Disrupt SF highlights: Seed money, health…and Bitcoin

By Editor September 16, 2013

By Brian Kovalesky, StartUp Beat Editor

Like many others this past week, I watched and listened intently to the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference live stream. Since I wasn’t able to attend, I TC Disrupt 2013found that the webcast provided a good opportunity to discover what was happening at the show. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the conference, it really has become the most relevant gathering in Silicon Valley/San Francisco for discovering and debating new technology. Besides several tech pavilions featuring startups from around the world showing off their wares, and the very cool ‘Startup Battlefield’—where startups pitch the audience and a group of experts that often include some of the biggest names in tech and VC—consider that the last day of the show featured on-stage interviews with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, and VC legend Vinod Khosla. So, what happens at Disrupt is significant—at least in the very relevant ecosystem that is Silicon Valley.

Here are my takeaways from Disrupt SF:

-Seed money is seems to be plentiful It was surprising to me to see just how many small startups had come to Disrupt SF having already secured significant Seed funding. I think it’s safe to say that this wasn’t the case in years past—Disrupt was often a place where young startups came to get noticed and seek out Seed money. It seems that early-stage investors are currently very willing to open their checkbooks and throw money at startups to see where they can go. What this means in light of all of the attention given to a perceived ‘Series A crunch’ is yet to be determined…but there are a lot of early-stage startups out there with good-to-great ideas getting significant funding to build out their operations—and we all know that only a relatively small percentage will stick around for the long-haul. For VCs, incubators, and Angels, the potential payout seems to be well worth the risk.

-Health is a hot topic Technologists are beginning to see health and healthcare as the next big problem to solve. Although many enterprising technologists and health professionals have been serving this market for years, a giant collective light bulb seems to have appeared over San Jose and its environs with a new consciousness about just how broken healthcare delivery is—in the U.S. and around the world. Perhaps even more interesting is the focus on technology providing a path to preventing or curing certain ailments. This new-found focus on health also reaches into nutrition—as demonstrated by Hampton Creek Foods’ ‘chicken-less egg’ (a plant-based egg substitute) on-stage taste test with TC founder Michael Arrington and GigaOm’s Om Malik.

The degree to which the money follows the interest will be the big test for this burgeoning focus on health. This interview with Vinod Khosla at the show is a must-see for his perspective on health technology.

-Bitcoin is here to stay People can’t seem to get enough of Bitcoin. The potential of a currency generated out of the borderless, global, open promise of the Internet (at least in theory) seems too good for many to pass up. What seemed to be a good idea with a slim chance at gaining mainstream traction at one point, is now getting strong support from some big backers. This interview with AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, Balaji Srinivasan of genomics startup Counsyl, and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (yes, THOSE Winklevosses) is the best discussion I’ve seen yet about the potential for the currency. Still, some of the examples they cite seem really pie-in-the-sky, but who am I to argue with these guys?

Disrupt did, of course, generate a usual amount of controversy—from a couple of extremely unfortunate Hackathon presentations to controversy about Disrupt Battlefield winner Layer’s connection to TechCrunch founder (and Battlefield finals judge) Michael Arrington and his CrunchFund, which is an investor in the startup. Despite its shortcomings, follies, and the fact that it’s owned by AOL—which many people seem to hold against it, TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF is still one of the best ways to get a read on what’s happening in Silicon Valley.

PS: A quick Editor’s note: Up until today, I’ve always stood aside and avoided including my own writing on StartUp Beat—choosing instead to do Q&As and Pitches with startups and allowing experts to contribute guest columns about relevant topics. Over the years, however, I’ve developed an itch to contribute to the conversation, and now I’m going to scratch that itch via my own weekly column about startups, entrepreneurship, and any-and-all related topics. I hope you find it valuable, and I hope that my background and experience can bring some new perspective, raise new questions, or just be fun or interesting to read. I’d love to hear your thoughts about my columns—good, bad, or indifferent—in the comments. I will respond, as I hope this will be a good way to better connect with StartUp Beat’s readers.  -Brian