Disrupt SF highlights today’s intrepid innovators. Here are our favorite ideas from shipping to light bulbs.

This week’s Disrupt SF 2014 conference—one of the tech world’s most important stages to see and be seen on—brought together hundreds of driven entrepreneurs committed to solving the world’s problems big and small.

What are these intrepid innovators up to? More data, more smart objects, more products for enterprises, and many more apps that may or may not make their way into our lives.

Disrupt SF features talks and panel discussions with renowned VCs and CEOs as well as the very competitive Startup Battlefield, in which 26 companies (whittled down from 700 applicants) compete for a $50,000 prize and a place in the spotlight. Between pitches, attendees can meander through a Startup Alley and discover all kinds of companies from education to social media to energy savings.

Here are my personal favorites:

#1 The Shipping News: Goodbye middleman

“An industry with a poor service for high price deserves to be disrupted.”

That’s how 18-year-old serial entrepreneur Max Lock, CEO of Shipstr, vindicated the launch of his container shipping price comparison website. Fun fact: it all started with ice cream.

When Whole Foods started selling the organic ice cream he produced as part of his first company, Schoolboy Ice Cream, Lock realized that he had to start ordering the packaging from China and that the process of getting it delivered and working with a freight broker was painful. He decided to help make international cargo shipping easier.


No doubt, he wants to cut the middleman out of the picture, but what is he offering instead? Shipstr is a website where you can choose your service providers directly depending on price and reliability without having to deal with an agent—in other words, he wants to disrupt the cargo industry in the same way Expedia did for personal travel.

#2 Can you afford a butler?

Maybe so, for just $99 per month.

In the age of the convenience and on-demand economy, with online concierge services like Instacart and Homejoy sprouting up everywhere, it can get difficult to keep track of what is being delivered when and who does what. Sure, it’s a nice problem to have but, in the startup world, every problem justifies a solution. Its name is Alfred.

Alfred is the butler you never had,” says CEO Marsela Sapone. It buys you peace of mind by dealing with all the other concierge services for you.

Not a digital assistant or smart app, Alfreds are men and women who visit your place once a week at a set time to check up on your needs. On-demand becomes automatic.

The startup, which took top prize in the Startup Battlefield this year, started out of Boston and now has 5,000 customers enjoying the comforts of a modern day butler. In the US, 18 million households are now using concierge services of some kind, making this a promising market to tackle.

#3 Let there be light—but not too much

Neil Joseph was sitting at his desk in Tesla’s bright and beautiful office when he looked up and realized the lights where on. What a waste! He knew he had to do something, so he gathered up a few engineers from NASA, Google, Microsoft, and HP Labs and quit his day job to launch Stack.

At Startup Battlefield, Joseph proudly introduced Alba, the first-ever responsive light bulb with built-in sensors. No need to connect to an app, the bulb knows what the right level of brightness is depending on the time and the environment, using 80% less energy than a regular bulb.

Alba light bulb

If Joseph’s first target is the homeowners market, he clearly sees a tremendous potential for big companies. Light has an impact on our well-being but also on brand experience and office productivity, he says.

#4 A pet Tamagotchi comes to life

Remember the Tamagotchi digital pet you or your kid took care of through a little electronic device about the size of a watch? Well, a San Francisco-based startup now lets you use your smartphone to remotely take care of…your actual pet.

When you are not home, your cat just sits there. Thanks to Petcube, you can order a $179 laser box for your house, then download the app and move the laser around the room for your cat to chase while sitting in your office chair across town. Pets seem to love it. The app also lets you take screen shots and share pictures of your frolicking feline.

Featured image  (cc) Ken Yeung —www.thelettertwo.com