At the very beginning, there were 14 startups. After two days of incredibly fierce competition, we now have a winner.
Startups participating in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $50,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup.
Scaled Robotics has designed a robot that can produce 3D progress maps of construction sites in minutes, precise enough to detect that a beam is just a centimeter or two off. Supervisors can then use the software to check things like which pieces are in place on which floor, whether they have been placed within the required tolerances or if there are safety issues like too much detritus on the ground in work areas.
Stable offers a solution as simple as car insurance, designed to protect farmers around the world from pricing volatility. Through the startup, food buyers ranging from owners of a small smoothie shop to Coca-Cola employees can insure thousands of agricultural commodities, as well as packaging and energy products.
Streaming services are popping up like weeds these days, but MUBI has been at it basically since streaming video first emerged as a business. Founded in 2007, MUBI focuses on curated, independent film from international artists and creators, and the company has recently further differentiated itself from its competitors by becoming a distributor and production house – while also going cash-flow positive-during its most recent quarter.
The MUBI story is a rare example of a startup maintaining clear and consistent focus over a long, storied history and achieving sustainable growth in the process. MUBI CEO Efe Cakarel told me at Disrupt Berlin that the company will be cash-flow positive this quarter, and that its revenue has grown at a rate of 72% year-over-year for the past three years running.
That’s a significant achievement and a rarity for just about any startup, but it’s particularly difficult and challenging in the context of the video streaming industry. It’s fairly standard practice among the larger players in the space to spend, spend and then spend some more.
Netflix, for instance, expects to have spent around $15 billion on new content over the course of this past year, while Apple has spent over $6 billion on new shows and films.
Despite swimming with deep-pocketed sharks, MUBI has not only seen a ton of growth over the years, but it has also branched out into original content itself, first by securing distribution rights and then later by getting into producing films and shows of its own.
MUBI has been distributing films, including theatrical releases, and now it’s also joining up to produce its first films, including Farewell Amor, which was just selected to be part of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival; Port Authority, which had a debut at Cannes earlier this year; Maniac Cop, an original TV series from Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Drive.
The company has also made major expansions into Asia, including a launch in India with a dedicated service showcasing Indian cinema.
Disrupt Berlin Day 2 begins now, and boy do we have a show for you!
Today, we’ll hear from Justin Drake (Ethereum Foundation), Carolina Brochado (Softbank Investment Advisors) and Andrei Brasoveanu (Accel), Young Sohn (Samsung), and Matthew Prince (Cloudflare), live from the Main Stage.
On the Extra Crunch stage, panelists will discuss important topics like How to Fit Blockchain into Your Startup Strategy and How to Raise Your First Euros.
And, of course, we’ll see the Startup Battlefield Finals, where five startups (Gmelius, Hawa Dawa, Inovat, Scaled Robotics, and Stable) will pitch live in front of expert VC judges to take home the Disrupt Cup, $50,000 and eternal glory.
While we wish that you were here, we’re pleased to be able to bring you a live stream of the entire day. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!
MindAffect, a team which presented in today’s TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield, wants to explore whats possible when we can control the devices around us with our minds — and to let others explore the possibilities, too.
MindAffect was selected as a wildcard entry into the Startup Battlefield from the companies exhibiting at the show.
One early area of research for the team has been helping those who are unable to move anything but their eyes (due to neurological disorders such as ALS or stroke) communicate by typing.
Through this research, the team has designed a brain-computer interface which uses existing electroencephalogram (or EEG) hardware and unique flashing patterns to allow a user to control a device using only their eyes and the signals generated by their brain. Now they want to let others build with this interface (whether it’s for medical use cases like they’ve explored so far, or things like gaming/entertainment) with plans to launch a development kit next month at CES.
Here’s MindAffect’s system wired up to control an AppleTV:
While there are existing solutions for tracking eye movements to control computers, this approach sort of flips the concept upside down.
Whereas eye tracking solutions mostly use cameras and infrared reflections bounced off the eye to determine where a user is looking, MindAffect’s approach analyzes signals from the brain to determine what a user is looking at.
To accomplish this, MindAffect flashes each button on an interface (such as every key on an onscreen keyboard) at a different frequency. As the user shifts their gaze from button to button, the company says, the unique frequency the user sees causes their brain’s visual cortex to generate similarly unique signals. A non-invasive EEG headset detects and amplifies these signals, and MindAffect’s algorithms work backwards to match the signal to the desired action or input. MindAffect says its current algorithms require little to no training to function accurately.
With those differences in mind, what are the advantages of this approach over camera-based eye tracking? In a chat with me backstage shortly before his pitch, MindAffect CEO Ivo de la Rive Box was quick to note that they’re still trying to figure that out. He mentions, as an example, environments where lighting conditions might interfere with eye trackers.
MindAffect is on the hunt for use cases where this tech could prove particularly advantageous – something that opening up a dev kit to others could help with.
Founded in September of 2017, the company has raised $1M to date.
Arcona Music took to the stage at Disrupt Berlin today to showcase its adaptive music service. The local startup utilizes machine learning to create musical beds capable of adapting to different contexts in real-time. The user simply needs to input a handful of parameters, and the service will adjust accordingly.
“Give it a style, an emotion and a musical theme, and you can say, ‘play this,’ and the engine will take that blueprint and realize it,” service cofounder Ryan Groves explained, in a conversation with TechCrunch. “If, at any point, the emotion or style changes, it will adapt to that and create this essentially infinite stream of music. You can play a particular song blueprint for as long as is necessary in any dynamic environment.”
The service is still in its infancy, at the moment. Its two founders are its only two full-time employees, along with a part-time developer. Groves and co-founder Amélie Anglade bootstrapped the scrappy startup, which has yet to seek funding.
Groves is a composer and musical theorist who formerly worked at popular AI-based music composition service, Ditty. Anglade is a music information retrieval specialist who worked at SoundCloud.
Rhythm gaming is the first clear application for the service. The popular gaming genre is built around a changing soundtrack and could potentially benefit from music that requires minimal pre-programing. Moving forward, the potential for such a service is far broader.
“In the very long term,” Groves said, “we should see this being almost your own personal orchestra, leveraging augmented reality, GPS and all that stuff, and just responding to your environment as you’re listening.
The team at Wotch has created a new social video platform — but wait, don’t roll your eyes quite yet.
“Obviously, we’re very used to someone creating a new internet video-sharing platform,” said co-CEO Scott Willson. “It must be very irritating for everyone to hear that.”
And yet Willson and his co-founder/co-CEO James Sadler have attempted it anyway, and they’re competing today as part of the Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin. They’re only 22 years old, but Sadler said they’ve been working together for the past few years, with past projects including the development of e-learning platforms.
Willson said YouTube has been “leaving out creators in terms of communications,” and as the controversies grew, the pair thought, “There has to be a better way of doing this.”
The key, Sadler added, is giving video creators a bigger say in the process: “We’re very hands-on with these creators. We’re not just sending them an automated email.”
In fact, they’re giving creators an opportunity to buy equity in Wotch to get a stake in the company’s success. They’re also appointing a creator board that will be consulted on company policy.
Wotch creators will be able to make money by selling subscriptions, merchandise and ads — not the standard pre-roll or mid-roll ads (which Willson described as “irritants”), but instead partnerships where they incorporate brand products and messages in their videos.
Asked whether this might create the same tension between advertisers and creators that YouTube has been struggling with, Willson argued, “What it comes down to is correctly matching advertisers with creators.” Some advertisers don’t mind working with video-makers who are “pushing the boundaries” — they just need to know what they’re getting into.
Sadler also said that Wotch will be providing creators with more data about their viewers, like identifying their most loyal fans, their most engaged fans and their first “wotchers.”
And the site will take a different approach to content moderation, using technologies like video frame analysis to identify “risky” content, as well as relying more on community moderation. Sadler said it will be a “consensus” approach, rather than the “dictatorship” of other platforms.
“We’re rewarding users for helping to cleanse these platforms,” he added.
Wotch isn’t identifying any of the big creators who he says have signed on, but Sadler told me that the company is largely focused on emerging markets and has already recruited 25 of the top creators in Brazil (where YouTube has an enormous audience, to sometimes detrimental effect) and throughout South America. Those creators won’t be posting on Wotch alone, but they will be creating exclusive videos for the service.
Sadler said it’s those creators who will draw the viewers: “Consumers are loyal to the creators and not the platforms.” And once they’re drawn in, they’ll also experience “a more social platform — see the things your friends are ‘wotching,’ see the things that your favorite creators are ‘wotching.'”
The startup has raised funding from Dominic Smales, the CEO of influencer marketing company Gleam Futures; Bidstack co-founder Simon Mitchell; and Melody VR founder and COO Steve Hancock. Smales is also leading the creator board.
While a beta version of Wotch is already live, Sadler and Willson plan to launch a revamped version of the service early next year. You can get an early preview of the changes by using the promotional code “TECHCRUNCH.”
Few spaces are hotter right now than enterprise SaaS and tools that streamline communications in the workplace have been some of the more popular investments for savvy VCs.
The workplace email inbox is a nightmare, but there are plenty of wrong ways to kill it. Gmelius is building a workspace platform that lives inside Gmail, allowing teams to get more bespoke tools without adding yet another piece of software to their repertoire.
Gmelius slots into the Gmail workspace, adding a host of features like shared inboxes, a help desk, an account-management solution and automation tools. This integration fits into the existing interface while hiding heavier tools including Trello-like Kanban boards inside Gmail. It can understandably feel like an awful lot of functionality to fit into one app.
Gmelius has been around for a long time as a Chrome plugin, but the company has made significant strides this year to revamp their product as a premium tool for startups looking to supercharge their email and collaborate internally inside Gmail. The company still offers a free tier with limited functionality, but now has several professional tiers scaling up to a $49 per user enterprise plan.
The startup is rebelling against an overwhelming trend of service unbundling which has led startups to pay for more SaaS products than ever. Gmelius is taking on competitors like Front and others that have built out their own distinct platforms.
Gmelius recently graduated from Y Combinator and is in the midst of raising new funding to scale its team to take on more customers. They are competing in TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin’s Startup Battlefield.
Buildings under construction are a maze of half-completed structures, gantries, stacked materials, and busy workers — tracking what’s going on can be a nightmare. Scaled Robotics has designed a robot that can navigate this chaos and produce 3D progress maps in minutes, precise enough to detect that a beam is just a centimeter or two off.
Bottlenecks in construction aren’t limited to manpower and materials. Understanding exactly what’s been done and what needs doing is a critical part of completing a project in good time, but it’s the kind of painstaking work that requires special training and equipment. Or, as Scaled Robotics showed today at TC Disrupt Berlin 2019, specially trained equipment.
The team has created a robot that trundles autonomously around construction sites, using a 360-degree camera and custom lidar system to systematically document its surroundings. An object recognition system allows it to tell the difference between a constructed wall and a piece of sheet rock leaned against it, between a staircase and temporary stairs for electric work, and so on.
By comparing this to a source CAD model of the building, it can paint a very precise picture of the progress being made. They’ve built a special computer vision model that’s suited to the task of sorting obstructions from the constructions and identifying everything in between.
All this information goes into a software backend where the supervisors can check things like which pieces are in place on which floor, whether they have been placed within the required tolerances, or if there are safety issues like too much detritus on the ground in work areas. But it’s not all about making the suits happy.
“It’s not just about getting management to buy in, you need the guy who’s going to use it every day to buy in. So we’ve made a conscious effort to fit seamlessly into what they do, and they love that aspect of it,” explained co-founder Bharath Sankaran. “You don’t need a computer scientist in the room. Issues get flagged in the morning, and that’s a coffee conversation – here’s the problem, bam, let’s go take a look at it.”
The robot can make its rounds faster than a couple humans with measuring tapes and clipboards, certainly, but also someone equipped with a stationary laser ranging device that they carry from room to room. An advantage of simultaneous location and ranging (SLAM) tech is that it measures from multiple points of view over time, building a highly accurate and rich model of the environment.
The data is assembled automatically but the robot can be either autonomous or manually controlled — in developing it, they’ve brought the weight down from about 70 kilograms to 20, meaning it can be carried easily from floor to floor if necessary (or take the elevator); and simple joystick controls mean anyone can drive it.
A trio of pilot projects concluded this year and have resulted in paid pilots next year, which is of course a promising development.
Interestingly, the team found that construction companies were using outdated information and often more or less assumed they had done everything in the meantime correctly.
“Right now decisions are being made on data that’s maybe a month old,” said co-founder Stuart Maggs. “We can probably cover 2000 square meters in 40 minutes. One of the first times we took data on a site, they were completely convinced everything they’d done was perfect. We put the data in front of them and they found out there was a structural wall just missing, and it had been missing for 4 weeks.”
The company uses a service-based business model, providing the robot and software on a monthly basis, with prices rising with square footage. That saves the construction company the trouble of actually buying, certifying, and maintaining an unfamiliar new robotic system.
But the founders emphasized that tracking progress is only the first hint of what can be done with this kind of accurate, timely data.
“The big picture version of where this is going is that this is the visual wiki for everything related to your construction site. You just click and you see everything that’s relevant,” said Sankaran. “Then you can provide other ancillary products, like health and safety stuff, where is storage space on site, predicting whether the project is on schedule.”
“At the moment, what you’re seeing is about looking at one moment in time and diagnosing it as quickly as possible,” said Maggs. “But it will also be about tracking that over time: We can find patterns within that construction process. That data feeds that back into their processes, so it goes from a reactive workflow to a proactive one.”
“As the product evolves you start unwrapping, like an onion, the different layers of functionality,” said Sankaran.
The company has come this far on $1 million of seed funding, but is hot on the track of more. Perhaps more importantly, its partnerships with construction giant PERI and Autodesk, which has helped push digital construction tools, may make it a familiar presence at building sites around the world soon.
Nathan Damtew, the founder of new Ethiopian education technology and gaming company BeBlocky, has always been interested in games.
An avid Call of Duty player, the young entrepreneur, who founded BeBlocky in his senior year of college, was always struck by the disconnection between how adept his generation was at playing games and how little they knew about how those games were built.
The problem, Damtew thought, was especially acute across Africa, where most students are introduced to programming in high school — if they’re able to get those classes at all.
BeBlocky is his attempt to change that.
The company’s initial product is a programming learning platform for kids. It uses animated programming lessons as a traditional app and through augmented reality to teach children the basics of computer programming using a modified curriculum based off of lessons from Code.org.
BeBlocky launched a mere five months ago and already has 6,000 users on its app. In Ethiopia, it has grown through its partnership with the local Addis Ababa-based organization Yenetta Code, which teaches Ethiopian students in the nation’s capital coding skills.
The company has also scored early partnerships with national celebrities to attract kids to the platform. BeBlocky uses avatars from pop culture icons like Rophnan, a popular Ethiopian musician, and Jember and Hawi, two characters from a popular Ethiopian comic book.
It’s an indicator of how BeBlocky expects to make money. Damtew says that sponsorship opportunities will exist for companies that want to advertise in the app. And, there’s an opportunity for in-app purchases, he says.
“These characters… kids love them… we want to have the characters as toys that can have a bar code so kids can take a picture and then engage with the game characters in the app,” says Damtew.
The merchandising component also informs the company’s move to develop an augmented reality application as well, which the company developed after seeing the success of Pokemon Go.
“We thought it would be a very cool thing to integrate the education system with the Augmented Reality,” says Damtew.
Gameplay in the app is designed to encourage users to roam free in the environment once they complete lessons peppered through five different levels of the game, so they can build out their own worlds.
Going forward, Damtew envisions a fully realized merchandising and storytelling platform that includes tech-enabled toys and games and user generated content built with BeBlocky’s assets.
“One of the things that makes us different is that education and coding in Africa has been overlooked and we’re making characters that are relevant to African people around the world,” says Damtew.
To date, the company has raised a small, pre-seed investment from the Baobab Network, after participating in the impact investor’s two-year technology accelerator program and is currently in the process of raising its seed round, with an eye toward expanding the marketing and development of the app across theAfrican continent.
From a Southwest England farmer’s son comes a risk management platform, Stable, a solution as simple as car insurance designed to protect farmers around the world from pricing volatility.
Using Stable, food buyers ranging from owners of a small smoothie shop to Coca-Cola employees can insure thousands of agricultural commodities, packaging and energy products. Led by founder and CEO Richard Counsell, London-based Stable has raised a $6 million seed round from Anthemis Group, agricultural company Sygenta and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
“I knew instinctively what a huge problem and how much damage volatile pricing does,” Counsell, who comes from a long line of farmers in Somerset, England, tells TechCrunch. “You could say it was in my blood. It’s not often you get the chance to bring two sides of your world together.”
After four years of research and development, Stable is launching on stage today at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. For the former currency trader and farmer-turned-CEO, building the data-rich risk management platform was no easy task. To adequately protect farmers, Stable’s team of data scientists, analysts and developers collected 3,000 niche and un-traded indexes from 40 countries, allowing customers to match their risk to a local index.
“We make it simple and precise for businesses of every size and every sector to protect their business from volatile prices,” Counsell said. “Everything from fish to timber to food and then the packaging as well energy, whether that be fuel or electricity.”
Counsell said the business plans to set up shop in Chicago, the global epicenter for commodities risk management, and Sydney, a massive commodity producer, as soon as next year. For the foreseeable future, Stable will focus solely on the agri-food industry, worth more than $4 trillion, according to Stable’s statistics. Eventually, Counsell says Stable will expand to include other sectors like metals or construction.
“Almost every business on the planet is exposed to one commodity,” Counsell said, alluding to the company’s grand ambitions.