Entrepreneur

Layer wins the startup battlefield at Disrupt

Image Credit: VentureBeat

SAN FRANCISCO — The winner of the TechCrunch Disrupt startup battlefield is Layer.

Layer is an “open communications layer for the Internet.” The technology makes it easier to build messaging, voice, and video into applications in minutes. Layer handles the nitty-gritty “hard” parts of building communication features into an application. Developers integrate a few lines of code and then can focus on other areas like user experience and design.

Founder said Tomaz Stolfa said that there are tools to build map, payment, and analytics into apps but nothing yet for communication. Layer has raised $1.5 million from MkII Ventures, SV Angel, Pacific Partners, Data Collective, Promus Ventures, Anthem Ventures, Bloomberg Beta, CrunchFund, and others. It is based in San Francisco.

Thirty-one companies competed for the Disrupt Cup. The competition is divided into six categories: efficiency, experience, transparency, collaboration, discovery, and measurement. The grand prize is $50,000, the “Disrupt Cup,” and the buzz that results from winning.

Five of the six finalists pitched on the first day. Two of the these companies are founded by entrepreneurs who have successfully exited companies for more than $100 million, and one startup participated in the elite accelerator program Y Combinator.

Interestingly, the startups that stood out to the judges (and to me) are those that already have access to expertise and resources. The pitches from experienced entrepreneurs were more compelling — they seemed to be addressing more pressing problems and had stronger answers to the judges’ questions.

The final cohort spanned a range of sectors, including payments, gaming, a developer platform, tablets, and hardware.

The runners-up are:

Regalli

Regalli is “revolutionizing remittances” for families in Latin America. The Y Combinator-backed company enables immigrants to send money directly back to their families via SMS.

Cofounder Edrizio De La Cruz said that people send $69 billion in remittances from the U.S. to Latin America every single year. This money is a vital source of income for many families in the developing world, but Western Union levies taxes and is not particularly convenient or secure.

Regalii sends this money as credit and has partnered with 7,200 retail locations around Latin America where recipients can redeem this credit. The company has raised $200,000 and is based in New York City.

Cota

Cota is 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.

“We offer the only wireless power tech that can offer 1 watt of power and span an entire household, powering multiple devices,” Zeine said.

Cota connects to a small chip in phones and will automatically charge the devices using what Zeine calls a “smart antenna” technology. The parent company Ossia is working with electronic manufactures to get the chip placed directly into devices. Zeine said the implications are also huge for the emerging Internet of Things.

Cota has raised $3.3 million and is based in Redmond, Wash.

Fates Forever 

Fates Forever is the first multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) created for tablets.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans play video games, and the industry generated $67 billion in revenue in 2012. However, most games are designed for PCs or mobile devices, which is where Fates Forever comes in

“The hardest problem for [mobile] game developers is getting [players],” founder Jason Citron said. “I asked myself what platform I can use where large companies are spending a lot of money driving adoption but aren’t fulfilling the needs of gamers. More tablets were shipped than PCs this year, but there are no original long-form games available on tablets that you can lose yourself in.”

Founder Jason Citron sold his previous gaming company, the OpenFeint social platform for mobile games, to Gree for $104 million in 2011. With Fates Forever, Citron said he is building the gaming studio he always wanted to build.

The studio, called Hammer and Chisel, has raised $2.4M from Accel, IDG, General Catalyst, Time Warner Interactive, and others. It is based in Burlingame, Calif.

Dryft

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.

“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,” Marsden said. “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.”

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.

Dryft has raised $500,000 and is based in Menlo Park, Calif.

SoilIQ

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 devices gets its power from 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.

SoilIQ has raised $250,000 and is based in San Francisco.

The panel of judges included Michael Arrington of CrunchFund and TechCrunch, Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital, Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz, David Lee of SV Angel, CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer, and Khosla Ventures partner Keith Rabois.


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