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Announcing The TechCrunch 2015 Disrupt Battlefield Finalists


We’re now on the flipside of our 17th TechCrunch Disrupt conference. In the past two days, over 2100 people have passed through the Manhattan Center for TechCrunch Disrupt NY, with dreams of becoming the next president of the United States or the next Snapchat or the next Estée Lauder. Along with NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio and presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, executives and founders like Joanne Bradford, Dennis Crowley, Leandra Medine have graced our stage.

Tomorrow we’ll get to see talks by Tristan Walker, Alexis Ohanian, Casper’s Philip Krim and more.

In tandem with the above interviews, twenty-four startups have presented on our stage in Startup Battlefield. It was very difficult to make the decisions, but after much deliberation, we’ve got our six finalists picked out. These companies will move on to the finals round tomorrow, competing for a large check and even larger cup.

Finals judges include John Borthwick (Betaworks), Dennis Crowley (Foursquare), Eric Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau Ventures), Alfred Lin (Sequoia Capital), Rich Miner (Google), Brian Pokorny (SV Angel) and Alexia Tsotsis (TechCrunch).


BioBots builds 3D bioprinters and bioinks. They enable users to build 3D living tissues for scientific research, high throughput drug screening, and implantation.

Bitfusion is developing unique software technology to transparently and automatically accelerate existing applications by orders of magnitude. Bitfusion unlocks hardware acceleration without requiring application rewrite.


Cloudwear developed a powerful authentication solution that is easier and more secure than 2 Factor Authentication (2FA). Cloudwear offers a free API that enables developers to quickly and easily add advanced security to any website and mobile app, and the team comes from Google, Microsoft, and SpaceX.

Digital Genius

DigitalGenius enables Fortune-500 companies to automate repetitive intelligent labor. This enterprise-grade platform leverages proprietary artificial intelligence and well-engineered natural language processing to automate human-like conversations at scale.


Liquidity make the world’s best consumer water purification filters. Their vision is a family of products that deliver cleaner, healthier drinking water to all of planet Earth. Through the consumer brand Naked Filter, and OEM partners, the company plans to realize that goal one filter at a time. Clean water for Every Body.

Nucleus Science

Nucleus Scientific is developing a suite of technologies that will fundamentally change the way energy is utilized in transportation and related industries globally; the first of these innovations unlock the full potential of certain off-the-shelf batteries by shortening charging times to only a few minutes while also extending lifetimes considerably.


PageCloud re-imagines Web publishing, and says it will change the Web forever. For the first time, the power of desktop publishing has been brought to the browser – not some hacky approximation. Integrated with desktop apps, but native to the cloud, open the browser, hit New Page, and go!


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HeyLets, A Personalized Location Discovery App, Raises Seed Funding


With the number of location discovery apps out there already, the question might not be “Where should we go?” but “Why make another one?”

The developers of HeyLets, however, believe there is still room to stand apart by delivering more personalized recommendations to people based on their interests (users can pick from 30 categories, ranging from the obvious like “fine dining” to more niche interests such as “cards and board games” or “new age and psychedelics”) and profile information.

The startup recently received a vote of confidence in the form of $1.65 million in seed funding from BlueSky Funds and five angel investors.

HeyLets is currently available on iOS, with an Android version scheduled for launch in June. Co-founder and CEO Justin Parfitt decided to tackle location discovery after having difficulty finding a hotel room in Italy using TripAdvisor.

“It was a time consuming, frustrating process trying to tease out which reviews were relevant. At one point he read a one-star review for a stunning converted mansion in a medieval town in which the reviewer complained that the building was old and the staff spoke poor English, and went on to describe the Sheraton at Milan airport as the highlight of their stay. Justin thought, ‘Why am I reading negative reviews from people I have nothing in common with?’” his co-founder Dean Kelly tells TechCrunch.

HeyLets filters out reviews from people who probably don’t have any overlapping interests in an effort to keep users from wasting their time searching through irrelevant information (it also limits recommendations to 200 characters).

The app faces several established challengers, including Yelp, Foursquare’s Swarm, and Everplaces. A couple of location discovery apps that could have been rivals went off the market last year (the team behind location discovery app, Pin Drop, was hired by Apple after closing down due to lack of funding, while Jetpac was acquired by Google).

Though the market is a relatively mature one, Kelly says that HeyLets, which currently has 100,000 recommendations posted by users in 91 countries, differentiates with its personalized feed. Swarm, on the other hand, focuses on showing users where their friends have checked in, while Everplaces lets them browse lists of places curated by other people. Unlike Yelp, HeyLets focuses on positive reviews—if a venue doesn’t get enough recommendations, it just won’t show up in feeds.

“There are literally hundreds of apps that focus on places, with reviews, tips, or comments hidden on secondary screens. HeyLets emphasizes the experience first and foremost, so what you’re seeing in your feed is a sequence of ‘this is awesome!’ moments from likeminded people. It’s more personal and entertaining than seeing a list of places,” says Kelly.

“We also think no one has really cracked personalization yet. Foursquare has made a stab at it, but we feel they’re hampered by legacy data and content. We think that your ‘recommended’ feed on HeyLets, even at this very early stage, does a better job of inspiring you to try new things. Ultimately there hasn’t been a breakout product to challenge Yelp or TripAdvisor, which both feel old to us.”

The startup is using its seed funding for new hires and product development. It also plans to add the ability to make e-commerce transactions through the app, like hotel and restaurant bookings or ticket purchases, which will hopefully help HeyLets land strategic partners as it scales up globally.

HeyLets plans to monetize through three streams of revenue: social referral marketing, bookings, and licensing content to third parties.

“Because HeyLets connects users to businesses on the basis of relevance and popularity, any deals  inserted in each post only need to be sufficient to encourage the user to transact in app, and unlike advertising on other social platforms, deals on HeyLets don’t disrupt the user experience because they relate directly to the content. Secondly, users can already get an Uber directly to each experience, and they’ll soon be able to make  bookings and buy tickets too,” Kelly says.

“Finally, given the number of categories HeyLets covers, and given that all experiences in HeyLets are positive and are categorized, that content can be used by many different groups.  For example, we are talking to a major realty site about including local experiences alongside neighborhood crime and schooling information.”

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IBM Announces Marketing Partnership With Facebook


IBM and Facebook are teaming up to offer marketers new integrations between the two platforms.

IBM said customers will now be able to buy Facebook ads with combined data from Facebook and IBM’s Marketing Cloud (the latter includes things like like weather, location and previous purchase history). It also said those customers can take campaigns that work on Facebook and replicate them elsewhere.

There’s already a sizable ecosystem of companies tapping into Facebook’s ad capabilities. Asked how this partnership is different, Jay Henderson, director for IBM Commerce, pointed out that Facebook is the first company to join IBM’s THINKLab, where team members from IBM and Facebook can work with advertisers to create campaigns with a focus on personalized customer experiences: “No other company is doing this with Facebook today.”

Henderson also said:

What really sets this apart is our marketing cloud and customer analytics capabilities. Over the past few years IBM has invested $24 billion in analytics. This investment now includes our latest innovation, Journey Analytics. Now our clients, including some of the world’s largest banks, retailers, and insurance companies, can apply these analytics to the reach of Facebook. This improved precision will drive more relevant advertisements to consumers on Facebook that ultimately create improved customer experience.

To illustrate how the companies’ capabilities could be combined, IBM said a retailer could identify Facebook users interested in long distance running, then deliver targeted deals based on the type of gear they’re interested in, as well as their location.

The announcement comes about a year after IBM announced its acquisition of cloud marketing company Silverpop.

Featured Image: IBM – Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service

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Thailand’s Omise Lands $2.6M To Expand Its Payment Gateway Across Asia


Omise, a Thailand-based payment enabler, is in the money today after it raised a $2.6 million Series A round to develop its payment gateway system and expand across Asia.

Two-year-old Omise’s funding was led by Indonesian VC SMDV, with participation from existing investor East Ventures. 500 Tuktuks — 500 Startups’ dedicated fund for Thailand — and, interestingly, Thailand-based mobile operator True completed the line-up. (Working with a telco in Southeast Asia often open doors and scaling opportunities with both partners and consumers.)

The timing of the round is noteworthy, coming just a week after 2C2P, a rival in Southeast Asia, nabbed $7 million in fresh funding. Paysby, which is owned by operator DTAC, is yet another competitor in Thailand — there are plenty more across the region. The sheer number of entrepreneurs focused on the problem, indicates just how painful the current system is for retailers, startups and others.

So what is it about Omise that is different from the rest?

Co-founder and COO Donnie Harinsut explained that, in essence, Omise — which is pronounced ‘Oh-Mee-Say’ — is bringing greater simplicity and ease to the existing process, which can certainly be a convoluted and frustrating one. The startup is the only one that is PCI 3.0 compliant in Thailand — which allows it to tokenize cards for one-click payments and ongoing subscriptions — while its onboarding and merchant support are likely to ease some of the pain points for those selling online.

“Most developers don’t accept credit cards because there are so many obstacles… some issues [including minimum deposits to banks and long wait times for payment to be completed] make it super hard for a new merchant to start their online business,” he said.

Omise — which actually started out as an e-commerce platform, before the team decided to focus on the payment gateway that it built for itself — offers a set of APIs and developer resources that can allow new merchants to be online and accepting payment with 24 hours, Harinsut explained.

On the business side, Omise charges 3.65 percent on transactions, with a one dollar fee for up to 60,000 (1 million THB) withdrawn. It offers customizable packages for large partners, and claims to serve a number of large corporates as well as smaller startups and SMEs — it did not disclose the identity of its client roster, however.

For now, Omise is focused on Thailand, where it has a 20-plus team, but it’s next step will be an expansion to Japan, the country of co-founder and CEO Jun Hasegawa, who met Harinsut more than 10 years ago during a homestay trip. The company is in the process of opening a Tokyo office, and is hiring both in Japan and Thailand right now.

Hasegawa told TechCrunch that Omise has struck a deal with “Japan’s biggest credit issuer” and, while the local landscape is vastly different to Southeast Asia, he’s confident that there is “still a payment gap” to be tackled. Even just taking a one percent share of Japan’s online sales market, which he pegs as reaching $600 billion per year by 2020, would make the move worthwhile, he explained.

Southeast Asia is a more obvious target for growth, particularly given that SMDV led this funding round, but Harinsut and Hasegawa would not be drawn on further details — other than that they have “big plans” for Indonesia.

The company, they said, may also expand into offline payments — bringing their solution and more options to point-of-sale and in-store hardware — which might require a fresh funding round in early 2016.

“We want to help Southeast Asia quit using cash and move on to be a cashless society,” Hasegawa said.

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Relevancy Data Improves Ad Targeting By Analyzing The Content Of Online Videos


I bet we’ve all had moments when we’ve stared at a random, irrelevant ad and wondered: “Why the heck am I being forced to watch this?” Well, a company called Relevancy Data is working to make those moments a thing of the past, and it’s taking the stage today as part of the Startup Battlefield at Disrupt NY.

The mission, said founder and CEO Michal Hubschmann, is to “organize the world of video content by indexing every element of the video to create endless engagement.”

Here’s the basic idea: In addition to targeting video ads based on clicks and other behavioral data, Relevancy Data also allows advertisers and publishers to use the content of the videos you’re actually watching. It sounds like an obvious solution, but analyzing those videos isn’t easy, particularly when it comes to user-generated content, where the publisher doesn’t automatically know what the video is about and can’t rely on tags or other metadata.

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Hubschmann acknowledged that existing ad targeting tools are bringing in plenty of money, but she suggested that users are getting more annoyed — hence the growth of ad blockers. And there are competitors trying to analyze video content for better ad targeting, including DynAdmics and Vu Digital, but Hubschmann said Relevancy Data’s technology is more comprehensive.

“It’s not about face recognition or image recognition,” she said. “It’s a combination of all the technologies under one umbrella: face, logo, elements, age, gender, emotion and audio.”

To highlight the problem, Hubschmann showed an ad for a Venus shaving blade playing before a football game — basically, an irrelevant ad. Then she showed off the technology, playing a video and identifying the faces, the logos and other elements.

The business model involves selling this data to media and ad tech companies to improve their user profiles and therefore their targeting. This also offers a new approach to targeting in the cookie-less world of mobile ads, Hubschmann said.

And she said the company works closely with the content providers: “In this industry, the publisher is king. If the publisher says, ‘I want you to use this technology because the performance will be higher,’ that’s an immediate sale for us.”

Before Relevancy Data, Hubschmann founded hotel website, while her technology director Aviram Siboni has done work with face, voice and speech recognition, including a stint with Israel’s General Security Service. Advisors include Mascha Driessen, Microsoft’s regional director of advertising and online in Western Europe.

Relevancy Data was incubated at Startup Bootcamp Amsterdam and has launched in Europe. However, Hubschmann said she’s looking to expand in the United States.

In the meantime, she’s releasing her first set of campaign results from Fox Sports in the Netherlands. By using Relevancy Data, Fox Sports apparently saw a 3.7 percent clickthrough rate, compared to a standard CTR of less than 1 percent — in other words, the campaign was more than three times as effective.

QA With Judges

Q: Tell me about the AI model that does the recognition.

Siboni: “All the IP is inside.” In other words, all of the technology was developed in-house. Relevancy Data downloads the video from the content provider, analyzes it with several engines and sends the results to the company’s ad server. The end result identifies who the celebrity is, or what the music or logo is, in each specific second.

Q: YouTube is the “gorilla” in the video market, and Google must be doing things in this area. How might you partner with YouTube?

Hubschmann: The company will pursue two parallel directions. One is to implement this with publishers like YouTube. The other is to offer Relevancy Data’s own campaign management tools for advertisers.

Q: How do you differentiate yourself from competitors?

Siboni: “It’s all about execution and performance.” Since the technology was all developed in-house, it can be customized and improved in different ways and for different categories.

Hubschmann: The key is to “show the value of this data and translate it into a huge amount of value.” That’s why Relevancy Data is focused on working with market leaders like Fox Sports and BMW.

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ContainerShip Wants To Help You Move Your Containerized Apps Between Clouds


Today at Disrupt NY, ContainerShip took the stage to show off its technology built to help companies better deploy containerized applications to different hosting services. ContainerShip is part of a larger wave of containerization companies that want to make it simpler to place apps onto, for example, various cloud providers.

In a phone call, the ContainerShip team stated that its goal as a company was to help others “make [their] infrastructure portable.”

ContainerShip has an open-source focus, but with a commercial bent. Although the company’s core technology is open source, the startup will offer a paid product called ContainerShip Cloud, which will charge on a per-seat basis.

Key to the ContainerShip pitch is portability. The company bets that developers wish that switching hosting providers were easier. However, the technical complexity of such a move can be difficult. To remedy that, ContainerShip takes all the work onto its own shoulders, so that developers can deploy their applications onto new cloud providers, or even onto new regions of their current provider.

The company expects that its first customers will be small to medium-sized startups, but did note to TechCrunch that what it has built is also useful to larger, enterprise-scale companies.

For now, its tech is free, with the company’s founders indicating that, while they intend to “charge eventually,” immediate commercialization isn’t a goal.

If your eyes glaze over when Docker is brought up, I understand. But as worlds of larger companies start to move off of legacy, on-premises tech, there is a large greenfield opportunity in the market. And, as Docker is hardly losing steam, ContainerShip might be in a good spot to sell some pickaxes.

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