Acquisition should speed Disruptel’s path to viewers’ TVs

Alex Quinn is passionate about improving the television viewing experience.

The 23-year-old student began working in high school on artificial intelligence software that could make Smart TVs smarter, answer viewers’ questions about what they’re watching and deliver ads relevant to their interests.

A deal struck this month, Quinn believes, brings its technology closer to reaching living rooms across the globe. “It definitely speeds things up,” he said. “I’d be surprised if it’s not deployed next year and with multiple manufacturers.”

Quinn sold his St. Louis startup, Disruptel, to San Francisco’s Samba TV, a major in audience analytics and targeted advertising. Samba TV’s software is already running on 46 million TV sets made by two dozen companies, which would have taken Disruptel years to reach.

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Quinn said he contacted Samba TV last year, “and it didn’t take long to move beyond that.” When the idea for the acquisition came up, he said, “I was very happy not to have to work on it alone.”

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Ashwin Naveen, co-founder and CEO of Samba TV, liked Disruptel’s technology but was impressed by Quinn himself.

“We are most interested in the disruptive team, who are like-minded entrepreneurs — hungry and ambitious and ready to change the world,” Navin said in an email. “I remember our company when we were just starting out and everyone was a small startup trying to establish themselves in the big TV industry.”

Quinn will be based in St. Louis and lead a team working on artificial intelligence for Samba TV. The company introduced its Samba AI content-recognition product this year, and Naveen said it expects to unveil the new features soon at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but Frank Hopper, managing director of the Capital Innovators Accelerator Fund, said Disruptel investors are “well positioned to do.”

Capital Innovators invested in Disruptel in 2019, less than a year after Quinn graduated from high school in Red Bud, Illinois. Hopper recalls meeting an entrepreneur who was young but very driven.

“It felt like a very Silicon Valley prototype, someone who was going to work at a startup instead of going to college,” Hopper said. “He was a visionary, he was really bright, and he quickly rose to the role of CEO.”

Quinn said he credits his rapid success to his mentors and supporters in St. Louis. After landing investment from Capital Innovators in 2019, he won a $50,000 Arch grant in 2020.

At T-Rex, a downtown technology incubator, he met fellow entrepreneurs and venture capitalists such as Brian Matthews, co-founder of Cultivation Capital.

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“Talking to people who have dealt with this has helped me grow,” Quinn said. “Meeting people like that at my age was a great inspiration.”

Now, with his successful exit behind him, Quinn sheds some of the many hats he wore as a startup founder. He can worry less about things like marketing and finance and focus on making the technology work.

Like most tech companies, Samba TV will hire people wherever it can find them, but Quinn hopes to find some machine learning and artificial intelligence talent closer to home. “I’m not going anywhere, and assuming we can find the right candidate, I’d love to expand into St. Louis,” he said.

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