lot of ideas for down the road, including image recognition to identify plant diseases, and it wants to create a database of crowdsourced information about agriculture.

“What is lacking in agriculture is data,” said CEO Jason Aramburu. Aramburu was named a Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneur and is a Gates Foundation Grantee.

Audience Choice Awards

The “audience choice award” winner yesterday was Zula. Zula provides mobile workflow and communications solutions so people can more easily manage tasks on-the-go. Founder Jeff Pulver is a cofounder of Vonage and a pioneer of voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) tech. 

Today’s winner is eGood. eGood lets you use your mobile phone to find nearby businesses in your area that will donate 3, 5, or 10 percent of a sale to the charity of your choice. You check in from your mobile devices and then you show up on the businesses’ iPad.

 


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