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TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield: five startups worth watching

By Evan Wade / September 16, 2014


TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield: five startups worth watching

Who doesn’t have a startup these days? While the proliferation of tech-based businesses may suggest that time is right to bring a brilliant idea to market, the scene is also undergoing a bit of what I like to call a “crowdfunding effect.” When just about everyone has a Kickstarter, getting even the smallest amount of separation from your competition is crucial to a business’s survival.

Thus we have events like TechCrunch Disrupt, a two-city (NY and SF) affair designed to give the best and brightest of the startup scene the attention (and of course, funding) they so desperately need. Disrupt’s main event, a 28-startup, $50,000 battle royale fittingly called The TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield (or just, The Battlefield), brought plenty of killer ideas to the stage this year in San Francisco. Here are a few of our favorites.

Alfred

When discussing The Battlefield, it’s only right to mention the winner first. To that end, say hello to Alfred, a digital-era assistant service that looks something like Uber, but with butlers. The concept, described as “the first service layer on the shared economy,” does a little bit of everything. Agents, called “Alfreds,” can pick up groceries for you and leave them in your fridge, pick up and place your laundry/dry cleaning, clean your home, and pretty much anything else you can think of (with some limits), all while integrating with existing home services like Blue Apron.

To be clear, Alfred Club works best if you’ve already bought into the increasing number of smartphone- and Web-based home-service services like Instacart and the above-mentioned Blue Apron. Instead of leaving you to deal with each service individually, the peer-to-peer service platform will handle and automate them for you, leaving you with little to do unless changes (new groceries on your weekly list or switching to a new drycleaner, for instance) are needed. To that end, it’s the best sort of middleman possible – one that expands on and improves an existing slate of services, all while limiting the amount of interaction the end user must engage in to receive what they pay for.

The fact that a service the tech industry might have laughed off a few years back is now winning competitions with $50,000 prizes says it probably isn’t going anywhere soon. In a tech scene where more and more businesses are effectively being run like taxi services (a sort of “central dispatch” takes orders and sends out employees based on proximity and other factors), seeing formerly high-end services like butler businesses and grocery delivery fall into the everyman’s price range is promising.

Beartooth

As the mobile service industry grows closer to a monopoly, Beartooth stands as a beacon of hope, “[allowing] iOS and Android devices to communicate even if the cellular network is unavailable, failed, or congested,” according to TechCrunch. As concepts like Smart Dust show, there’s a distinct, direct need for immediate communications in areas with no infrastructure, and that’s just one situation in which Beartooth could prove incredibly helpful. Be it a widespread emergency or weekend hiking trip, a connection to the outside world can be crucial.

While the tech isn’t as simple as calling from a regular cell phone, it’s a heck of a lot more advanced than standard CB radio or similar devices. Users can, for instance, selectively call others users on their Beartooth contact list or speak to a broader open channel, all while filtering what the company calls “unwanted conversation” via CTCSS/DCS. Here’s hoping Beartooth sees the sort of widespread adoption needed to impact lives.

Disease Diagnostic Group

What if you could save a million lives a year with a laser pointer and a refrigerator magnet? That’s the trimmed-down tagline/sales pitch for Disease Diagnostic Group, a company with all kinds of potential in the field of – wait for it – disease diagnosis. Their first product is a Rapid Assessment of Malaria (RAM) device, which “yields an accurate malaria diagnosis in as little as 10 seconds.”(LINK) As fans of mHealth devices improving underprivileged countries, we’re obviously excited to see this lifesaving wonderbox hit shelves – but the future is even more exciting.

Though DDG started with malaria, the company doesn’t plan to finish there. As with many other companies in the same field, their end goal is to create an accurate, affordable multi-disease-diagnosing box that’s portable enough to carry around even the most underdeveloped landscapes.

While DDG didn’t walk away with Disrupt’s $50,000 grand prize, they did snag a cool $100k from MIT’s Launch competition earlier this year. Wherever their future takes them (and whatever funding they receive), we can only imagine their future is bright. With deep-pocketed charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation putting malaria right in the crosshairs, we’re sure someone will continue to fund the company’s research.

Fove

From the functional to the fanciful, Fove is a VR headset and eye-tracker made with the common consumer in mind. According to the creators, this is the first time the “VR world [will react] to your eyes” when/if the product hits shelves.

Unfortunately, Fove’s page is sparse and mostly in Japanese. As hard as it is to get a sense for the product, it’s easy to see the gadget getting lost in the sea of higher-profile VR devices slated to hit the market. However, one bit of news at the bottom of the page is particularly intriguing. The device has apparently been picked up by Microsoft Ventures London, a program designed to accelerate startups by giving them the resources/support they need to flourish.

Whatever comes of the device, it’s further proof that VR is a short time away from cracking household-concept status. For techies who have been following this tech since the early days of the Oculus Rift, that’s something to get pumped about no matter what name is etched into the headset.

Partpic

Whether you’re dealing with a mechanic or fixing your ride yourself, an unidentifiable part can be a tremendous pain in the truck nuts. Partpic, a smartphone app designed to locate hard-to-find pieces and their model numbers (among other info), aims to soothe that pain by taking over the automotive detective work.

The company’s secret is what it calls “sophisticated extraction algorithms,” used to further ensure the right piece comes in the first time. The app can even direct users to the appropriate vendors once it’s found a piece, an excellent feature for anyone who has struggled to find an obscure component through a series of just-as-obscure vendors.

Partpic is in beta now, which hopefully means the product will hit digital shelves before too long. For gear heads, classic car enthusiasts (many of whom spend huge chunks of their lives searching down parts), and people who just hate dealing with the mechanic any more than they have to, fret not. Soon, smartphones will be able to improve your lives and your ride.

The best and brightest

TechCrunch Disrupt’s contestant pool reflects some of the coolest startup tech out there. You don’t have to be an investor or an industry insider to get excited for products like the ones we just outlined. There’s a good chance one of the 28 products listed on the event’s contestant page will touch all of our lives in some way or another (assuming they acquire the necessary funding).

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