Israeli Start-ups Vie for Glory at TechCrunch Disrupt

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TechCrunch Disrupt, the semiannual three-day technology conference and geek-fest, is back. This year, some 20 start-ups including two fledgling Israeli stars will take the stage to trot out their technologies, vying for glory and a $50,000 prize

Start-ups whose presentations make the best impression in the categories of business models, likelihood of success and chances for global impact will earn a handful of coveted finalist slots. The panel of judges, which includes top venture-capital executives, will announce their decision tonight.

In addition to the cool cash prize, the winner gets to chance to swan in the media spotlight. A company that earns the TechCrunch crown is all but assured of deals and dollops of venture funding.

This year's pack includes two new Israeli businesses: Stevie, a Web service that transforms your Facebook and Twitter feeds into a TV experience, and CallApp, a service integrating information from social platforms into actual phone calls. Will these Sabra start-ups prevail over their peers from around the globe?

Stevie [] works by gathering links from your Facebook status updates and your Twitter feed, arranging them into a virtual television show of sorts that stars you and all your friends.

Stevie's programming is online-only, but a simple HDMI cable hookup can transfer it straight to your television.

"During the events of the Arab Spring, my husband and I realized that most of the content we watch on television is made up of YouTube clips, linked by tweets," says Yael Givon, who co-founded Stevie with her husband Gal Rimon.

"We thought it would be interesting to see a channel made up of the videos and status updates from our own social networks – it shows us the same video clips we see in the news, much earlier, while also giving us details on the lives of our friends. We simply don’t need the broadcasting company; they are just the middleman," she says. 

Givon says that both she and her husband are hooked on Stevie. "We constantly watch it on our own TV," she says. "There's no reason for people to only watch just eight minutes of YouTube videos per day."

TechCrunch Disrupt launched its first contest in 2010, and Israeli start-ups have starred from the start. Of the five businesses that have earned the TechCrunch Disrupt title, two – Soluto, an application for PC tech-support providers, and Shaker, a Facebook app that allows friends to meet up in an virtual, avatar-like world – were products of Israel. A third, GetAround, a peer-to-peer car-sharing app, is U.S.-based but co-founded by Israeli Yehonatan Addiri.

On the runner-up level, Israel is also creating quite a stir. BillGuard, which monitors your credit card statements for viruses and fraud, took second place at the third Disrupt contest, in 2011.

Several other Israeli firms took their first dip in the spotlight on Disrupt's stage, among them, a new kind of mobile search engine; Tonara, an interactive sheet music app; and Farmigo, an Internet-based system that makes locally-grown food more accessible by connecting farmers directly to communities.

Disrupt has only been around for a few years, but the lively competition is well-known on the Israeli tech scene. At each event, you can wander over to the Israeli Pavilion and see dozens of Israeli companies. At one of the contests in 2011, 50 Israeli companies showed their stuff.

Some of the event's popularity might be due to the contest's brief appearance in "Mehubarim" ("Connected"), an Israeli reality television program in which five characters film themselves over the course of a year. The show's second season, in 2010, featured Yishai Green, one of the founders of Soluto. In one of the season's highlights, Green, video camera in hand, steps on stage to receive Disrupt's first prize.

After that year's contest, Green left the company to join the start-up 3pix. Soluto went on to secure $10 million from Index Ventures, which was added to the $7.8 million Soluto already had in its coffers from previous rounds of financing. The service now boasts 4 million users.

Disrupt can also thank Roy Carthy, TechCrunch's Israeli correspondent and founder of the venture capital firm Initial Capital, for its broad exposure on the Israeli technology scene. Carthy has played a huge role in preparing the Israeli companies for their stage presentations. He is also the entrepreneur behind the Israeli Pavilion and personally presents many Israeli companies at the event.

"Carthy has been a huge help in making the necessary preparations," says Stevie's Givon. "My husband has a great deal of experience when it comes to script writing, and we wrote, and re-wrote, our presentation maybe 100 times. For the last few weeks, Disrupt has been the entire focus of our life."

Givon gave birth to the couple's first child, Omer, only a month ago. Now, she says, "We have two babies – Omer and Stevie."

Using Stevie technology, you could make Lady Gaga and Me, a home-made clip starring you and your media friends.