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Morgan Hill
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January 18, 2022

Entrepreneurs win big at Morgan Hill Disrupt Forum

At the inaugural Morgan Hill Disrupt Forum June 2, investors and consultants banked on which participating startup will be the next to disrupt their respective industries.

They also offered their insight into the world of burgeoning technologies via a series of panels and guest speaker presentations, some of whom presented their own visions of how to turn existing economic models on their heads.

Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix, is a “perfect example” of someone who is “disrupting the business model,” explained Joint Venture Silicon Valley President Russell Hancock, who was one of the guest speakers at the Disrupt Forum, which took place at Specialized Bicycles headquarters and was sponsored by the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce.

Netflix’s model of initially offering a mail-order DVD rental/subscription service, then expanding to streaming thousands of television and movie titles, has destroyed the old system of video rental stores and disc purchases, Hancock continued. The model has transformed not only for the consumers, but also for the producers.

“Hollywood is disrupted,” Hancock said.

The centerpiece of the all-day Disrupt Forum was the afternoon pitchfest, where entrepreneurs associated with seven startups—most of them from the Bay Area and surrounding region, but including one from Boston, Mass.—got a chance to convince investors they are the next industry disruptor. Or at least gain enough funding and services to continue to grow and promote their businesses.

Prizes awarded at the end of the pitchfest included legal and consulting services, advertising credits, office spaces, training and mentoring. These prizes were awarded by a panel of judges—all experienced investors in their own right.

All told, more than $120,000 worth of prizes were awarded to various participating startups, according to Danielle Davenport, an investor and one of the Disrupt Forum organizers.

The “overall winner” among the startups was WrightGrid, a Boston-based company that offers public, unobtrusive mobile device charging and wi-fi stations. The company is focusing its efforts and expansion in Africa, where hundreds of millions of people own cell phones but where electricity is often scarce, explained WrightGrid founder and CEO Ryan Wright.

WrightGrid’s prize from Disrupt Forum investors was a $10,000 “startup business banking package and valuation” from First Republic Bank, represented at the event by Sam Heshmati.

Davenport said at the forum that this prize indicates WrightGrid is the “farthest along” and most ready for funding among the seven startups.

Gary Jinks, an investor with Morgan Hill based South Valley Angels, awarded entry to a “closed pitch session” with his group to CruzFoam, a startup that makes surfboard foam out of shrimp shells. This product is touted as environmentally cleaner than existing kinds of synthetic surfboard foam, according to one of the company’s founders who pitched at the Disrupt Forum.

The theme of the forum was “Innovation Goes Outside,” and many of the participating startups presented technology related to sports and environmental stewardship.

Other prizes and winners at the Disrupt Forum include:

• $5,000 worth of legal services to CruzFoam, from Wilson Sonsani Goodrich and Rosati.

• $40,000 worth of mentorship and other prizes comprising a “startup package” from GWC Innovator Fund to three of the companies that pitched. Winning this prize were PhotoBloomAR, a photo/video processing application that allows users to apply augmented reality to their original media; SuperFanChase, an East Bay-based app that connects sports fans who can participate in a mobile scavenger hunt; and PearlApp, another mobile app that provides “dish level data” to diners looking for specific kinds of food—not just restaurants—when they go out at night.

• $1,000 worth of coaching/mentorship from ABC Accelerator to SuperFanChase.

• A day of business consulting, worth about $2,500, from Liam Downey, a Morgan Hill resident and president of The Redstone Group, to Archer Components. This startup has created a wireless electronic gear shifter for mountain bicycles.

SuperFanChase came away from the Disrupt Forum with a variety of prizes. Company co-founder Bridgett Coates said she and partner Alesia Harris are excited to make use of the mentorship, advertising credits, a future presentation slot before a prominent regional tech meetup and other prizes.

Coates said the biggest value of the Disrupt Forum is the experience and expertise offered by the various investors and expert panelists.

“Alongside the (prizes), it’s given us an even more expanded opportunity to get closer to our goals,” Coates said. “Now we have a stream of professionals who are capable of helping us to reach our full potential. Every startup is in need of that expertise.”

Downey, also one of the Disrupt Forum organizers, estimated about 100 people attended the June 2 event throughout the day. He and other organizers have already thought of improvements needed for the next Disrupt Forum (at a date to be determined), but he was pleased at how it went for their first time.

“The people that pitched, they were better than I thought they would be,” said Downey. “I was quite impressed. It just shows the amount of creativity that’s out there. In a forum like this, you see all kinds of ideas.”

The event organizers also hope to maintain a long-lasting effort to disrupt traditional industries, preferably to the benefit of Morgan Hill and the immediate surrounding area.

“The whole idea of this, long-term, is to stimulate disruption, new ideas (and) incubation of new ideas in and around our locality,” Downey said. “I would have liked to have seen a little bit more local participation.”

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