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The startups: ‘We need a presence in Silicon Valley, that’s the way it is’

The Guardian // 06th October 2015

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The startups: ‘We need a presence in Silicon Valley, that’s the way it is’” was written by Carole Cadwalladr, for The Observer on Sunday 4th October 2015 09.00 UTC

‘I think women are about to take over tech’
Graceann Bennett
PlsPlsMe

Graceann Bennett of PlsPlsMe at TechCrunch Disrupt.
Graceann Bennett of PlsPlsMe at TechCrunch Disrupt. Photograph: Will Whipple/Observer

“I was raised Mormon and was a virgin mom and bride and I just didn’t know how to discuss sex. Ten years into the marriage we tried to fix it but there just wasn’t the right thing. The sex therapist was too clinical, Cosmo was too cheesy.

“PlsPlsMe is going to enable couples to talk about intimacy in a fun, playful way. We’re launching an app but it’s going to be much more than that. I was a brand strategist with Ogilvy & Mather working on some of the world’s biggest brands and I’m bringing everything I know to PlsPlsMe. I always thought my husband should automatically know how to turn me on. It’s a really cruel and unusual punishment that you expect men to be able to blow your mind sexually without any user instructions. I think women are going to take over the tech sphere. It’s not really about technology. It’s about using technology in inventive ways that change human dynamics. It’s all the stuff that women are really good at. I almost feel sorry for the guys.”

‘I’ve had to hone my pitch to about eight seconds’
Steve Pearce, Marcus Hawkins, Tom Howkins
patrolo.com

The Patrolo team at TechCrunch Disrupt.
The Patrolo team at TechCrunch Disrupt. Photograph: Will Whipple/Observer

Marcus: “I’ve met a few venture capitalists but it’s pretty brutal. I’ve had to hone down my pitch to about eight seconds. We’re bootstrapping at the moment. Do you know that term? It’s quite funny all the jargon. We’ve got a lot of ‘runway’ so we’re quite confident. It means the amount of time a startup has before you run out of money.

“We’re based in King’s Lynn and Tom is my son, he’s the chief operating officer. We have a web development agency – Binary Drive – but I had the idea for this business and I know everyone says their idea is unique but ours really is. It’s a website-testing service that ensures business sites don’t have any functionality issues.

“It’s cost £6,000 to come to TechCrunch including flights and so on, so it feels like a bit of a gamble, but we’ve signed up a bunch of people and I do feel like it’s been worth it. We’ve had proof of concept. We know there’s a market there.”

‘The idea came when I took my dog to the vet’
Hilary Jensen Wade, Nahid Alam
Obedog.com

Hilary Jensen Wade and Nahid Alam of Obe.dog at TechCrunch Disrupt.
Hilary Jensen Wade and Nahid Alam of Obe.dog at TechCrunch Disrupt. Photograph: Will Whipple/Observer

“I worked for Google in product management and marketing before this,” says Jensen Wade. “The idea came when I took my dog, DJ, to the vet and he told me he needed to lose 10 pounds. I hadn’t realised he was overweight and it turns out a lot of owners don’t – more than half the dogs in America are obese. I wanted to find a way to manage a dog’s weight loss gradually. Our smart dog bowl shows you exactly how to feed and re-orders the food online.

Alam says: “I’m a senior design engineer and it’s still quite rare to have a woman in a senior technical position. I’ve been to hackathons where I’m the only woman in the room. We had $200,000 from an investor and are planning to crowdfund online. It’s very exciting for me to design a product and see it through every stage to the end.”

‘We are going to revolutionise video games’
Eric Risser, Neal O’Gorman
Artomatix

Eric Risser and Neal O'Gorman of Artomatix at TechCrunch Disrupt.
Eric Risser and Neal O’Gorman of Artomatix at TechCrunch Disrupt. Photograph: Will Whipple/Observer

Risser: “I did my PhD at Trinity College, Dublin, in this very obscure field of texture synthesis and have written a program that uses machine learning and computer vision to produce ‘machine creativity’. If you feed various inputs into it – for example, a zombie face – it will create endless, unique, completely new variants of it.

“Machine creativity has all sorts of possible applications but we’re initially focusing on the $80bn video game industry. Art takes 61% of the budget and a game such as Grand Theft Auto took five years to make. Artomatix will revolutionise that.”

O’Gorman: “I’m what you call a serial entrepreneur. This is my third company. I launched my first one in 2000 right as the bubble burst. It took 10 years to come back from that. There were huge challenges in raising money. The development team will stay in Ireland but we need a presence in Silicon Valley, that’s the way it works.”

‘The cannabis industry is really taking off’
Andrew Katz, Ben Curren, Trae Robrock
Green Bits

Andrew Katz, Ben Curren and Trade Robrock of cannabis tech startup Green Bits at TechCrunch Disrupt.
Andrew Katz, Ben Curren and Trade Robrock of cannabis tech startup Green Bits at TechCrunch Disrupt. Photograph: Will Whipple/Observer

Robrock: “Ben had already set up and sold two other companies and we were looking at new ideas. We looked at drone photography, all sorts of things. But the cannabis industry is really taking off. By 2020, it’s estimated to be worth $8bn in retail sales. It’s recreationally legal in four states and medically in 26 but it’s spreading more quickly than anyone predicted.

“The legislation is very complicated though and that’s where Green Bits comes in. It’s a point-of-sale system that tracks every plant as required by federal leglislation.

“People do sometimes think that we’re a bunch of potheads, or that our customers are, but they couldn’t be more wrong.”

Curren: “We’ve just come second in TechCrunch’s startup battlefield, which is a pretty big deal. There’s still stigma around the cannabis industry. None of the big VCs has invested yet but they will. It’s too big to ignore. It’s like the end of prohibition. We’re looking for $10m. Our cash flow is already good.

“I’m really competitive and I want Green Bits to be the first company that a big venture capital makes a significant investment in. It would be a real landmark moment for the whole industry.”

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