Friday, September 16, 2011

The Download: TechCrunch Disrupt Fall 2011

I’m always amazed to see all of the innovation and creativity abuzz at shows like TechCrunch Disrupt. I didn’t have a chance to view all of this year’s presentations online yet, but thought I would go ahead and share the highlights on a few of my favorites:

Farmigo has created an online community that connects farmers directly with consumers.  They describe their vision as “creating a more sustainable food chain.”

People can search and find farms in their local community where they can purchase fresh produce and bypass the wholesaler and supermarket.  It is kind of like shopping at the local farmer’s market without being limited to Sundays between 12:00 – 2:00 pm.

There is a huge movement for farm to table food and locally-grown produce, so Farmigo is smart to capitalize on this trend and make it easier for consumers. Food subscriptions and group buying help them offer lower prices on produce similar to what you would find at the grocery store.

Farmigo currently has over 1500 active locations in 20 different states. I was pleased to see several locations in my own community. I love that Farmigo is making it easier for consumers to buy locally and get fresh produce.  I am planning to try it myself.

The founders of Shaker describe it as a platform for social experience or “hanging out online much like you do in real life.”  For the first few minutes of their demo, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much this reminded me of Second Life. (More on that in a minute.)

The founders emphasized how Shaker allows people to have more meaningful experiences online beyond posts and comments.

So here’s how it works.  You create a virtual room – the one in the demo was a bar. You interact with real people in real time. The “people” in the room are cartoon characters with a bubble above their heads that contains their photo. You can walk around the room and interact with different people, join conversations, etc. You can also buy someone a drink although it is really a virtual drink so not as much fun as the real thing.

One of the first questions from the judges was how this was different from SecondLife. They said it is similar except you are actually yourself. I never participated in SecondLife, but this seems like a more interactive version of it.  They are essentially trying to emulate the in-person experience online.

I like how Shaker takes social networks and online communication one step farther. It creates a new level of interaction that did not exist before.  It will never replace physically being there in person, but it is one step closer to the next best thing. 

Bitcasa offers “infinite storage” for consumers giving them access to all of their data from anywhere and at anytime. You no longer need to store files on your desktop or copy files from one computer to another. 

With all of the videos, photos and other large data files, there has been a big surge in the consumer storage market. Bitcasa is obviously looking to fulfill this need.

It seems everything is moving to the cloud these days and cloud storage has been a big movement in the business world.  Yet security is the number one barrier when it comes to cloud storage adoption. 

So, naturally, I had an issue when the founder said it was 100 percent safe.  I am sure they’ve got the proper security infrastructure in place and back up data centers, redundant networks, etc. but I’ve been in the tech industry too long to believe this claim. There is no fail-safe when it comes to technology. 

That aside, I think Bitcasa is worth a try. The service costs $10 per month for infinite storage and there is also a “freemium” version available. However, right now, during their beta period, it is free to everyone. You can visit their website at to sign up.

Any company with the word “cake” in its name is certain to grab my attention.  Unfortunately they haven’t invented a healthy cake, but their innovation is impressive nonetheless. 

Cake Health is aggregator of health information records. They describe themselves as “the best free way to manage all of your health care expenses.” I believe they are addressing a huge problem that many of us can relate to – making sense of your health care bills and records.

It is currently compatible with several top insurance companies allowing over 150 million people to utilize the service.  It helps consumers make sense of all of their health care paper work, such as explanation of benefits, bills and non-bills. You send them the paperwork and it automatically organizes, categorizes and prioritizes it.  It includes automatic reminders for prescriptions, benefits you may have forgotten about and information on preventative care.

Cake Health also has an iPhone app (doesn’t everyone these days?) and bill synchronization is included. 

While they did ensure that your private information was secure and would not be shared, I think a lot of consumers may be reluctant to use the service due to a fear of sharing their private health records.

Anything that simplifies the healthcare paper work is a winner in my mind. It makes the process a piece of cake, which I’m sure is where the name came from. (Now I’m hungry!)

TechCrunch Disrupt is one of my favorite demo competitions and I’m so glad they share the presentations via video for those of us who cannot attend in person.  It’s always fun to learn about new emerging technologies and follow their journey after the show.

Anyone else attend TechCrunch Disrupt this week either physically or virtually? Who are your favorites?