As HBO's "Silicon Valley" Concludes Its First Season, a Look at the Real-Life Competition That Gives Life to the Tech Elite

The first season finale for HBO's Silicon Valley airs tonight with the team competing at TechCrunch Disrupt. Credits: TechCrunch, HBO.

Each September in San Francisco, TechCrunch hosts its signature Disrupt conference in which start-ups quite literally battle it out to impress an audience of code jockeys, builders, investors, and luminaries. To me, it's the ultimate Silicon Valley spectacle. Tonight, the season finale of HBO's sitcom Silicon Valley replicates the real-world chaos. Will the fiction live up to the reality? Here's a by-the-numbers history of the now seven-year-old event that TechCrunch calls "Startup Battlefield":

  • More than 400 companies have participated.

  • As a group, they've raised more than $2.4 billion in funding.

  • Only 2% to 6% of "Battlefield" applicants are accepted.

  • 85% of companies that make it to the stage either get acquired or persist as independent companies.

Note that last bullet again. No matter what happens on HBO's Silicon Valley tonight, appearing at TechCrunch Disrupt offers an imprimatur of success. Dropbox, FitBit, and other alumni now on the IPO path ... these are the companies that deserve our attention as tech investors.

Others are watching even if we won't. Six of the biggest names in tech have acquired more than one Startup Battlefield participant. Of those, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) has been most acquisitive with three deals while five others have acquired two start-ups each: Facebook (NASDAQ: FB  ) , Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) , Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU  ) , salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM  ) , and Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO  ) .

Contestant Name
What It Did
Acquirer

Threadsy

Combine email and social network messaging into a single inbox.

Facebook

Spool

Offline archiving of articles and videos.

Facebook

Angstro

Deliver business news about people and companies across networks.

Google

SlickLogin

Use smartphone to login to devices.

Google

Mint.com

Personal finance in the cloud.

Intuit

Docstoc

Electronic document repository.

Intuit

Powerset

Natural language search engine.

Microsoft

Yammer

Private social networking for companies.

Microsoft

VideoSurf

Search and identify videos on any device.

Microsoft

GoInstant

Real-time collaboration API.

Salesforce

Prior Knowledge

Cloud-based predictive analysis.

Salesforce

Qwiki

Create interactive stories using pictures and videos on mobile.

Yahoo!

Xobni

Turns contacts into searchable social profiles.

Yahoo!

Source: TechCrunch.

I take two things from this list:

  1. Startup Battlefield is a showroom as much as anything else. TechCrunch says there have been 55 acquisitions out of the 400-plus to appear on stage. Less than 14% but still a remarkable number when you consider the volume of entrepreneurial activity in Silicon Valley. A recent Fenwick & West survey found that overall U.S. venture capital investment is at its highest since 2001. Disrupt's Startup Battlefield is separating the wheat from the chaff.

  2. Pied Piper's fictional (but fascinating!) compression tech would kick off a bidding war. Facebook's Battlefield acquisitions have been largely about data management (i.e., consolidation, archiving) while Salesforce's deals have focused on making the cloud a more productive environment. Pied Piper's tech, were it real, could help with both.

Of course, as fun as it is to speculate about what might happen tonight, the takeaway for us as investors should be that we don't need HBO's Silicon Valley to get a glimpse of the Next Big Thing. We'll see it for ourselves soon enough at a future Startup Battlefield.

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