From Bedrooms to Boardrooms: The Start Up Battlefield

Tech Features

Disrupt is one of the biggest and busiest tech events of the year and its Start Up Battlefield contest has grown into a highly competitive event where hopeful start-ups have the opportunity to present their work in front of some of tech’s biggest movers and shakers and take home the prize of $50,000 and the Start Up Cup.

With the San Francisco event coming up on September 8-10 and the European edition to follow in London on October 20-21, the Battlefield will soon begin to take shape.

In partnership with AOL, TechCrunch has published the mini documentary series Road to Disrupt, a diary-like web show that followed the stories and preparations of five start-ups competing in the contest last year.

“We thought it would be interesting to show potential participants and spectators that have seen the Battlefield from the outside, what it’s actually like to go through the process,” says Samantha O’Keefe, Battlefield editor at TechCrunch, explaining that some start-ups might be a little unsure if they’re the right fit for the contest.

“The five companies that we chose to work with in the beginning were selected primarily to showcase the cross section of the types of companies that we typically work with.”

The series gives outsiders a peek into the different kinds of companies that enter and how they prepare. “A lot of teams that are considering participating in the Battlefield aren’t sure if they’re the right fit or if they qualify or if other companies like them have participated,” explains Samantha.

“So what we hopefully did was not only go in-depth with some of the founders, show their hometowns, where they come from, the background of how they got to Disrupt but actually behind the scenes, at the conference, what’s that experience like and we hopefully also touched on the experience after Disrupt, following on what kind of excitement was generated for these companies.”

The five start-ups profiled in the series, from their bedroom beginnings to staffed offices, are Monsieur, the robotic cocktail bartender; tablet gaming studio Hammer & Chisel; the “Snapchat for texting” Ansa; Ossia who is developing wireless charging technologies; and the digital discovery and sharing tool Bitcovery.

The victor was ultimately Layer, a start-up that created a messaging platform that can be integrated into different apps. However, the experience and exposure of Disrupt has led to a very interesting past 12 months for our five start-ups.

“The Start Up Battlefield gave us insight into where the technology investors and influencers were looking,” says Ossia CEO and founder Hatem Zeine. “The experience itself has given us greater visibility into the Silicon Valley focus and thought process.”

While Ossia didn’t win, its prototype of Cota, its wireless charging technology, earned the team a spot in the finals and the Chevrolet Driving Ingenuity Award of $10,000.

“By participating in TC Battlefield, it gave us a very clear deadline for key milestones early on and encouraged us to pick up the pace. Nowadays, every week we receive an email from someone that watched our Disrupt video,” adds Mario Taylor, COO of Monsieur.

“Since then, we’ve partnered with a large manufacturer to build the hardware. We have several large orders from restaurant groups, hotel chains and arenas. So we are heads down refining the hardware for the next phase of manufacturing,” he says.

Monsieur, which is based in Atlanta, just recently picked up an award from the Technology Association of Georgia in the Business Launch competition, along with two other startups, sharing the $400,000 prize.

Disrupt has been growing strongly every year, becoming more and more mainstream in the process and attracting a more diverse range of start-ups that are tackling different issues with tech. Samantha notes that some of that mainstream growth was reflected recently in the first season of HBO’s comedy series Silicon Valley.

“I think in the past two to three years we’ve seen a lot of more mainstream media outlets start to incorporate technology and tech companies into their regular coverage,” says Samantha. “The Silicon Valley show by HBO was very timely and I think fits into that trend well. We’ve definitely seen an increase in awareness about the competition because of that program.”

As awareness has grown for Start Up Battlefield and the event in general, how else has Disrupt grown its audience and contestants?

“I think that both due to the increase in tech exposure and TechCrunch’s own outreach, we now in the past year and a half or so have really focused on making sure that all start-up communities know about this competition, where we do a lot of international outreach,” explains Samantha.

“We work with a lot of education and mentorship groups that work with underrepresented groups in tech.”

Samantha has also seen the growth of female participants at the conference, through networks of female founders, which she hopes is part of a wider trend in tech and industry events. “There’s definitely been an uptick in female applicants and female participants in the Battlefield and hopefully that represents the growing trend in the industry and our ability to connect with that audience.”

So with Disrupt growing, diversifying, and attracting many different start-ups to the podium, how is preparation going so far for Disrupt San Francisco in September?

“I’m in the midst of screening, along with our team, the applicants for Disrupt San Francisco and it’s quite a strong pool this year,” Samantha tells us. “After that we’ll move into selecting the companies for Disrupt Europe in October and working with all of those teams to prepare their pitches. It will be a busy few months.”

Entrants for San Francisco’s contest can expect to hear back from TechCrunch by the end of the month, says Samantha, while the European entrants will find out about four to six weeks before the European instalment in October.

Ossia’s Hatem Zeine is keen to recommend taking part in Disrupt if you are a new, young start up. “The greatest positive influence for our young company was the challenge of polishing up our presentation and then having the chance to present to the world,” he says.

Since last year’s contest, Ossia’s Cota wireless charging technology has drawn in new funding and has been expanding the development greatly. “The state of the technology today is light years ahead of what we showed on stage. We can now show the full interactive real-time power delivery with no delays,” he explains. “We are in the process of releasing further information on the technology.”

With the Road to Disrupt series now online over on TechCrunch, can we expect to see a similar diary series of this year’s hopefuls? Potentially, says Samantha.

“We’re looking at the series and seeing our audience’s reaction to it and if it’s the type of content that’s valuable and interesting for them. We certainly had a lot of fun making it. Hopefully it provides some additional exposure to the teams, so we’re still deciding whether or not there will be a Road to Disrupt 2.”

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