Here are the five Startup Battlefield finalists at Disrupt Berlin

Fourteen startups presented onstage today at Disrupt Berlin, giving live demos and rapid-fire presentations on their origin stories and business models, then answering questions from our expert judges.

Now, with the help of those judges, we’ve narrowed the group down to five startups working on everything from productivity to air pollution.

These finalists will be presenting again tomorrow (at 2pm Berlin time, viewable on the TechCrunch website or in-person at Disrupt) in front of a new set of judges. The winner will receive $50,000 and custody of the storied Disrupt Cup.

Here are the finalists:

Gmelius

Gmelius is building a workspace platform that lives inside Gmail, allowing teams to get more bespoke tools without adding yet another piece of software to their repertoire. It slots into the Gmail workspace, adding a host of features like shared inboxes, a help desk, an account-management solution and automation tools.

Read more about Gmelius here.

Hawa Dawa

Hawa Dawa combines data sources like satellites and dedicated air monitoring stations to build a granular heat map of air pollutants, selling this map to cities and companies as a subscription API. While the company notes it’s hardware-agnostic, it does build its own IoT sensors for companies and cities that might not have existing air quality sensors in place.

Read more about Hawa Dawa here.

Inovat

Inovat makes it much easier for travelers to get reimbursed for the value-added tax, through an app that employs optical character recognition and machine learning to interpret receipts, determine how much VAT you should be owed for your purchase and prepare the requisite forms for submission online or to a customs officer.

Read more about Inovat here.

Scaled Robotics

Scaled Robotics has designed a robot that can produce 3D progress maps of construction sites in minutes, precise enough to detect that a beam is just a centimeter or two off. Supervisors can then use the software to check things like which pieces are in place on which floor, whether they have been placed within the required tolerances or if there are safety issues like too much detritus on the ground in work areas.

Read more about Scaled Robotics here.

Stable

Stable offers a solution as simple as car insurance, designed to protect farmers around the world from pricing volatility. Through the startup, food buyers ranging from owners of a small smoothie shop to Coca-Cola employees can insure thousands of agricultural commodities, as well as packaging and energy products.

Read more about Stable here.

Daily Crunch: Apple adds new iPhone parental controls

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. The iPhone’s new parental controls can limit who kids can call, text and FaceTime and when

With the release of iOS 13.3, parents will for the first time be able to set limits over who kids can talk to and text with during certain hours of the day. These limits will apply across phone calls, Messages and FaceTime.

In practice, this means parents could stop their child from texting friends late at night or during the school day. It also allows parents to manage the child’s iCloud contacts remotely.

2. Pear, whose seed-stage bets are followed closely, just raised $160 million for its third fund

That’s more than twice the $75 million that the firm raised for its second fund in 2016 and triple the $50 million it raised for its debut fund back in 2013.

3. Uber guarantees space for skis and snowboards with Uber Ski feature

Starting on December 17 in select cities, an Uber Ski icon will pop up on the app, allowing passengers to order a ride with confirmed extra space or a ski/snowboarding rack. Nundu Janakiram, Uber’s head of rider experience, said to expect more features like this.

4. Accel and Index back Tines, as the cybersecurity startup adds another $11M to its Series A

Founded in February 2018 by ex-eBay, PayPal and DocuSign security engineer Eoin Hinchy, Tines automates many of the repetitive manual tasks faced by security analysts so they can focus on other high-priority work.

5. How Station F is boosting the French tech ecosystem

Three years after unveiling Station F at Disrupt, its director, Roxanne Varza, came back to our stage to provide an update on the world’s biggest startup campus, where there are now 1,000 companies at work.

6. Hyperproof wants to make it easier to comply with GDPR and other regulations

As companies try to figure out how to comply with regulations like GDPR, ISO or Sarbanes Oxley, Hyperproof is launching a new product to workflows that will allow them to gain compliance in a more organized way.

7. Introducing ‘Dear Sophie,’ an advice column for US-bound immigrant employees

Dear Sophie is a collaborative forum hosted by Extra Crunch and curated by Sophie Alcorn, who is certified as a specialist attorney in immigration and nationality law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.

Wotch is building a creator-friendly video platform

The team at Wotch has created a new social video platform — but wait, don’t roll your eyes quite yet.

“Obviously, we’re very used to someone creating a new internet video-sharing platform,” said co-CEO Scott Willson. “It must be very irritating for everyone to hear that.”

And yet Willson and his co-founder/co-CEO James Sadler have attempted it anyway, and they’re competing today as part of the Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin. They’re only 22 years old, but Sadler said they’ve been working together for the past few years, with past projects including the development of e-learning platforms.

They were inspired to create Wotch because of YouTube’s recent problems around issues like demonetization, where many YouTubers lost the ability to monetize their videos through advertising, and other controversies like an attempted overhaul of its verification system.

Willson said YouTube has been “leaving out creators in terms of communications,” and as the controversies grew, the pair thought, “There has to be a better way of doing this.”

The key, Sadler added, is giving video creators a bigger say in the process: “We’re very hands-on with these creators. We’re not just sending them an automated email.”

In fact, they’re giving creators an opportunity to buy equity in Wotch to get a stake in the company’s success. They’re also appointing a creator board that will be consulted on company policy.

Wotch creators will be able to make money by selling subscriptions, merchandise and ads — not the standard pre-roll or mid-roll ads (which Willson described as “irritants”), but instead partnerships where they incorporate brand products and messages in their videos.

Asked whether this might create the same tension between advertisers and creators that YouTube has been struggling with, Willson argued, “What it comes down to is correctly matching advertisers with creators.” Some advertisers don’t mind working with video-makers who are “pushing the boundaries” — they just need to know what they’re getting into.

Sadler also said that Wotch will be providing creators with more data about their viewers, like identifying their most loyal fans, their most engaged fans and their first “wotchers.”

And the site will take a different approach to content moderation, using technologies like video frame analysis to identify “risky” content, as well as relying more on community moderation. Sadler said it will be a “consensus” approach, rather than the “dictatorship” of other platforms.

“We’re rewarding users for helping to cleanse these platforms,” he added.

Wotch isn’t identifying any of the big creators who he says have signed on, but Sadler told me that the company is largely focused on emerging markets and has already recruited 25 of the top creators in Brazil (where YouTube has an enormous audience, to sometimes detrimental effect) and throughout South America. Those creators won’t be posting on Wotch alone, but they will be creating exclusive videos for the service.

Sadler said it’s those creators who will draw the viewers: “Consumers are loyal to the creators and not the platforms.” And once they’re drawn in, they’ll also experience “a more social platform — see the things your friends are ‘wotching,’ see the things that your favorite creators are ‘wotching.'”

The startup has raised funding from Dominic Smales, the CEO of influencer marketing company Gleam Futures; Bidstack co-founder Simon Mitchell; and Melody VR founder and COO Steve Hancock. Smales is also leading the creator board.

While a beta version of Wotch is already live, Sadler and Willson plan to launch a revamped version of the service early next year. You can get an early preview of the changes by using the promotional code “TECHCRUNCH.”

Clideo promises an easy way to make shoppable videos

Clideo says it can help marketers reach consumers in a smarter way, by making videos shoppable via an “interactive overlay.”

CEO Michele Mazzaro (who previously worked as an executive at Ki Group and in mergers and acquisitions at KPMG Italy) said these videos are meant to address a larger issue: “Businesses are failing in communicating on digital media. I don’t remember the last time I clicked on a banner, pre-roll or mid-roll ad. I hate it as a consumer.”

To address this, Mazzaro and his co-founders Nitzan Mayer-Wolf and Andrea Iriondo have created what Mazzaro described as a way to “turn any video into a discovery experience.” They’re presenting the product today at Disrupt Berlin as part of our Startup Battlefield.

Although the videos are described as interactive, the Clideo team isn’t trying to power the kind of branching narratives popularized by startups like Eko (not to mention Netflix’s “Black Mirror” special “Bandersnatch”), but rather taking a standard video and adding new capabilities around the products featured — the ability to buy something, save it to a wishlist or share it on social media.

Mazzaro argued that these features give marketers crucial data about which audiences are engaging with which products.

“Stop throwing your video budgets into the garbage and undersatnad why your consumers are engaging with you,” he said.

Clideo videos require their own video player, so they can’t be played directly on YouTube or social media. However, Mazzaro noted that they can be promoted on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere via links.

And despite this limitation, Madrid-based Clideo has already been tested by e-commerce websites, including Spain’s Modalia.com, with conversion rates as high as 33%.

Interactive and/or shoppable video isn’t a new idea, but Mazzaro said most existing solutions either come from creative agencies working with a limited number of luxury brands, or video marketing platforms that include very limited interactive capabilities.

Mazzaro contrasted this with Clideo, which he said is creating “the do-it-yourself solution without compromising creativity.” In fact, he said an interactive video can be created in as little as five minutes.

He also argued that Clideo is differentiated by its business model — where, in addition to a monthly subscription, customers pay an additional fee tied directly to Clideo’s results driving viewers to checkout pages.

“We’re the only ones to align our goals to our customers,” Mazzaro said.

Clideo has been bootstrapped thus far. Mazzaro said that the product is available globally, though early customers are likely to be based in Spain, Italy and Israel.

Daily Crunch: Away’s CEO is stepping down

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Away CEO is stepping down in light of reports of toxic culture

Steph Korey is stepping down from her role as CEO, although she will remain on-board as executive chairman. She’ll be replaced by Lululemon COO Stuart Haselden.

The timing of the announcement comes just a few days after The Verge published an in-depth story about management practices at the luggage startup, which included extensive quotes from Korey’s Slack messages. However, the company says that the executive search has been underway for months.

2. VSCO acquires video editing startup Rylo

The photo-sharing app behind the 2019 meme craze “VSCO girls” has acquired Rylo, a video editing startup founded by the original developer of Instagram’s Hyperlapse. Founded in 2015, Rylo is best known for its 360° camera capable of creating cinematic video in 5.8K resolution.

3. Apple Card’s interest-free iPhone installment plan goes live, now with 6% back on Apple holiday purchases

The company already announced its plans for the program — allowing cardholders to purchase a new iPhone, then pay it back over 24 months with no interest — but now it’s actually opening up to all Apple Card customers. In addition, Apple is sweetening the deal with 6% back on all Apple purchases made from December 10 through December 31.

4. India proposes new rules to access its citizens’ data

India has proposed new rules that would require companies to obtain consent from Indian citizens before collecting and processing their personal data. At the same time, the new rules also state that companies would have to hand over “non-personal” user data to the government, which would also hold the power to collect any data about its citizens without consent.

5. Waze adds unplowed road reporting feature for better awareness of winter driving hazards

Waze says it developed this update after it received a recommendation from the Virginia Department of Transportation, working with the municipal agency through its “Waze for Cities Data” partnership and data-sharing program.

6. Jiji raises $21M for its Africa online classifieds business

Buyers and sellers use Jiji to make purchases ranging from real estate to car sales. The classifieds site says it has 2 million listings on its Africa platforms and hit 8 million unique monthly users in 2018.

7. AWS is sick of waiting for your company to move to the cloud

AWS held its annual re:Invent customer conference last week in Las Vegas, where CEO Andy Jassy made it clear he’s tired of the slow pace of change inside the enterprise. The company also announced some big bets designed to accelerate cloud adoption. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Unsplash is building an ad business around branded stock photos

Unsplash has built up a library of 1 million stock photographs, all available to use for free. Now it’s ready to start making money — and to help its photographers earn additional income in the process.

Don’t worry: The company isn’t about to start charging for its photos, which CEO Mikael Cho said risks “stalling creativity.”

Nor is it going to slap banner ads on every page of its website. Yes, it’s unveiling a digital advertising business, but Unsplash is taking a specific approach — working with companies to create branded photos, which will then appear on desirable searches.

Square, for example, could upload photos of the Square Register, which will then show up when Unsplash users search for “cash register” and other terms.

Brands working with Unsplash will get prominent placement in relevant searches as well as their own brand channel, but Cho said the real impact only begins on the Unsplash website.

“This stuff doesn’t just live in a centralized place,” he told me. “More and more advertising platforms, it’s a walled garden. [With Unsplash], the purpose is to get it to spread: People use it in their presentations, it’ll end up on blog posts.”

With Square, for example, if someone’s writing an article about “the future of the cash register,” the Square Register suddenly becomes an obvious choice for the lead image.

“Square is known for its iconic ‘little white card reader,’ but our hardware has evolved into an ecosystem of products that helps business owners of all sizes,” said Square’s brand marketing manager Leann Livingston in a statement. “By featuring photography of Square hardware across restaurants, salons, and retail stores, we were able to expand our brand through organic imagery.”

Cho also said that in about half the campaigns so far, the brand is also commissioning Unsplash photographers to do the work. For example, Boxed Water commissioned photos of its product in some fun contexts.

“Through commissioning some of our favorite photographers, we’re setting a new norm of sustainability, allowing creatives everywhere to have access to images free from plastic bottles harming our planet,” said Boxed Water is Better CMO Rob Koenen in a statement.

Unsplash for Brands is currently invite-only. The company also says that research from Kantar Millward Brown has shown that its brand images can reach “mass scale” while outperforming TV and digital advertising benchmarks by up to five times.

Soci raises $12M to help big brands manage local marketing

According to CEO Afif Khoury, we’re in the middle of “the third wave of social” — a shift back to local interactions. And Khoury’s startup Soci (pronounced soh-shee) has raised $12 million in Series C funding to help companies navigate that shift.

Soci works with customers like Ace Hardware and Sport Clips to help them manage the online presence of hundreds or thousands of stores. It allows marketers to post content and share assets across all those pages, respond to reviews and comments, manage ad campaigns, and provide guidance around how to stay on-brand.

It sounds like most of these interactions are happening on Facebook. Khoury told me that Soci integrates with “40 different APIs where businesses are having conversations with their customers,” but he added, “Facebook was and continues to be the most prominent conversation center.”

Khoury and CTO Alo Sarv founded Soci back in 2012. Khoury said they spent the first two years building the product, and have subsequently raised around $30 million in total funding.

“What we weren’t building was a point solution,” he said. “What we were building was a massive platform … It took us 18 months to two years to really build it in the way we thought was going to be meaningful for the marketplace.”

Soci has also incorporated artificial intelligence to power chatbots that Khoury said “take that engagement happening on social and move it downstream to a call or a sale or something relevant to the local business.”

The new round was led by Vertical Venture Partners, with participation from Grayhawk Capital and Ankona Capital. Khoury said the money will allow Soci to continue developing its AI technology and to build out its sales and marketing team.

“Ours is a very consultative sale,” he said. “It’s a complicated world that you’re living in, and we really want to partner and have a local presence with our customers.”

Daily Crunch: China cracks down on foreign hardware and software

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. China moves to ban foreign software and hardware from state offices

China has ordered the replacement of all foreign PC hardware and operating systems in state offices over the next three years, according to a report in the Financial Times. The government has previously ordered purges of western software, but they were more limited or related to certain security issues.

This time, the goal includes hardware as well, with tens of millions of devices targeted for replacement.

2. Snapchat Cameos edit your face into videos

Snapchat is preparing to launch a new feature that swaps out faces in videos with your own selfies. Some French users received a test version of the feature today.

3. The new Mac Pro goes up for order December 10

When Apple announced the new Mac Pro in June, it left out one key detail — when, precisely the latest version of the high-end desktop would arrive. Now Apple says orders will begin on December 10, although the shipping date remains unknown.

4. In wake of Shutterstock’s Chinese censorship, American companies need to relearn American values

By now, it’s well-known that China’s search engines like Baidu censor political photography. What we’ve been learning more recently, however, is that it isn’t just Chinese companies that are aiding and abetting this censorship.

5. Will the 2020s be online advertising’s holistic decade?

InMarket founder Todd Dipaola predicts that marketers will be held to a higher standard — both by clients demanding world-class performance and proof, as well as consumers who want relevancy, helpfulness and privacy from their brand relationships. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. See Atomico’s most senior VCs onstage at Disrupt Berlin

Atomico is among the most widely respected venture firms in Europe. And you’ll be able to hear from its leaders at TechCrunch’s big event in just a couple of days.

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

Equity takes a look at Harlem Capital, one of the largest funds that’s focused on backing minority entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, Original Content reviews the latest season of Netflix’s hit series “The Crown.”

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are back in the first trailer for ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

Despite the financial success of of the goofily likable “Aquaman,” Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is probably still the biggest draw in DC’s Extended Universe. She’s returning to big screens next year in “Wonder Woman 1984”, and Warner Bros released the first trailer over the weekend.

As its title suggests, the sequel jumps about 70 years ahead from its predecessor’s World War I setting, as the trailer makes clear with some obligatory ’80s fashion and music.

The trailer features plenty of shots of Gadot in action, and she even gets to show off a new Wonder Woman costume. The film also brings back Chris Pine as Steve Trevor — fans will recall (spoiler!) that Trevor died at the end of the first film, but it seems that he’s back from the dead and back in the middle of the story.

The trailer also provides glimpses of Kristen Wiig as an archeologist who eventually becomes the villainous Cheetah and Pedro Pascal as the tycoon Maxwell Lord. And there are new scenes set in Wonder Woman’s childhood home, the mythical island of Themyscira.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is scheduled for release on June 5, 2020. Gadot and Pine aren’t the only “Wonder Woman” alums returning for the sequel — director Patty Jenkins is also back behind the camera.

Original Content podcast: ‘The Crown’ embraces middle age

“The Crown” has returned to Netflix with a new cast — Olivia Colman as a middle-aged Queen Elizabeth, Tobias Menzies as her husband Prince Philip and Helena Bonham Carter as her sister Princess Margaret.

Loyal listeners of the Original Content podcast may recall that we reviewed the show’s first two seasons last year. We didn’t have particularly high hopes, but “The Crown” quickly won us over with its stunning sets and costumes, talented actors, and serious exploration of the role that the monarchy plays in an evolving England.

As we explain in our latest episode, “The Crown” is both changed and unchanged in its third season.

Anyone who’s watched past episodes will recognize the new season’s tone and preoccupations, but the characters have evolved — not just thanks to new actors, but also as the real-life monarchs they’re portraying become more settled in their roles. Plus, a new generation of royals (including Prince Charles) is entering adulthood.

Our reactions to these changes were mixed. While Jordan enjoyed seeing a more recognizable period of history — one that foreshadows the dramas of the ’80s and ’90s — Anthony felt the show became a tiny bit less compelling. He had no complaints about Colman (who recently won an Oscar for playing a different English monarch in “The Favourite”), but he found the older Elizabeth less memorable than the young queen who was still struggling to define her role.

As for Darrell, he only watched a couple episodes before giving up. But he still had plenty of thoughts about why he has no interest in continuing.

In addition to reviewing “The Crown,” we also discuss Plex’s new ad-supported streaming service.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:35 Plex discussion
8:40 “The Crown” season 3 spoiler-free review
38:33 “The Crown” spoiler discussion