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Techcrunch Disrupt: Startups in the limelight

This year's Techcrunch Disrupt, one of the most anticipated technology events of the calendar, took place in Berlin. The get-together of ambitious start-up companies was a lot of fun - and also very competitive.

Rules of the battlefield: Each combatant has precisely 15 minutes to try to seize the victory. There's nothing bellicose about these fights, though: They're more like job interviews, in which applicants are asked about their background and issues related to technology and business management. The winner takes home the prize of a grant as start-up aid.

Big old-fashioned businesses, beware!

An electronic bike lock with an alarm and GPS system competes with new concepts in data management, or a smartphone app that measures your heart rate. It's certainly deliberate, though, that the organizers picked such a martial name for an essentially peaceful event. It's part of the "Disrupt" technology conference, and the name suggests that the start-ups are firing a warning shot across the bows of big, conventional companies.

"Old-fashioned and big companies out there have a lot to lose and should really be afraid," Techcrunch blog editor Mike Butcher said.

Only businesses regarded as very innovative were given the chance to present themselves in Berlin. "It's extremely exciting for us here," Butcher commented. "It's good to see them all together here, talking about new firms in the making."

Kano set of PC components

Set of components for a do-it-yourself computer

Techcrunch is affiliated to Internet giant AOL, and it's the organizer of this event for technology start-ups. Fifteen firms are pitched against one another on the Battlefield. Scores of other selected companies are also given the opportunity to present themselves in an atmosphere that resembles a fair.

A London-based firm called Roli has set up a synthesizer that produces different timbres depending on how your fingers are positioned. Another firm called bergcloud boasts an Internet printer which automatically prints out relevant calendar info or your favorite tweets on small strips of paper no bigger than cash slips. Kano, for its part, wants to make money by selling computers to kids which they themselves have to assemble and program.

"Children like doing things, learning and playing," Kano founder Yonatan Raz-Fridman said. "We give them a set of components, with the help of which they can program their own games, produce their own sounds and control their own drones, and the whole thing is more like a game rather than a computer."

Laws and chance acquaintances

Bergcloud Internet printer for subscribed feeds

Bergcloud stands for minimalist printouts

But not all participants are as playful. There's something here for everyone. Smartlaw, for instance, wants to digitize conversations with your lawyer. With the help of online input masks, users are promised that they will be in a position to hammer out legal job or rental contracts.

And 2cuagain from Israel claims it has found a solution for people who meet the love of their life, but are too shy to address them. On the firm's website you can specify where exactly you spotted that person. And if they've done the same, the two will finally have the chance to get together, says 2cuagain founder Marc Dahan.

"It should work globally," he maintains. So far, though, the portal in question has yet to yield concrete results, as it has only just started operations.

This was the first time the Disrupt event has taken place in Europe - in a former industrial complex in Berlin, to be precise. None of the participants failed to mention that, for them, the German capital was one of the most exciting places for creative technology start-ups - even though they were probably too busy to catch more than a brief glimpse of the city beyond the conference venue.

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