Top 30 Startups to Watch 2015
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In theory, entrepreneurship sounds awesome. You’re your own boss so you can set your own hours, work from home in your PJs and do work that really matters to you.
But as any entrepreneur will tell you, starting your own business is not nearly as glamorous. In fact, it can often be pretty scary and lonely. Entrepreneurs take a great financial risk to get their ventures off the ground, often using their own savings and quitting steady jobs to pursue their dreams. Yes, entrepreneurs make their own hours, but they put in many more of them than the average employee (often 12 a day or more) and, still, they face a high failure rate.
Entrepreneur values those who choose to create their own path, and we’re not alone.
Empact, a Princeton, N.J.-based company that provides education and networking opportunities to young entrepreneurs, today released its annual list of 100 startups led by entrepreneurs under 35 that should be on everyone’s radar. Those chosen for the Empact100 stood out among hundreds of submissions and impressed an all-star panel of judges that included Priceline co-founder Jeff Hoffman, Stairmaster co-founder Clifton Taulbert and the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the United Nations Foundation, Elizabeth Gore. Decisions were based on factors such as revenue, social impact, volunteer hours, growth over the past year and the number of employees.
We took the Empact100 and distilled it further, finding the 30 startups we think are most unique and have the potential to transform their industries, if not the world. While there were many impressive companies to choose from, these are the ones that excited us most.
Keep your eye out for them, and be prepared to tell your hipster friends that you heard of them before they got huge.
The list is below, in alphabetical order.
Andrea Huspeni and Lauren Covello contributed to this report.
What it is: There’s no denying that social media is a vital part of making a business successful. With that said, though, the collective mind of Internet users is hard to understand: Why does one tweet get shared more than another and what makes a Facebook post likeable to customers? AddShoppers is looking to take the mystery out of this by helping companies identify social influencers and get more shares and emails through social-marketing apps.
How it started: While in college, Jon West and Chad Ledford started their first business selling socks door to door. This company evolved into an ecommerce store, which eventually got acquired.
After recognizing the importance of social networks and onsite-marketing campaigns for ecommerce merchants, the next venture they launched together was AddShoppers
Why it’s a winner: With more than 10,000 merchants using the software -- including the Economist, Everlast and O'Neill Clothing -- AddShoppers has caught the attention of Business Insider and Internet Retailer Magazine.
Advocates for World Health
What it is: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Put another way, one country’s surplus medical equipment is another country’s life-saving miracle. Advocates for World Health is a nonprofit that redistributes surplus medical supplies to under-served hospitals in developing nations.
How it started: On the last day of his volunteer trip to Guatemala in the fall 2008, founder Ryan Kania witnessed a man die from a gunshot wound. Before he passed, the doctors had tried to save him but lacked the necessary medical equipment to do so. Kania was so overwhelmed by the shock, he felt he needed to do something. Advocates for World Health was born in Kania’s dorm room, but because of growth, now is operating in a 15,000 square-foot warehouse.
Why it’s a winner: This organization is solving one heck of a problem. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. healthcare industry generates more than 2 billion pounds of medical waste each year. Yet up to 60 percent of this waste is still usable: The unused and unexpired medical product. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 10 million children under the age of five die in the developing world due to inadequate medical care. Advocates for World Health is helping to fix this issue and that deserves our attention.
What it is: The Internet is an incredible tool for companies -- if you can make yourself stand out in an overcrowded space. Ajax Union is there to help with that, as a professional online-marketing firm helping small and midsize businesses gain online exposure through strategy implementation, testing and analysis.
How it started: Joseph Apfelbaum is no newbie to marketing. In fact, he was the CMO for a luxury watch retailer, and he found that he got better results when he used freelancers and underlings than when he used a large digital marketing agency. The saying is, if you want something done right you have to do it yourself, so he followed that advice and started Ajax Union with Zevi Friendman, focusing on helping small and midsized businesses.
Why it’s a winner: Ajax Union has grown by 50 percent in the last year, going from 50 employees in 2012 to 72 in 2013. We were equally impressed with co-founder Joe Apfelbaum’s commitment to paying it forward. He is involved in a variety of networking and mentoring groups, including entrepreneur-networking group EO Brooklyn, which Joe helped found and where he serves on the board of directors.
Palo Alto, Calif.
What it is: Great teachers are essential. They’re also hard to find, and those who strive to improve themselves may have a difficult time figuring out what they need to work on most, since providing feedback and training has traditionally been difficult and expensive. BloomBoard looks to solve this issue by using technology for teacher development and support.
How it started: Prior to launching BloomBoard, both co-founders Eric Dunn and Jason Lange had education in their blood. Dunn had spent more than a decade building adaptive learning management systems for students while Lange worked for an education-focused nonprofit. When a mutual friend introduced them to each other, they hit it off. Both were looking for a professional-development solution for educators, as the quality of a teacher is the greatest driver of student outcomes in the classroom. After joining forces in 2010 and armed with only their experiences and a rough prototype, Lange and Dunn set out to test their beliefs.
Why it’s a winner: BloomBoard revolutionizes education by integrating technology into its solution. The company offers a “click to schedule” option, saving on paperwork and back-and-forth phone calls while also organizing evaluator notes. Because of this innovation, BloomBoard was able to get the attention of both the Gates Foundation and Birchmere Ventures, securing $5 million in funding.
New York, N.Y.
What it is: Have you ever Googled your name and been shocked by what appeared in the search results? For those wanting negative (and possibly false) information to be buried on Google, BrandYourself can help. The startup is an online-reputation service that allows people to take control of their digital footprints by helping boost positive links about themselves to the top of Google.
How it started: They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and co-founder Pete Kistler is a prime example of this. In 2009, when Kistler was a junior at Syracuse University, he noticed no one was following up on his internship applications. This was strange, since he had a 3.9 GPA. When he Googled himself, however, the lack of professional interest started to make sense. His name is not unique and others with his moniker included a suspected drug dealer and a convicted sex offender. When he realized he couldn’t afford the services of reputation-management companies, he turned to classmate Patrick Ambron for help. Ambron knew the ins and outs of search engine optimization and was able to repair Kistler’s online reputation. Thinking there were others who might need similar assistance, the two joined up with co-founder Evan McGowan Watson and created BrandYourself before they could legally drink.
Why it’s a winner: Not only has the site garnered a bunch of media attention -- including support from The Wall Street Journal, CBS and NPR -- but it’s quickly gained a large customer base. Within its first eight months of operation, BrandYourself boasted 150,000 users. Understandably, the number of employees has jumped from five to a total of 43 within a year. Because of its success, the company has won numerous awards, including “Top 5 College Entrepreneurs” of 2009 by Entrepreneur magazine.
What it is: Some say that fashion is essentially wearable art. Bucketfeet is a company that believes that in the most literal way, becoming the first footwear company that finds a different artist to design every shoe it creates.
How it started: The idea for Bucketfeet came after a chance meeting in Argentina between two strangers -- an artist named Aaron Firestein and a global backpacker named Raaja Nemani. The two got along well, and before parting ways, Firestein drew a design on a pair of canvas shoes and sold them to Nemani, who wore the shoes for the rest of his travels and inspired thousands of conversations with people on six continents. When Nemani’s year-long global trek ended, he and Firestein joined up in Chicago and founded Bucketfeet.
Why it’s a winner: At a time when arts programs are cut in schools and the emphasis on STEM programs can make artistic endeavors seem almost pointless, Bucketfeet is giving creative people an outlet and some respect. The company works with nearly 4,000 artists from more than 60 countries. And while the wearer gets recognized for one-of-a-kind style, the artist gets exposure for their work and financial support.
What it is: Dashed, a restaurant-delivery startup servicing the Northeast, is all about speed. The company recruits athletes to deliver food items from more than 700 restaurants and does so in environmentally-friendly vehicles including electric smart cars, bikes and scooters.
How it started: After one of the biggest food-delivery services in Boston went out of business, founder Philip Dumontet saw an opportunity. Since the most common complaint about the previous company was slow delivery times, Dumontet made speed the heart and soul of Dashed (hence the name). Using a bike for deliveries allowed him to maneuver around traffic and avoid wasting time looking for parking spots. Customers noticed the difference and business grew.
Why it’s a winner: Dashed recruits and hires athletes who share the founder’s obsession for speed. Once hired, they compete by pedaling faster or uncovering timesaving shortcuts with the knowledge that they’ll be rewarded for it with Dashed Olympic gold, silver, and bronze medals along with cash bonuses for the three fastest monthly deliverers. To increase speed still further, the company introduced smart cars, which have reduced delivery times by 23 percent and cut down the company’s gas expenses by 63 percent. With such laser-focus on his mission to deliver food to hungry customers as quick as possible, it’s no wonder his business has grown at a rapid speed as well; it has increased 2,984 percent in three years. Equally impressive is Dumontet’s commitment to his workers. In a space traditionally driven by low-wage labor, Dashed offers high pay and benefits.
Front and Center Marketing
What it is: The best product in the world is worthless if nobody knows about it. To help get the word out there’s Front & Center Marketing, a company that increases awareness for natural food and packaged good brands through marketing events.
How it started: Founder Avi Gardner started Front & Center Marketing after having worked for a number of natural foods brands and seeing them struggle. The companies didn’t have enough people to actually do the marketing that needed to be done, and they weren’t able to keep a marketing person employed. Gardner decided to quit her job and merge her two passions, food and marketing, into Front & Center Marketing. The company now helps these businesses accomplish the sampling and marketing responsibilities.
Why it’s a winner: Front & Center Marketing offers a flexible work environment for those people that are passionate about starting a career in nutrition, personal training or fitness, among other related industries. Most of the team works part time, with many being single moms. This sort of schedule helps build financial security while allowing the flexibility needed for child care. Because of this environment, Front & Center Marketing has tripled in size from 2012 to 2013.
New York, N.Y.
What it is: Fueled builds mobile apps, websites and videos for big-name companies like MTV, the Chicago Bulls, Hallmark and Porsche, along with up-and-coming startups. The startup also launched Fueled Collective, a shared workspace in Manhattan for more than 35 startup companies.
How it started: In 2008 Rameet Chawla decided to leave his finance job and work for himself, starting an advertising agency and development shop named Fueled. A few pivots and more than $500 million in ecommerce transactions later, the company is on track to being one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S.
Why it’s a winner: Fueled has generated more than $250 million in revenue for its clients and its apps have caught the attention of a lot of people. The company has taken home awards for mobile and website creation from W3, FWD, the Omma Awards, Digiday Mobi Awards, Creative Review, the Hive Awards, Communication Arts and the Webby Awards.
San Francisco, Calif.
What it is: Good neighbors will lend you a cup of sugar or a light bulb when you need it. Great neighbors will lend you their car. Complete strangers that lend you their car? Well, they must be one of the 200,000-plus members of Getaround, a peer-to-peer car rental community. The idea is that those who need a car can get one and those who aren’t using their car can make some extra money. Car owners set the terms of availability and the rates. For lenders that don’t want to hand off their keys in person, the company also has technology that will allow renters to open up the car from their cell phones. All cars on the service are covered by primary insurance during the rentals, but owners must have their own insurance as well.
How it started: While taking classes at Silicon Valley’s Singularity University, Sam Zaid and Jessica Scorpio were challenged by Google's Larry Page to positively impact 1 billion people in 10 years. They considered transportation, and realized that, with the average car sitting idle 22 hours each day, there was an opportunity for people to share their cars instead of adding more cars to the road. The duo were already working to launch Getaround when they met Elliot Kroo at iPhone DevCamp in 2009. With the final piece of the puzzle now in place, Getaround was born.
Why it’s a winner: Traditional car sharing platforms, like Zipcar, have proven that car sharing is service that people want to use. Getaround expands the benefits of car sharing to people who don’t live in dense urban areas and does this without requiring new cars be manufactured. Besides starting a business that fills a need quickly and safely, Getaround has developed patented technology that is purpose-built for the peer to peer market and has increased convenience. And it’s got major backing behind it: investors include Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, PayPal COO David Sacks and actor Ashton Kutcher.
Global Good Fund
What it is: While many would like to make the world a better place, few have an actionable plan to do it. Enter the Global Good Fund, a nonprofit organization that helps young social entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams through leadership development training in the form of both human and financial capital.
How it started: At age 27, Carrie Rich worked at nonprofit health-care system Inova Health System and reported to CEO Knox Singleton. She made an impression on him with her passion for social entrepreneurship, so for her birthday Knox gave her money and said, “see what good you can do.” Wanting to support numerous organizations, Rich knew she had to increase the amount of cash, so she sent out emails to everyone she knew. And the donations starting pouring in, with one person providing a $1 million gift. The large sum made her realize the importance of cross-generational connections for social entrepreneurs. Her mentors had provided support over the years, and Rich wanted others to have the same experience.
Why it’s a winner: Any organization empowering young social entrepreneurs is a winner in our book. And the Global Good Fund gets extra points for focusing on female entrepreneurs, with at least 50 percent of Fellowship classes being women. And Rich’s role as founder is not some cushy position, she is hands on. For instance, when an intern approached her with a vision beyond the scope of the Global Good Fund, Rich helped by investing her personal time, energy and finances.
New York, N.Y.
What it is: Gravity Media is a full-service advertising agency looking to help integrate brands into culture. Services include cultural consulting, web and app development, media planning and buying, public relations and more.
How it started: Co-founder and CEO Yuriy Boykiv was born into poverty in Ukraine, but he’d always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. After arriving in the U.S. during the summer of 2001, Boykiv was about to head back to his home country when September 11 attacks occurred, prolonging his stay in the states. Stranded in a foreign land, Boykiv went to school and eventually landed a position at a small advertising firm. where he managed DirecTV as a client. Upon noticing his capabilities, DirecTV offered Boykiv a job and eventually became the manager of International Business. One of his responsibilities was to see why certain channels weren’t selling. After visiting the company’s call center he realized some sales people couldn’t tell the difference between a Chinese customer and a Korean customer. He fired 400 people and brought on 600 culturally diverse employees, which resulted in a huge increase in sales. It was then that he “realized if I can do this for DirecTV I could do this for anyone." He, along with two other Ukrainian friends, built multicultural agency Gravity Media.
Why it’s a winner: While multiculturalism is a great buzzword for companies, Gravity Media has taken it to a whole new level. While all 45 employees are based in the U.S. -- the company has offices in Manhattan and Los Angeles -- the team consists of international marketing professionals who are fluent in 20 languages and represent 12 nationalities. This is especially helpful in providing services like strategy, design and storytelling to global brands. Not only has this approach allowed them to secure big-name clients like the CIA and the NBA, but it also earned them accolades at major publications.
Hotels for Hope
What it is: What if you could contribute to charities just by doing things you were planning on doing anyway? It’s worked for clothing and footwear companies, and it’s working for the hotel industry. Hotels for Hope is a hotel brokerage firm that books hotel rooms for large events or for individuals. The company works with more than 1,000 hotel partners and ensures the booking process is smooth for its clients. At the same time, Hotels for Hope back by donating $2 for every night booked to charities that seek to improve the lives of children worldwide.
How it started: Founder and CEO Neil Goldman studied hotel management at Penn State and had stints at Marriott and the Four Seasons, before setting up Austin Hospitality, a hotel referral service in Austin, Texas. Austin Hospitality transitioned to Hotels for Hope in 2010 when Goldman decided to add a philanthropic component to his business model, asking its hotel partners to make a $1 donation for every actualized room night, which Hotels for Hope then matched, creating a $2 donation to children’s charities.
Why it’s a winner: Hotels for Hope has shown that thinking outside the box and implementing small change can lead to big results. To date, it has contributed more than $300,000 to charities, positively impacting the lives of more than 90,000 children around the world. The company is on track to book 80,000-plus room nights annually, and expects to have donated $1 million by the end of 2015.
What it is: If a picture is worth a thousand words, Infographic World's pictures might be the visual equivalent of a Tolstoy novel. The agency provides exactly what the name implies: eye-catching, memorable pictures that express data or other information visually in the form of infographics.
How it started: Justin Beegel started his company in 2009 at the age of 23 with no funding, savings or partners. Originally, it was a side gig to make a little extra money: Beegel would take on a job, outsource the work and reinvest the profit into marketing. Now, five years after he made infographics his priority (and full-time job), Beegel’s company is going strong having worked with approximately 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
Why it’s a winner: Even if you’ve never heard of Infographic World, you’ve seen the work it does. Remember the infographic that ran on Mashable's website, the Life and Times of Steve Jobs? That was Beegel’s company, and it was voted Best Infographic of 2011. Another Infographic World creation won Best Infographic of 2013 and won the Platinum Award in the 2014 Creativity International Awards for best in its category.
Los Angeles, Calif.
What it is: Ivee lets people control various home “Internet of Things” with their voice. The startup’s latest product, Sleek, is a Wi-Fi voice-activated device for the home that answers questions, obeys commands and controls other Internet-connected gadgets (think Nest thermostat and WeMo power outlets).
How it started: When Jonathon Nostrant was studying abroad in Hong Kong in 2008, he saw voice recognition technology for the first time and says he “knew instantly that it was going to be the future.” Once he was back in the U.S., he enlisted his father and two good friends from school and began working on a voice activated clocked they called Moshi. That model eventually sold 300,000 units to retailers like Brookstone. In 2011, Nostrant wanted to concentrate his efforts on improving on voice activation by connecting it to the Internet. The result was Ivee.
Why it’s a winner: By creating a voice-controlled gadget that connects to various devices in the home, ivee is helping the elderly and people with disabilities have greater control over the devices they use regularly, such as lights or the television.
New York, N.Y.
What it is: Taking a page from Eric Ries' lean-startup methodology, Javelin is an enterprise software firm that gives companies tools to determine whether a business idea is worth pursuing. The service arm, known as the Lean Startup Machine, is a three-day workshop teaching entrepreneurs validation techniques. In terms of tools, the company offers analytics for landing pages and experimentation boards for businesses to track their progress. ESPN, General Electric and the United States Postal Service are among Javelin’s clients.
How it started: Trevor Owens and Grace Ng met four years ago, when Grace was working on her last startup and Trevor ran the first Lean Startup Machine workshop as a side project. Having both had previous failed startups, they realized the Lean Startup process was a more effective way of creating a successful business and decided to work on the idea full-time, co-founding Javelin. They have since hosted workshops around the world to help fledgling entrepreneurs turn their ideas into a reality and started building software this past year.
Why it’s a winner: Rather than handing entrepreneurs the proverbial fish, Javelin gives them a fishing rod and some bait and makes sure they’re in a populated lake with a seasoned fisherman nearby to answer questions. The company hosts educational workshops in more than 200 cities worldwide, with plans to scale up to 600 cities in the next year. The company is able to help people in all different stages of entrepreneurship, whether someone is considering starting a business but doesn’t know how, or is already an entrepreneur and wants to figure out if their next idea will work without wasting time and money. Who doesn’t love a startup that pays it forward to other small businesses?
Related: 9 Things Successful People Won’t Do
What it is: LCDcycle knows that what is broken can often be fixed. Specifically, the company recycles broken smartphone screens, preventing thousands of phones from being dumped in landfills each month. The business is also a wholesale distributor of smartphone and tablet parts to repair shops.
How it started: While Chris Koerner started LCDcycle in 2013, he had been a pioneer in the smartphone industry long before then, having founded one of the country’s first smartphone-repair chains. But instead of going down the traditional repair route with LCDcycle, Koerner was looking for a way to make a dent in e-waste. Noticing the large amount of e-waste involved with repairing smartphones and tablets, he decided to develop a method of recycling these components. Today his mission is to recycle every broken iPhone screen that comes through repair shops each day.
Why it’s a winner: While customers today will be thankful to have their phone fixed, future generations will also be thankful of Koerner’s services. Almost half of the devices the company fixes are done with the most destructive e-waste material there is: LCD screens. Specifically, the business has recycled more than 140,000 iPhone screens In 2013, LCDcycle contributed to the repair or refurbishment of more than 150,000 devices all across the world. Because of his “green” approach, Koerner’s company has gotten the attention of publications like CNET, Mashable and Gizmodo.
What it is: One of the biggest roadblocks to greater energy efficiency is the storage component -- but LightSail Energy thinks it has a solution. The company, which was founded by Danielle Fong, Steve Crane and Edwin Berlin, has found a way to use compressed air to create what it calls the “cleanest and most economical” energy storage systems. And Silicon Valley seems to agree -- the 55-person company counts Bill Gates, Peter Thiel and renowned VC firm Khosla Ventures among its investors.
How it started: Danielle Fong once said, “Innovation is social.” The story of how she started LightSail Energy proves her theory. Fong, who enrolled in college at age 12 and spent two years studying physics in grad school at Princeton, left the East Coast in 2007 in the hopes of doing work she could call her own. While couch-surfing and networking in Silicon Valley, she met her future co-founder, Steve Crane. She had many different ideas for possible startups, but saw an opportunity to create more efficient vehicles through the use of compressed air. She told Crane, who put in $100,000 of his own money and left his job to join her in her venture. They then teamed up with Ed Berlin, who was working on a similar prject. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla eventually heard about their idea at a party, which resulted in the trio meeting with Khosla’s partner. The partner was particularly interested in the implications of using compressed air to improve the power grid. Realizing the potential, Fong and crew agreed to focus on the power grid rather than vehicles.Why it’s a winner: In our ever more connected world, energy sustainability and efficiency is of critical importance. We like that LightSail is trying to tackle one of the most long-standing problems facing the energy industry, and we think it has potential to change the future of the grid as we know it.
New York, N.Y.
What it is: Once you’ve accepted a marriage proposal, you’ve also accepted the responsibilities of planning a wedding -- or finding the experts who will plan it for you. Loverly is a one-stop shop for wedding planning online -- a bridal search engine, if you will. Instead of running all over town to search for venues, flowers and dresses, a bride and groom can find vendors for all of those things -- plus the latest trends for inspiration and some tips from experts -- from their own home, assuming said home has a decent Internet connection.
How it started: When Kellee Khalil was chosen as maid of honor for her sister’s wedding, she expected the planning would be easy -- after all, she was working at a PR agency whose clients were predominantly wedding vendors. She was wrong. At one point, Khalil had 15 tabs of clothing websites open while she was on the 30th page of a Google search and she questioned how women without any wedding industry connections plan their big day. She used some savings and her entrepreneurial studies degree from the University of Southern California to launch Loverly with her sister, Leila.
Why it’s a winner: If you’ve ever had to plan a wedding, the answer is an obvious one. Not only does it simplify an often overwhelming process, but it is also tapped into an industry that’s super hot right now. Since its launch in April 2013, the Loverly app has been downloaded more than 150,000 times, the company says. So, if someone asked us if we thought this company had a bright future, we’d have to say, “We do.”
What it is: MobileX Labs is an app-solutions company with two branches -- MXLBuild and MXLApps and Games. MXLBuild allows anyone to create their own mobile apps in minutes (no coding experience required). MXLApps and Games combines social utilities and gaming to create apps for download on Apple, Google Play and Amazon.
How it started: Dan Novaes met his co-founder Kiran Panesar on the odd job site Fiverr when he was looking for a developer to create an app for his music blog. After creating the app for $85, the pair began developing others apps for businesses and music artists. They realized there was a business opportunity: simplify the creation of apps without losing quality. That's where the idea of the DIY App Builder, or MXLBuild, came from.
Why it’s a winner: How could we not love a company that is looking to help small-business owners and entrepreneurs with the confusing world of apps. Not only do they provide an amazing service for people on a budget, but they are continuing to innovate. The company will soon be launching Kai, a platform for creating and publishing mobile content.
What it is: There is an adage that behind every man is a great woman. Apparently, behind the U.S. government is Mobius Consulting, a woman-owned small business that provides engineering, technical analysis, management and strategy to the government.
How it started: Melaine and Frank Privitera obviously work well together -- they’re married. They decided to take their partnership to a professional level when they founded Mobius Consulting. Melanie says the company was crafted over two years of late-night patio summits, bold cabernets and intense masterminding sessions. Frank’s family background of entrepreneurship and his education in computers combined well with Melanie’s experience as an organizational strategy consultant. Together, they saw many opportunities to modernize, streamline, and innovate within the federal contracting industry, particularly in the Defense and Intelligence market. The company received it’s first federal contract on the same day that the Priviteras gave birth to their daughter.
Why it’s a winner: Mobius Consulting is on a roll, cited as one of the fastest growing woman-owned federal contract companies in the Washington D.C. area. In just the past nine months, the company has experienced more than 200 percent growth and had more than $3 million in revenue in its third year of operation. For this, Melanie has received numerous accolades including Under30CEO’s "14 Young Entrepreneurs to Watch in Washington D.C."
What it is: Besides the huge oil boom, people don’t really think of North Dakota as an epicenter of business or technology. The founders of Myriad Mobile are hoping to change that. The startup is a one-stop shop for all things mobile including app development, consulting and design services.
How it started: Myriad Mobile was born at North Dakota State University while Jake Joraanstad and Ryan Raguse were undergraduate students. Initially the two were both competing against each other in the app world, trying to make a profit off of developing low-cost apps. They realized they would be better off joining forces and decided to pivot their strategy to provide app-building services for businesses. In a matter of six months, Myriad Mobile has grown from eight part-time engineers to more than 60 full-time staff members.
Why it’s a winner: While the pair nixed the idea of moving their startup to a bustling entrepreneurial community, the decision to keep their roots in North Dakota didn’t make things easy. To overcome the challenges they faced scaling their startup in “flyover country,” Joraanstad and Raguse decided to simultaneously grow their business and community. Joraanstad is the co-founder of Emerging Prairie, a digital-media company that connects entrepreneurs in the area, and also provides mentorship at local startup events including Startup Weekend Fargo and 1 Million Cups Fargo. Raguse also participates in local entrepreneur event and is the co-founder of farm app Virtual Farm Manager and chairman of Adshark Marketing.
What it is: Standing all day, taking long flights and pregnancy can be tough on veins -- in some cases, even deadly. Medical compression stockings, which have been around for ages, can help, but they’re not the most stylish garments. RejuvaHealth has created a line of fashion-forward socks, tights and leggings that provide different levels of FDA-listed medical support. In addition to relieving symptoms such as swelling, discomfort and fatigue, they also help slim and shape the wearer’s physique.
How it started: When Kelsey Minarik was 21, she developed Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a dangerous blood clot in her leg. Her doctor treated her with injections for weeks and put her on a year of blood-thinning medication, but also asked that she wear support stockings for relief. Minarik loved how much the stockings helped her, but she hated how they looked. She tried to find fashionable styles of the compression clothing, but there weren’t any. The college student combined her fashion sense with medical necessity and created her own. Two years later, she founded RejuvaHealth to offer stylish compression clothing to others.
Why it’s a winner: Fashion has always been a way to express yourself, but very rarely is there a way to do that while addressing a serious medical issue. Being able to do both is not a frivolous endeavor; it allows people with vein disorders to live their lives without embarrassment and without self-consciousness. Moreover, the company has both an online and in-store presence, with products available in vein centers, medical offices, pharmacies, travel stores and select retailers nationwide.
What it is: If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then Soapbox Soaps is pretty angelic.Working under the equation “Soap = Hope,” this startup provides a bar of soap, a year’s worth of vitamin supplements or enough clean water for a month for every product it sells.
How it started: Apparently, the first step to starting a successful business is the first step as almost anything else: Google it. Co-founder Dave Simnick turned to the search engine to learn how to make soap and created his first batch in his kitchen while still in college. But not being satisfied with just selling a product, Simnick looked for a social entrepreneurship angle that would allow him to also give back. He combined the two ideas and brought in his friend (and future co-founder) Dan Doll. Together, they spent two years building a business after the regular work day. Once Whole Foods finally gave into their badgering and agreed to put the products in one store, they gained traction.
Why it’s a winner: Though it might be hard to believe, there are still places in the world that don’t have access to clean water and soap, nevermind proper bathrooms. Diseases that could be prevented through hygienic practices kill thousands of children worldwide every day. Even here in the U.S., where soap and water seem ubiquitous, people living in poverty struggle with procuring these staples. Soapbox Soaps provides bars of soap to shelters and food pantries throughout the country, in addition to communities worldwide.
What it is: Many employees with top-notch skills and leadership qualities are often overlooked (and therefore undervalued) when it comes to promotions. Syndio Social is looking to help break this cycle by providing tools to help identify internal influences and reward employees. In addition, Syndio Social looks to help companies streamline change, adopt new procedures faster and increase collaboration.
How it started: While attending Northwestern University Zachary Johnson was working at a startup record label. He couldn’t figure out how to leverage social media to help budding artists get online attention. Things changed after Johnson took a social-media analysis class taught by Noshir Contractor. After the course was completed, Johnson continued to work with Contractor on finding influential college students to help build buzz around his artists at the record label. Seeing the successful outcome, the duo wondered if they could emulate this strategy with businesses that needed help finding influential leaders in a corporate setting. Johnson created a business plan while still in school and Syndio Social launched the following year.
Why it’s a winner: With no outside funding, Syndio Social has doubled in size every year since its launch and has amassed a list of big-name brands like Exelon, P&G and Lurie Children’s Hospital. The company also got a hat tip from Entrepreneur magazine, as it was named one of the “100 Brilliant Companies” in 2014.
San Francisco, Calif.
What it is: Although businesses want to hear from their customers and adapt accordingly, the sheer number of channels available for customer engagement -- social media, emails, phone calls and Yelp reviews, to name a few -- can be hard to keep up with an impossible to sift through. Thankfully, UserVoice is here to help. The company gathers customer feedback in multiple forms and combines it with user analytics helping businesses get a better read on their users.
How it started: Back in 2006, founder and CEO Richard White was trying to figure out what his customers really thought about his calendar product. Scrutinizing emails, forums and comments was taking way too much time and not providing the information he needed. Realizing this was not just an issue for him, White set out to develop a product to help businesses gather information to improve their products. UserVoice launched in 2008 and in 2011 the company expanded its offerings to include a customer component, a helpdesk.
Why it’s a winner: The company has grown to include a huge user base of 25 million people, making it a huge B2B player. The widget is being used by both startups and Fortune 500 companies to manage customer feedback and support. Because of its success, the company in the most recent winner of the CRM Idol competition, beating out 70 other companies to be anointed “what’s next in CRM.”
New York, N.Y.
What it is: Vera Solutions is a B-Corp certified organization that builds cloud and mobile data systems for social-impact organizations. The company helps organizations collect, analyze and utilize programmatic data, streamline operations and better track their impact.
How it started: Co-founders Zak Kaufman, Taylor Downs and Karti Subramanian met in 2008 while working for an HIV-prevention organization in South Africa. Though the program staff was committed to using data effectively, vital information that could help inform changes and improvements was trapped in stacks of paper and spreadsheets that were only updated quarterly. Frustrated, the trio developed an application to help track beneficiary information including attendance, outcomes, testing and referrals. This new system had a huge impact, resulting in other organizations wanting a piece of the action. Vera Solutions was born with the mission to help organization streamline operations.
Why it’s a winner: Look at what Vera Solutions allows people to do, and ask yourself how it could ever NOT be included on this list. The organization has helped businesses track sanitation in Nairobi’s slums, organize farmers’ livelihoods in Mali and Senegal, automate a hotline for human trafficking in Asia and develop a solution for a grant-management platform to track more than $10 billion of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria programs in 140 countries.
VIP Waste Services
What it is: V.I.P. Waste Services is a startup focused on providing apartment communities doorstep pickup for recycling and trash.
How it started: When Jesse Lear and Travis Smith were roommates in an apartment building, they were irked with the inconvenience of the local trash and recycling programs. Realizing doorstep pickup was not available for their apartment building (or basically any complex in the midwest), they set out to change that. They quit their jobs as cable guys and founded V.I.P. Waste Services.
Why it’s a winner: While V.I.P. Waste Services helps apartment complexes stay clean, the company’s focus on recycling helps the environment as well. People who would not otherwise take the time to visit their closest recycling center can now filter out the reusable contents of their trash easily, without worrying about the hassle and logistics that come afterward. Because of this, the company has gained recognition from the National Apartment Alliance and The Metropreneur Columbus.
What it is: If advertisers, publishers, and agencies had a hammer, well, they just might use it to get more return from their digital ads. YellowHammer has created a “Performance Trading Platform” to help digital advertisers achieve higher impressions and positive ROI on their digital display ad campaigns. The team at YellowHammer, which consists of creative, media buying and engineering teams, creates new ad optimization and campaign management technologies designed to give advertisers true measures of performance.
How it started: Hagan Major and Joe Hirsch met when they were high school students in Alabama in 1999. The dotcom boom was in full swing and the boys both decided that they wanted to devote their professional lives to computers. When the online advertising agency where Major was working part time went out of business, he and Hirsch realised that they had the creativity and technological know-how to create an advertising network on their own. They built up a business but were forced to sell it during the dotcom bust. They decided to move to Los Angeles and start a different online advertising network, but had a falling out with their partners and moved back east. YellowHammer, which they named after the state bird of Alabama, is the result of the lessons they learned at their previous companies over the past 15 years.
Why it’s a winner: Digital advertising can often produce murky results, but YellowHammer wants to make things clearer. Thanks to taking on well-known clients like the digital coupon company LivingSocial, Jamba Juice and the online members-only shopping site Rue La La, the company has grown at an incredible speed. The number of employees nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013, jumping from 23 to 40.
What it is: Zivelo is a B2B company manufacturing touch-screen kiosks for businesses. So just like your sleek smartphones and tablets, customers don’t need to pound keys to enter in information but rather can swipe and tap to their delight. Clients range from the Fortune 100 companies like Coca Cola and CVS to nearly every branch of the U.S. government.
How it started: Founder Ziver Birg had been in the public computing industry for a few years reselling products for other businesses before he decided to start his company. He referred to this venture as “an $18,000 challenge,” and said that he decided to make his mark on the industry by keeping all of the positive aspects associated with kiosks and leaving behind the negative ones.
Why it’s a winner: While Zivelo has rapidly grown to become a leading self-service technology brand, the company is focused more on just the bottom line. While traveling in South Africa as a teenager, Birg met a young girl who was selling oranges on the street to earn money for her family. When Birg didn’t buy the fruit, the girl attempted to sell herself instead, leaving Birg shocked and upset. It was at that moment he decided that whatever he did with his life, it would be to help people like that young girl. So when Zivelo launched, Birg created a philanthropic arm known as the Zivelo Foundation. The foundation’s efforts include planting trees with every client order as well as donating proceeds from product sales. The Zivelo Foundation also offers significant discounts on products for projects that support economically and socially disadvantaged communities worldwide.