Dispatches from Disrupt, Part 1: What exactly is a Tech Crunch, and why does it Disrupt?

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In case you were wondering where I've been for the last week or so, I decided to do something crazy and submit an application to TechCrunch, a website devoted to covering burgeoning small businesses in the tech industry (or "startups" for short), for a press pass to cover their yearly event, Disrupt. "Disrupt," by the way, is an industry buzzword that basically translates to "forever change a paradigm or way of doing something." So, the iPhone was incredibly disruptive to the cellphone industry, the 3D Printer is going to be disruptive to the making-things industry-- you get the idea.

It turns out they let me in!

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Yep. That's a real-live Press Pass. They almost got my site's name right, but who's counting? Not me. I was so overwhelmed I couldn't even math. (Speaking of math, a ticket to merely attend the conference costs $3,000. Unless you're press, and then it's free.)

Now, being a website comprised of precisely myself, I knew I had a long and arduous trek ahead of me. The amount of note-taking, picture-snapping, furious typing, and coffee drinking that needs to happen for a staff of 30 writers to cover a conference like this properly is epic, bordering on comical-- I was just one geek. I was prepared for this, yet I still had no idea what I was about to get myself into. Alas, I persevered, and live to tell the tale. Here is part one. 

The conference itself, Disrupt NY 2013, isn't just a standard, run-of-the-mill showcase of new cellphones, blu-ray players, or apps. At its heart, it's an event designed to facilitate the face-to-face meeting of promising web startup companies with serious investors (read: venture capitalists). Most of these young businesses have already gone through some rounds of funding, and are at Disrupt to really solidify their backing so they can take off into the land of Twitter and Instagram. 

It's an incredibly fascinating perspective to bear witness to: these founders, creators, coders, and designers take their idea that they've poured their entire being, future, and checkbook into, fold it up into a booth and some promotional material, and hike it to New York City where it's exposed to the likes of Ashton Kutcher (a venture capitalist in his own right), the jaded technorati (tech journalists like me-- except I'm just freaking excited to be there), and firms like Bain Capital and the CEO of Yahoo!. 

In addition to all of the other events (which I'll get to in another post), the primetime drama really unfolds during the Startup Battlefield. If you've ever seen Shark Tank on ABC, it's a lot like that: The 30-ish best and brightest startups are chosen by TechCrunch out of about 100 over a two-day period-- new apps, online services, social networks, you name it-- each vying to be the one that is judged the "Most Disruptive" to the tech industry. The culled list then has about six minutes each on the main stage upstairs to give a presentation in front of a panel of judges (and an audience likely to number around a thousand), describing why they are The Best Startup Here, and why they deserve the $50,000 prize and the Disrupt Cup. Then, for another six-to-ten minutes, the judges grill the pants off of them. How does everything work in detail, who's their competition in the marketplace, what's their business model, how much funding have they attracted so far, and why would anyone give a crap about them in the first place? 

It's an intense fifteen minutes. 

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On the third day of Disrupt, the finals take place. Seven finalists are chosen to give their presentations again in front of the Extra-Super-Elite panel, deliberations are held, and a winner is chosen.

I can tell you that the winner was deserving of their new moniker, to say the least. In fact, there were at least six or seven startups that, in my opinion, are going to turn some industries upside down and change the way we do some very basic things. But we'll get to that next time. Stay tuned...

Next up: Dispatches from Disrupt, Part 2: Startup Battlefield

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Posted on May 3, 2013 .