Alex Quinn is passionate about improving the television viewing experience.
The 23-year-old started working in high school on artificial intelligence software that could make smart TVs smarter, able to answer viewers’ questions about what they’re watching and deliver ads tailored to their interests.
The deal reached this month, Quinn believes, puts his technology within reach of living rooms around the world. “This definitely speeds things up,” he said. “I’d be surprised if it’s not shipped next year, with the number of makers.”
Quinn sold his St. Louis startup. Samba TV software already works on 46 million TV sets made by a dozen companies, a figure that would take Disruptel years to reach.
Quinn said he approached Samba TV last year about the partnership, “and it didn’t take long for things to progress beyond that.” When the idea of acquisition was mooted, he said, “It was exciting to me as a way to not work on this alone.”
Samba TV founder and CEO, Ashwin Navin, liked Disruptel’s technology but was most impressed by Quinn himself.
“We are very interested in the Disruptel team, who are like-minded entrepreneurs – hungry and ambitious and ready to change the world,” Navin said in an email. “It reminded me of our company when we started and everyone was betting on us as a small startup trying to stand out from the big TV industry.”
Quinn will remain in St. Louis. Louis and will lead the artificial intelligence team at Samba TV. The company introduced its Samba AI content recognition product this year and Navin said it expects to unveil the new features as soon as January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed but Frank Hopper, managing director of the Capital Innovators accelerator fund, said Disruptel’s investors are “in a position to do well.”
Capital Innovators invested in Disruptel in 2019, less than a year after Quinn graduated from high school in Red Bud, Illinois. Hopper remembers meeting a businessman who was young but very enthusiastic.
“It felt like a Silicon Valley model, someone who would work at a startup rather than go to college,” Hopper said. “He was a visionary, he was really bright, and he quickly rose to become the CEO.”
Part of the credit for his quick success, Quinn said, goes to his mentors and supporters in St. Louis. After receiving an investment from Capital Innovators in 2019, he won a $50,000 Arch Grant in 2020.
At T-Rex, a downtown tech incubator, he met entrepreneurs and venture capitalists like Brian Matthews, founder of Cultivation Capital.
“Talking to people who have been through this has accelerated my progress,” Quinn said. “It was a great inspiration at my age to meet such people.”
Now, with a successful exit behind him, Quinn gets to remove some of the many hats he’s worn 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 machine learning and artificial intelligence talent closer to home. “I’m not going anywhere, and I think we can find the right candidates, I would like to expand to St. Louis,” he said.