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TechCrunch Disrupt: Why Investors Should Care

Stocks in this article: GOOG RIMM AOL

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and tech giants like Google (GOOG) will gather next week in New York City for one of the year's premiere start-up events: the TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

Why should investors care?

Events like Disrupt are a key way for large public companies and investors to get a first glance at market trends and cutting edge technologies, said Jay Levy, a partner at New York-based Zelkova Ventures.

Founded last year, Disrupt, which keeps the names of participating start-ups under wraps, features new company launches, a "hackathon" where developers gather together to create a product in 24 hours and the main event: Battlefield, in which two dozen handpicked start-ups pitch their business plans and concepts to a panel of tech watchers, which this year includes Google's Marissa Mayer, the search giant's VP of product managment.

The prizes: $50,000, access to some of the most renowned early-stage investors and the title of most disruptive new technology.

"Innovation starts in the garage, and a lot of these big companies will be keeping an eye on the start-ups to understand where they need to be innovating and whether they should be building this technology themselves or buying it," said Levy.

Zelkova invested in social network aggregation service NutshellMail --which it discovered at a past TechCrunch event -- and was acquired last year by Constant Contact (CTCT).

"Innovation is very difficult in large companies, and many times, the only way to develop disruptive technology is through start-ups," said Tomer Dvir, the CEO of Soluto, an Israel-based software company that aims to help PCs run faster and more smoothly. Soluto won last year's TechCrunch Disrupt. "Our company disrupts the PC industry which hasn't changed a lot in the 15 years -- you need small companies to shake things up."

While the conference attracts established start-ups seeking early adoption and funding, it also gives the tech community a window into products at "the super bleeding edge," said Charlie O'Donnell, a principal at First Round Capital in New York.

GroupMe, the buzzy group texting app that gained traction at this year's South by Southwest conference, was built during last year's Hackathon.

Soon after, First Round Capital helped lead an investment in the start-up, which has since raised over $11 million in funding as companies like Research In Motion (RIMM) and Facebook have made recent acquisitions in the space.

TheStreet will be covering Disrupt, which runs Monday, May 23 through Wednesday, May 25. TechCrunch Disrupt was founded by Web publication TechCrunch, which AOL (AOL) bought late last year.

--Written by Olivia Oran in New York.

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