Four Montana Startups attend TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 in San Francisco

Montana was well-represented at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018. From left to right: Steve Zabawa, WebBuy, Billings; John and Jen Frandsen,, Whitefish, Paul Burton and Sam Lucas, Triple Tree, Bozeman; Paige Williams, Audience Awards, Missoula demonstrated in Startup Alley for one day of the conference. Photo by Katy Spence/MHTBA

By Katy Spence

In the middle of a showroom floor in San Francisco, China-based auto startup Byton displayed an all-electric SUV. Complete with a full-dash screen, the car can check your blood pressure as you drive, sync with Amazon to re-route your grocery delivery, and read your hand gestures to navigate a video call. Awed attendees visited the car all throughout TechCrunch’s 2018 Disrupt conference in September.

Right next to this centerpiece, four companies comprised the Montana Pavilion in Startup Alley, a fluid showcase of exciting tech startups from around the world.

The Montana High Tech Business Alliance partnered with the Montana Governor’s Office of Economic Development and TechCrunch to bring Audience Awards, Elebase, Triple Tree, and WebBuy to the annual conference for Montana’s first year of attendance.

Disrupt is one of the world’s largest and most impactful tech startup conferences. In addition to giving companies a platform to present their product, Disrupt features speakers in a number of high tech industries including FinTech, AI, and SaaS. Ten thousand people attended the San Francisco conference this year, including company founders, investors, economic development organizations, media, and job seekers.

Triple Tree founders Sam Lucas and Paul Burton traveled from Bozeman for the three-day conference. Lucas said the chance to perfect his pitch in Startup Alley was one of the best parts about attending the conference. When they weren’t chatting with VCs and developers, the co-founders attended sessions featuring some of the biggest names in tech like NASA, 23andMe, and Google.

For Billings-based WebBuy co-founder Steve Zabawa, the opportunity to meet with investors through Disrupt’s CrunchMatch was the most valuable part of his experience. CrunchMatch is a speed-dating-style meeting platform that pairs startups with investors of similar interests. After Disrupt, Zabawa said he’s optimistic about a number of investment opportunities.

Montana and Indiana were the only two states to be featured in a “pavilion” in Startup Alley. Other featured pavilions included Japan, Germany, and Korea.

Priya Gupta, Startup Program and Events Manager for TechCrunch, plans Disrupt each year and reached out to the Alliance in the hopes of working together to bring Montana startups to San Francisco. She said tech growth in the Big Sky State caught her eye.

“Montana came across in my research as a place where the startup scene is growing quickly, and big tech companies are starting to build a presence there, too,” Gupta said.

Gupta said she hopes to see even more Montana startups at next year’s Disrupt.

One unique aspect of Disrupt were Startup Battlefield sessions, where select startups pitched their product on the big stage to a group of investors for a chance to win the big prize: $100,000.

One Montana startup who found this valuable was Whitefish-based Founders John and Jen Frandsen themselves were preparing for a pitch competition at the time, the Early Stage MT Statewide Showcase. John said watching the investor pitches helped Elebase refine their own pitch for the competition.

As startups are often limited by time and resources, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development worked with them to help allay travel costs. Ken Fichtler, Chief Business Development Officer, said the rapid growth in the startup ecosystem in Montana is a testament to the business climate, affordable cost of living, and creativity and drive of its citizens.

“TechCrunch Disrupt is one of the most important tech events of the year, and we were happy to help several early-stage Montana companies attend,” Fichtler said. “From software to biotech and clean manufacturing to aerospace, companies built in Montana are competing and winning on national and international stages.”

Fichtler added that, with a successful debut at Disrupt, there may be an opportunity for more partnerships with Montana organizations to send companies to San Francisco in the future.

If your startup or organization is interested in learning more about attending or sponsoring in 2019, please email katy.spence[at] for more information. 

Check out our Disrupt photo gallery.

Learn more about the Montana startups who attended TechCrunch:

Audience Awards, Paige Williams, Missoula – Founded by award-winning filmmaker Paige Williams, Audience Awards is a platform that connects brands to high-quality, user generated content through video contests and film challenges. Partnerships with brands like GoDaddy, Hilton Worldwide and Kodak have brought Audience Awards recognition in Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines. Audience Awards was named a Montana High Tech Company to Watch in 2017., John and Jen Frandsen, Whitefish – Elebase is a cloud-based platform that delivers content and files to any device and takes care of the critical back end services required for software, so developers can build web and mobile applications much faster. This is the only platform in the world that fully integrates geospatial functionality. The company has already signed up notable customers such as National Geographic, UNESCO, and the Maine Office of Tourism. Elebase was named a 2018 Montana Startup to Watch and was a finalist in the Early Stage MT competition.  

Triple Tree, Sam Lucas and Paul Burton, Bozeman – Triple Tree specializes in technical consulting, integrating existing systems with new software and components, and designing and engineering software solutions from scratch. As one of the 2018 Montana Startups to Watch, Triple Tree found early success in their first client RedOwl Analytics, a Baltimore-based cybersecurity analytics startup recently acquired by Forcepoint in Austin, Texas. Triple Tree continues to work with hyper-growth startups and SaaS enterprises both locally and nationally.

WebBuy, Steve Zabawa, Billings –  WebBuy is revolutionizing the process of buying a car from 25,000 new and used car dealers websites through their priority IP APP that allows consumers to digitally purchase a car online or in the showroom and complete the entire process from selection to financing. Managed by two veterans of the car retail and finance industry, current predictions have the company hiring about 200 people over the next three years and generating a more than $100 million revenue stream. WebBuy was awarded a $200,000 employee training grant from Montana’s Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund and is also a finalist in the Early Stage MT competition.

Read the story in the Missoula Current

About the Author: Katy Spence is the Communications Director for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. She worked previously with the Missoula Current and Treesource, and has an Environmental Journalism Master’s Degree from the University of Montana.

About the Publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an association of 350 high tech and manufacturing companies and affiliates creating high-paying jobs in Montana. For more information visit

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