Tech dreams live or die on startup battlefields

Tech startups vie for investors, fans and media attention at a TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2017
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Tech dreams live or die on startup battlefields

SAN FRANCISCO: Fearing failure but driven by a chance at Silicon Valley stardom, young entrepreneurs pitch their dreams in mere minutes at startup competitions like TechCrunch Disrupt that ended here Wednesday.
Brian Chae came from Seoul to try his luck at the annual startup scrum, which lets competitors fight for their futures on-stage before venture capitalist judges in a “Startup Battlefield.”
The audience is rife with entrepreneurs, journalists and investors. Countless more people watch the stage action streamed online.
Nearby in a cavernous warehouse on a pier on the San Francisco Bay, founders of fledgling companies vie for attention at tables packed side-by-side in areas with names such as “Startup Alley.”
Chae, like other competitors, has six minutes to convince judges that his technology is revolutionary — and can make money.
His startup, Looxid Labs, has developed software that can figure out a person’s emotions from eye movements and brain waves.
Put to work in mixed-reality headgear, the technology could give real estate agents or hotel operators insight into how settings make people feel, Chae contends.
Precious moments are spent demonstrating the invention, then judges get their turn to pelt him with questions.
They want to know how much he plans to charge for headgear, and what his business model is.
Since the infamous Dot Com Bubble in the late 1990s, investors have been keen to make sure technology ideas are coupled with feasible plans for profit.
Chae told AFP that he had practiced his tight pitch “at least a hundred times. But the atmosphere on the stage itself was enough to be overwhelmed.”
About 20 startups vied in the TechCrunch Disrupt battle of the startups, a highlight of the three-day event.
The prize was $50,000 and a spotlight that could mean publicity and investor cash.
Young startups often finance themselves or turn to friends or family for funding, but even great ideas need bigger capital infusions on the quest to “scale” up ranks of users.
The ritual of quickly courting potential backers is often a kind of speed-dating exercise referred to as the “elevator pitch.”
The idea is to pack an idea powerfully into the amount of time an entrepreneur might have if they were in an elevator with a venture capitalist.
“There’s a reason why they call it an elevator speech,” said Brian Broome, head of the economic council in the Sacramento region, where the California state capitol is located.
“I should be able to present the case for my company in less than two minutes.”
The council works with startups on effective pitches.
According to TechCrunch, 648 companies have competed in the annual startup battle during the past decade, and collectively raised nearly $7 billion.
Since winning at Disrupt five years ago, cloud data storage startup DropBox has grown to 500 million users and nearly $1 billion in annual revenue.
“(Battlefield) is really a big deal for us,” said Claire Tomkins, co-founder of Future Family, a startup devoted to an affordable approach to helping infertile couples have children.
“I was very nervous before going on stage,” said Pi co-founder John MacDonald, whose startup touted the world’s first wireless, contactless charger for smartphones or other mobile gadgets.
Late Wednesday, TechCrunch proclaimed Pi winner of the Battlefield competition this year.
“It really helps with funding,” MacDonald said.
“We’ll use the event as momentum.”
Pi is based in the Silicon Valley. The co-founders told AFP that they had already raised $3.5 million in a seed funding round led by SoftTech VC managing partner Jean-Francois Clavier.
MacDonald promised that Pi devices would begin shipping next year and be priced “well below $200.”
But, of the thousands of startups vying for glory, few keep their dreams going for more than a few years, or perhaps even months.
“It’s an all-or-nothing environment,” Rik Reppe of PwC told AFP.
“You need to love play and discovery like a child” but also have “a grown up persistence and courage,” he added.


SpaceX’s first private passenger is Japanese fashion magnate Maezawa

This artist's illustration courtesy of SpaceX obtained September 17, 2018, shows the SpaceX BFR(Big Falcon Rocket)rocket passenger spacecraft. SpaceX is to reveal on September 17, 2018 the identity of the first person it plans to transport around the Moon in an ambitious project financed entirely by its eccentric CEO Elon Musk. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2018
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SpaceX’s first private passenger is Japanese fashion magnate Maezawa

  • SpaceX in February transfixed a global audience with the successful test launch of its Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world
  • SpaceX has already upended the space industry with its relatively low-cost reusable Falcon 9 rockets

HAWTHORNE, California: SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space transportation company, on Monday named its first private passenger as Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa, the founder and chief executive of online fashion retailer Zozo.
A former drummer in a punk band, billionaire Maezawa will will take a trip around the moon aboard its forthcoming Big Falcon Rocket spaceship, taking the race to commercialize space travel to new heights.
The first passenger to travel to the moon since the United States’ Apollo missions ended in 1972, Maezawa’s identity was revealed at an event Monday evening at the company’s headquarters and rocket factory in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne.
In moves typical of his publicity-seeking style, Musk, who is also the billionaire chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc, had previously teased a few tantalizing details about the trip and the passenger’s identity, but left major questions unanswered.
On Thursday, Musk tweeted a picture of a Japanese flag. He followed that up on Sunday with tweets showing new artist renderings of the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR, the super heavy-lift launch vehicle that Musk promises will shuttle the passenger to the moon and eventually fly humans and cargo to Mars, using the hashtag #OccupyMars.
While the BFR has not been built yet, Musk has said he wants the rocket to be ready for an unpiloted trip to Mars in 2022, with a crewed flight in 2024, though his ambitious production targets have been known to slip.
SpaceX plans a lunar orbit mission. It was not clear how much Maezawa paid for the trip.
Maezawa made his fortune by founding the wildly popular shopping site Zozotown. His company Zozo, officially called Start Today Co. Ltd, also offers a made-to-measure service using a polka dot bodysuit, the Zozosuit..
With SpaceX, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic battling it out to launch private-sector spacecraft, the SpaceX passenger will join a growing list of celebrities and the ultra-rich who have secured seats on flights offered on the under-development vessels.
Those who have signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic sub-orbital missions include actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop star Justin Bieber. A 90-minute flight costs $250,000.
Short sightseeing trips to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket are likely to cost around $200,000 to $300,000, at least to start, Reuters reported in July.
SpaceX has already upended the space industry with its relatively low-cost reusable Falcon 9 rockets. The company has completed more than 50 successful Falcon launches and snagged billions of dollars’ worth of contracts, including deals with NASA and the US Department of Defense.
SpaceX in February transfixed a global audience with the successful test launch of its Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
SpaceX previously announced plans to eventually use Falcon Heavy to launch paying space tourists on a trip around the moon, but Musk said in February he was inclined to reserve that mission for the BFR.