Can Ghana’s Saya Really Win The Disrupt Cup With $50,000 Prize?

Ghana’s Saya, the Whatsapp for feature phones was voted as one of the top seven finalists at TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in San Francisco competing for the grand prize of the Disrupt Cup and a $50,000 prize money.

This year’s Disrupt Startup Battlefield saw about 30 companies competing, but has been narrowed down to seven including:

1. MindMeld – an app that analyzes your conversations in real-time and pulls pertinent information so you’re always in the know.

2. Gyft – a mobile app that allows you to buy, save and redeem gift cards using your mobile phone.

3. C-1 – the world’s first gyroscopically stabilized, two-wheeled all-electric vehicle.

4. Veritable, a predictive database for application developers.

5. Saya – an instant messaging and SMS service for feature phones focused specifically on emerging markets like Africa.

6. YourMechanic – a peer-to-peer car repair marketplace that enables mechanics to fix users’ cars at their home or office.

7. Zumper – an efficient apartment rental market using data from landlords to find the right tenants.

The judges for the Startup Battlefield finale are Michael Arrington of CrunchFund, Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital, Chris Dixon of Founder Collective, David Lee of SV Angel, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! and David Sacks of Yammer.

It is expected that the judges would be picking the start-up that will make the best business, and Robert Scoble whose favourites are the MindMeld app, C-1, and Gyft, thinks that the latter will win since, according to him, “Gyst makes a better business and the UI is very nice”.

Personally, I like Gyst because its all about mobile shopping. I did sign up awhile back, although I’m yet to get early access to use the service. In case you don’t know, Gyst was created by South African entrepreneur, Vinny Lingham.

I also like Saya simply because it is creating a new, cool, intuitive and threaded fashion of messaging on feature phones. Will it win? I doubt this as it really doesn’t have a compelling business model to make the ‘best business’ case to the judges. But can it change the world? Most definitely!

But some critics have said that none of the ideas are innovating or disruptive enough, as Zumper and Gyft are not significant innovations, but just a different way of doing the same things that have been tried by other start-ups, as Irish Johnathan Ramul said.

A recent review of the winners of past Disrupt Startup contests by ReadWriteWeb reveals that none of them have come close to changing the world or a transformative financial event for founders and investors.

So irrespective of which start-up wins this year’s Disrupt Startup Battlefield, it still remains to be seen whether or not participating in the startup competition really helps a startup succeed.

And most importantly, does winning a start-up contest really predict eventual success?

[Image via TechCrunch]

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