At TechCrunch Disrupt, our Startup Battlefield competition this year looks to be fiercer than ever, judging by the applicants. That’s actually saying something, considering the game-changing brands to emerge from our stage over the years, including Cloudflare, Dropbox, Vurb, Mint, GetAround, Fitbit, Yammer and more. Altogether, Startup Battlefield participants have gone on to raise $9 billion from investors and to generate 115 exits over the history of TechCrunch Disrupt, now in its tenth year.
It’s a track record about which we’re proud — and that we want to maintain — so it’s crucial that we get the exact right mix of judges. Toward that end, we are thrilled to be spotlighting five of this year’s Startup Battlefield judges — each with very different and complementary skill sets and expertise — and all of whom will be key in deciding who wins the coveted title of Startup Battlefield winner.
New Zealand native Laura Deming was homeschooled, developing a love of math and physics along the way, as well as a deep interest in the biology of aging. In fact, she became so preoccupied with the last that at age 11, Deming wrote to renowned molecular biologist Cynthia Kenyon, asking if she could visit Kenyon’s San Francisco lab during a family trip. Kenyon said yes, a decision that ultimately sent Deming down the path she continues on today as a venture capitalist focused on life extension and biological research that’s used to reduce or reverse the effects of aging. Unity Biotechnology, which has developed an osteoarthritis treatment, and Celevity, focused on dog life extension, are just two of the interesting bets in the portfolio of the former Thiel Fellow.
Frederik Groce grew up in the Bay Area and studied political science at Stanford before becoming an investor with Storm Ventures and, soon after, co-founding BLCK VC, an organization formed to connect, engage and advance Black venture capitalists. Before joining Storm, Groce spent two years as the CEO and financial manager of Stanford Student Enterprises, a nonprofit organization that oversees a handful of businesses and is run by and for Stanford students and which includes an accelerator program and a consulting group. Today, Groce is again involved in numerous companies — this time on behalf of Storm — including the roommate- and real estate-matching platform Room8, on whose board he sits. He’s also a mentor with the East Bay College Fund, which works with minority college students coming from underprivileged communities.
Amish Jani has been a VC for nearly 20 years, co-founding FirstMark in New York back in 2008 after logging eight years with the firm Pequot Ventures. He pretty much invests across the cloud and internet landscape, including leading deals in SaaS applications, e-commerce companies and infrastructure startups. One deal that may be his most lucrative — though we’re merely guessing — is Shopify, which is now Canada’s most valuable corporation with a market cap of $130 billion. Founded in 2004, it went public in 2015, but not before raising four venture rounds first, including from FirstMark and Jani, who was there at the A round, B round and the company’s last private funding event, its C round.
Jessica Verrilli, a sometimes marathoner, is an investor and operator who is on the board of Digits, Lambda School and The Wing, among others. A general partner with GV for the past two-and-a-half years, Verrilli also co-founded #ANGELS, an investment collective she launched with five women who, like Verrilli, built their earlier careers at Twitter. In Verrilli’s case, she spent nearly a decade helping scale Twitter from a startup to a social media giant as its VP of corporate development and strategy (she oversaw its purchase of Vine, Periscope and Tweetdeck). Among her #ANGELS co-founders: Katie Jacobs Stanton, who today manages her own fund, and Jana Messerschmidt, who joined Lightspeed Venture Partners as a partner in late 2018.
Last but not least, we’ll be joined this year by Vanessa Larco, a partner at the powerhouse venture firm NEA since 2016. Larco was previously the director of product management at Box and earlier in her career, was a program manager at Microsoft, where she led the speech recognition experience team at Xbox Kinect v1. Today, the Georgia Tech grad says her passion for design and analytics stems from those days spent in both the gaming industry and focused on productivity apps. Certainly, she’s very actively investing in both, with bets that include Cleo, Rocket.Chat, Mejuri, EvidentID, Greenlight Card, Feather and Lily AI. (She’s also a board observer at Robinhood, Willow Pump, Forethought AI and OmniSci.)
We’re exceedingly thankful to all of our judges, who we don’t doubt will have their work cut out for them at this year’s must-see event.
Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14-18 and will be virtual this year.
Get your front row seat to the Startup Battlefield competition and much more with a Disrupt Digital Pro Pass or a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. (Prices increase in a few short weeks.)