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Start-Ups Are Pummeled in the ‘Great Unwinding’ - The New York Times

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Start-Ups Are Pummeled in the ‘Great Unwinding’ - The New York TimesStart-Ups Are Pummeled in the ‘Great Unwinding’ - The New York TimesPosted: 01 Apr 2020 11:45 AM PDT SAN FRANCISCO — After a crush of travel cancellations in March, WanderJaunt, a short-term home rental start-up in San Francisco, laid off 56 of its 240 employees last week.Demand for services from Wonderschool, a start-up that helps people find day care and preschool providers, dropped by half, leading it to cut most of its 60-person staff.And at ClassPass, which offers a membership program for fitness classes, over 95 percent of revenue evaporated in just 10 days as studios and gyms around the world shut down. To survive, the start-up slashed spending, froze hiring and rushed to build a video streaming service for virtual workouts."This is the great unwinding," said Martin Pichinson, head of Sherwood Partners, a Silicon Valley advisory firm that restructures failed start-ups. In recent weeks, he said, his fir…

“Indian startups will gain from Nirmala Sitharaman's Budget 2020 - Quartz India” plus 3 more

“Indian startups will gain from Nirmala Sitharaman's Budget 2020 - Quartz India” plus 3 more


Indian startups will gain from Nirmala Sitharaman's Budget 2020 - Quartz India

Posted: 03 Feb 2020 10:12 PM PST

From our Obsession

Global Economic Disruptions

Globalization, automation, and inequality—oh my!

India's tech entrepreneurs couldn't be happier. After all, they were the stars of the country's union budget for financial year 2021.

The word "startup" found at least 15 mentions in Nirmala Sitharaman's budget speech on Feb. 1, and the finance minister doled out some long-standing wishes of the industry while announcing certain measures that tackle key pain points of the community.

"Budget 2020 and the finance minister's speech has well-articulated India's vision on not just being a leading provider of digital solutions, but one where technology is the bedrock of development and growth," Debjani Ghosh, president of IT industry body NASSCOM said in a statement.

From an infrastructure boost to easing tax burdens, this budget has proposed more benefits for Indian startups than most others in the past, and nobody's complaining.

The star of the show

Sitharaman's task this year was not an easy one given the need to stick to financial prudence while trying to boost a slowing economy.

But that did not stop her from pushing for startups and entrepreneurs at length.

"Startups have emerged as engines of growth for our economy," Sitharaman said. "…entrepreneurship has always been the strength of India. Even today, young men and women have given up greener pastures elsewhere to contribute to India's growth. They are risk-taking and come up with disruptive solutions to festering challenges…We recognise the knowledge, skills and risk-taking capabilities of our youth. He is no longer the job seeker. He is (a) creator of jobs. Now we wish to create more opportunities and remove road-blocks from his path."

One of the most significant announcements in the budget was the proposal to bring out a policy to allow private companies to build data-centre parks.

"The government is determined to transform the country into a digitally empowered society," said Mahesh Ramamoorthy, managing director for banking and payments across Asia Pacific, west Asia and Africa, at fintech solutions firm FIS. This proposed policy could "bring in technology, investment, and employment opportunity in the country while providing (a) platform for structured data storage and security. And, through leveraging economies of scale one can witness (a) lower cost of data ownership, and cost per transaction."

The hope now is that the government will execute this plan well, too. "We hope that this budget will be majorly focused on protecting the stored data especially of sectors like BFSI and large enterprises that consist major quantity of critical data," Dipesh Kaura, south Asia general manager at Kaspersky Lab said.

The budget has also proposed a seed fund to support ideation and development of early-stage startups. Additionally, the government is handholding startups on the path of innovation.

Let's talk tech

Besides the infra boost, the government has proposed an investment of Rs8,000 crore ($1.1 billion) over five years in its national mission on quantum technologies and applications. Entrepreneurs believe this could go a long way in giving a boost to the Indian economy.

"The government's focus on enhanced digital connectivity, and focus on emerging technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, along with the allocation towards quantum computing are sure to provide a fillip to India's economy," Vikas Garg, the deputy chief financial officer at digital payments firm Paytm, said.

In addition, the budget has proposed setting up of a digital platform to facilitate seamless application and capture of intellectual property rights (IPR).

Considering India's IP protection has been substandard so far, "a seamless digital platform for IP filing and clearances combined with accessible and inclusional knowledge transfer hubs can bring the new dawn to the culture of IP protection and patents in India," Shailesh Gupta, founder and CEO of Yolo Bus, said.

A nuanced look

In the past, India has often imposed on startups the same policies that govern older companies operating in legacy industries. Budget 2020, though, went a step forward in addressing the pain points of young companies.

For instance, the budget has suggested deferring the tax payment on employee stock option plan (ESOP) by five years or till an employee leaves the company or when he/she sells shares, whichever is earliest.

ESOPs are an important tool for young startups to attract and retain highly talented employees during the early years of business. But until now, employees needed to pay tax whenever they sign up for ESOPs with a vesting schedule and also pay taxes on capital gains whenever they redeem their ESOPs. "This leads to a cash-flow problem for the employees who do not sell the shares immediately and continue to hold the same for the long-term," Sitharaman said.

"By reducing the burden of tax on employees, the government has helped startups weaponise ESOPs programme even more," Gupta of Yolo Bus said. "The change in the tax structure for start-ups is sure to impact India's position in the "Global Ease of Doing Business" charts next year. It is a very clear sign to start-ups that the government has also invested in their success and would like to remove as many barriers that keep entrepreneurs awake at night."

Aside from the employees, startups themselves were also served tax reliefs. The budget promoted increasing the turnover limit from existing Rs25 crore to Rs100 crore for startups that are allowed the deduction of 100% of profits for three consecutive assessment years out of seven years.

"The higher time and turnover limits for carrying forward of losses for startups will enable them to optimise growth decisions in formative years," said Kunal Bahl, co-founder of e-commerce platform Snapdeal. The longer timeline "will allow startups to take more risks, innovate on a larger scale and contribute to the economy in a much more significant manner," Geetika Dayal, executive director of TiE Delhi-NCR, added.

Mainstreaming entrepreneurship

At a time when India's unemployment crisis is deepening, the Narendra Modi government has been advocating for entrepreneurship to revive job creation. But the business environment in the country has not been particularly nurturing for businessmen.

In July 2019, India's entrepreneur community was left baffled when Cafe Coffee Day founder V G Siddhartha was found dead after supposedly being hounded by regulators and the taxman for alleged financial irregularities. There have been several other cases where entrepreneurs in the country have been arm twisted by taxmen.

Sitharaman, in a rather surprising move, took the issue head-on in her budget speech. "Our government would like to reassure taxpayers that we remain committed to taking measures so that our citizens are free from harassment of any kind," she said. "There has been a debate about building into statutes, criminal liability for acts that are civil in nature. Hence, for Companies Act, certain amendments are proposed to be made that will correct this. Similarly, other laws would also be examined, where such provisions exist and attempts would be made to correct them."

The budget also proposed setting up an investment clearance cell via a portal that will provide end-to-end facilitation and support, including pre-investment advisory, information related to land banks, and facilitation of clearances at the centre and state level.

"This budget has informed the industry of the empathy the government caters towards Indian enterprises. This positive sentiment is evident in the government's drive to roll out 'no tax harassment' policies along with the establishment of the investment clearance cell for assisting entrepreneurs in India," said Padmaja Ruparel, founding partner of the Indian Angel Network Fund.

Built In Chicago's 50 Startups to Watch in 2020 - Built In Chicago

Posted: 21 Jan 2020 12:00 AM PST

Built In Chicago's 50 Startups to Watch in 2020 | Built In Chicago

Arturo wants to take property risk management to the skies by using drones and satellite, aerial and ground imagery to assess residential and commercial property characteristics. The data it collects is powered by predictive analytics to give clients that lend, insure or invest in properties the ability to minimize risk and determine market patterns. The company is a spin-out of American Family Insurance and has a team of around 24 employees. Arturo closed an undisclosed seed funding round last year and emerged from stealth mode. 

Ballbox kiosk
ballbox

There's a lot of planning that goes into a day at the beach or park. With so many items to remember to bring — sunscreen, food, towels and more — it can be easy to forget something vital. BallBox wants to ease the pains of packing by offering locker-style kiosks filled with outdoor-ready items. Users can select the items they wish to rent — like volleyballs, Bluetooth speakers or swimming goggles — and pay via credit card on the locker's touch screen. Items are then presented to the renter, who can also use the locker for storing their own equipment. Following a seed funding of $315,000, BallBox installed a locker unit at North Avenue beach last summer, as well as one in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The company plans to extend its service to parks, hotels, apartment complexes and other public areas in the future.

Beaxy Digital team
Beaxy exchange

Trading in traditional markets has some sense of stability, with its up-to-the-second updates and regulations. Beaxy Exchange is a trading platform aimed at making cryptocurrency management and exchanges as viable as traditional trading. The platform launched last June — 60,000 people signed up pre-launch — and gave users the capability to trade nine order types across 43 states and 185 countries. It runs on OneMarketData technology, which is also used by NASDAQ, Bloomberg and other trading networks. Additionally, the company implements security measures that comply with stock market and banking regulations. Beaxy has raised $8 million in funding to date. 

BloXroute Labs team
BloXroute Labs

BloXroute Labs works to scale the on-chain transaction capabilities of blockchains (think thousands of transactions per second) without changing their protocol. The company recently launched the first version of its blockchain distribution network, which uses techniques like internal caching, cut-through routing and optimized topology to propagate blocks and transactions more quickly. The bloXroute team has scaled from five to 20 people since early 2018 and is currently hiring additional staff to service the more than half-dozen blockchains on the platform. BloXroute raised a $10 million Series B in May and has plans to add more features and blockchain projects in 2020. 

BookingKoala team
BookingKoala

For service businesses looking for a tool to help them scale, stay organized and digitize their operations, BookingKoala has emerged to help. Founded in 2017, BookingKoala offers a number of marketing, management and organizational features for service-based businesses operated by home cleaners, barbers and pet groomers. Prospective users can choose between starter, growing and premium packages, each with a progressively more robust selection of features. The company has seen incremental seed funding since its founding.

Bossy Chicago founder and fans
Emily-Melissa Photography

Where you spend your money matters, and Bossy Chicago's platform serves as a directory for users to connect with local women- and non-binary-owned small businesses. Bossy's aim is to shift the purchasing power of its users toward businesses run by traditionally marginalized groups. The bootstrapped platform hosts more than 400 online and physical businesses across retail, food and beverage, fitness and more. Bossy is looking to expand to other cities in the future.

BrokerX team
Brokerx

Did you know some energy brokers still use Excel sheets and sometimes write reports by hand? Leaders at BrokerX said the energy brokerage space is full of time-consuming and antiquated processes, which is why they're working to bring the industry into the digital age. The startup's cloud-based system offers a suite of features designed to streamline workflows for energy agents, including a full customer relationship management system, an automation-based pricing engine, a contract generator and a soon-to-be-released analytics suite. 

Cameo team
cameo

Snoop Dogg, Manny Pacquiao, and Marlon and Shawn Wayans are but a few of the more than 15,000 celebrities you can receive a video message from via Cameo. The company's platform enables famous individuals to send custom video messages to paying users. Since its founding in 2017, the company has been moving quickly: amassing and growing its substantial celebrity base, facilitating upward of 30,000 messages, hiring more than 100 employees and raising over $65 million in total funding. Following a $50 million Series B in June of 2019, the company plans to expand the platform's reach internationally and further its domestic scaling efforts.

Carlease man with keys
shutterstock

Carlease is a multi-faceted vehicle-leasing company and services provider. Consumers and businesses can use the web-based platform to get transparent pricing on vehicles based on their needs and budgets. The company automates processes like finding the lowest rates for desired vehicles and adding manufacturer and dealer incentives to every lease. Carlease also has the capability to deliver chosen vehicles to homes and offices, and offers an end-to-end fleet management platform for car-leasing businesses. The company raised a $3.5 million funding round in 2018. It currently serves users in the Upper Midwest but has plans to extend its reach nationally.

Clearstep team
clearstep

Clearstep wants people to stop googling their symptoms — and assuming the worst — every time they feel sick. The company's AI-powered platform is designed to replace search engines and help people find the answers and care they need. Users describe their symptoms to a chatbot, which offers recommendations for over-the-counter medicines and assistance in price-checking and scheduling doctor's visits. Clearstep has raised $400,000 in funding and was one of the inaugural members of the Minneapolis-based and Techstars-run UnitedHealthcare Accelerator.

Cohesion team
cohesion

Cohesion aims to usher in a new wave of connectivity within commercial real estate buildings. The startup's IoT platform integrates systems, streamlines operations and connects communities for property owners, managers and tenants. Features include access control, maintenance and HVAC management, visitor management, amenity reservations, communications and many others. The platform also has a patents-pending digital twin that simulates what's happening inside a property based on building data and variables like human actions, and even the weather, to feed actionable insights back to the building. Cohesion has already been deployed in 2.2 million-square-feet of Class A office space, with another 5 million contracted and expected to come this year. The company is also raising its first round of seed funding to scale its operations. 

Dental SMARTmirror in use
Dental SMARTmirror

Many people do not enjoy dentist visits, which is why Dental SMARTmirror is working to make the experience more high-tech and efficient for dentists and patients. The company produces a Wi-Fi-enabled handheld mirror capable of streaming 400-by-400 resolution videos. The device gives dentists and patients greater visibility into oral care at 30 frames per second. The mirror has 36 LEDs with adjustable intensity and 12-times magnification coming from a fog- and scratch-resistant lens. Dentists can manage the device through an iPad app, which integrates with the office's practice management software. New features are in development, and the company is currently running a pilot program with dentists worldwide to get feedback on the device. 

Draftbit product
draftbit

Need an app but don't have time to learn code or hire a developer? Draftbit can help. The company provides an in-browser platform from which users can efficiently make their own mobile apps. Creation is as easy as dragging and dropping customizable elements where they're needed. Live previews are testable during the building process, and the React Native code is ready to export or publish from the platform. Draftbit — still in beta — was founded in 2018 by three Chicago tech veterans: the former managing director of Techstars Chicago, Brian Luerssen, and two early engineers at Trunk Club and Drivin, Peter Piekarczyk and Donald Hruska, respectively. The growing company raised a $1 million seed round in April. 

Drugviu co-founder Kwaku Owusu
DrugViu

Only 6 percent of clinical trials and medication research involve non-white participants, so it has proven difficult for racial minorities to review their specific experiences using different medications. Drugviu, founded in 2019 by Melanie Igwe and Kwaku Owusu, hopes to foster a community that improves awareness of the effectiveness and side effects for different racial groups when taking under-researched medications. The startup saw a pre-seed funding round of $200,000 in May. Currently, DrugViu is sourcing more minorities into clinical trials and is forming partnerships with clinics and other public health organizations.

easymove founder
Easymove

A new year often signifies the opportunity for a fresh start, and what better way to start anew than getting rid of junk? Easymove helps remove unwanted belongings from users' homes. A user simply makes a request through the app, and Easymove dispatches professional movers to complete the process for a negotiated price. The company was founded in 2018 and is currently operating in six cities, with more planned for later this year. Following $100,000 in seed funding, Easymove is hauling in new engineering, operations, marketing and product team members.

EmBorrow women chatting
EmBorrow

Fertility treatments are becoming increasingly common among couples. But the process is still a sensitive topic to many people who use IVF, which often comes with a hefty out-of-pocket cost. Founded in 2018 by Kathrin Deutschle and Michael Anzola, emBorrow offers eligible users a simple, three-step process to secure fertility procedure financing. It also opens users to a community of people with experience navigating the rigors of fertility treatment and a network of fertility-focused doctors and nurses. The company — a member of 1871's 10th WiSTEM cohort — currently operates in Illinois but is planning expansions to New York, Florida and Texas. 

Evati product shot
evati

Whether saving for retirement, a vacation or a new bike, users can turn to Evati's investment algorithm to help reach their financial goals. Using Evati's mobile-based platform, consumers set custom targets and add personal funding. Then a financial formula helps invest funds in model portfolios designed by Morningstar Investment Management, a subsidiary of Morningstar, Inc. Investments are continuously monitored and progress toward financial goals is tracked on the platform. Evati works not only as a direct-to-consumer app but also as a white-label service for financial advisors. Since its founding in Evanston in 2017, Evati has raised $1.3 million in seed funding. 

Five to Nine team
five to nine

Exactly how impactful are a company's employee resource group events or management workshops? Five to Nine helps businesses discover the answer to that question through its event management and analytics platform. Employees can use the platform to schedule and manage events, as well as integrate and automate workflows across Gmail, Slack and other services. Data, like event participation and feedback, is provided once events conclude. Five to Nine had a big year in 2019, as it raised just over $1 million in seed funding and CEO and Co-Founder Jasmine Shells was recognized on Forbes' "30 Under 30" list.

Forager team working
forager

Forager specializes in streamlining cross-border freight operations in Mexico and Canada for carriers and shippers. The company's co-founder is Matt Silver, the son of Coyote Logistics founder Jeff Silver who sold the company to UPS in 2015 for $1.8 billion. The company, which raised a $3.25 million seed round in September, is reportedly using the funding to build out its engineering team and develop its recently-launched flagship platform, SCOUT. The new platform allows for instant pricing and booking of cross-border shipments. 

physical coins with crytocurrency logos on them
shutterstock

Cryptocurrencies have gained significant traction in the last few years, which is why FRST is offering technology that helps market workers perceive, categorize and act upon market transactions involving digital assets. Founded in 2017 by Jonas Frost and Patrick Gorrell, the FRST platform currently offers enterprise-grade digital asset trading data for both Bitcoin and Ethereum wallets and traders. Termed an "on-chain performance company," FRST created its own nodes for both Bitcoin and Ethereum, enabling companies to understand the intent behind the data on the road to building better trading strategies. The Chicago-based company secured a $3.4 million round of funding in 2018 that it used to further develop its platform and hire additional engineers.

Fyllo dispensary sign
shutterstock

Since 2012, 11 states and Washington D.C. have voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, with recent legalizations in Illinois and Michigan. This burgeoning industry can be tough for entrepreneurs to navigate, which is where Fyllo comes in. The startup aids CBD and cannabis companies in creating a marketing strategy within the shifting industry. Fyllo's platform uses AI and a proprietary algorithm to monitor federal, state and local rulings in real time, ensuring brands are marketing to the correct demographics to avoid fines and legal action. The company raised a $16 million seed round in September and is currently hiring an additional 20 to 30 people out of its new Fulton Market office. 

Woman using Gather Voices tech
gather voices

Producing high-quality videos can be difficult and time-consuming for companies. Gather Voices says it offers businesses a simpler solution by giving them the resources they need to record videos on their own time using their personal phones. The software walks users through how to record well-crafted videos on their devices. Videos are then uploaded to a Gather Voices library, where they can be edited, captioned and published on the platform in a few steps. The company also provides its customers with kiosks for multiple users to record videos in succession. Gather Voices has raised just over $1 million in seed funding to date, with the most recent raise coming in September 2019.

HealthChampion CEO
healthchampion

What if an app could digest all of the information from disparate health records and give patients a personalized plan to conquer their biggest health issues? HealthChampion aims to provide just that. The platform pulls in health data from all of a person's healthcare providers — physicians, therapists and trainers — and even includes information from wearables that track fitness and other medical devices. Based on that data, the platform uses machine learning technology to craft a personalized health program users can follow to improve their wellness, care for an elderly parent or manage a child's asthma. Records are backed up via the cloud and the platform enables direct communication with a user's network of health professionals. 

Honest Game co-founders
honest game

Honest Game is automating the process of determining the eligibility of high school athletes to play collegiate sports. A member of WiSTEM's 10th cohort, the company created a platform that compares a student athlete's courses, grades and standardized test scores against requirements to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The platform can also devise customized recommendations for how students can achieve or maintain their eligibility and presents them through a dashboard. Using Honest Game's technology, colleges and universities can track KPIs like graduation rates, college scholarships and student attendance. Honest Game has inked partnerships with Evanston High School, Niles North High School and other local organizations, and is looking to increase its reach in 2020. 

Journey Foods logo in office
journey foods

Journey Foods is on a mission to infuse snacks with nourishment, deliciousness and artificial intelligence. Its nutritional database and research arm analyzes millions of ingredients based on nutrition, taste and texture. The company then uses its AI-powered database to help food manufacturers find off-the-beaten-menu ingredients and craft healthier or more unique recipes that better align with their goals. Journey Foods also uses those insights to create its own consumer-facing micro-foods, which are cubes of nutrient-dense, all-natural fruit and vegetable purees meant to be used as healthy snacks for people of all ages. There are currently two flavors of micro-foods available on the company website and Amazon, with more expected to release in the future. 

Yacht crusing through the open water K4 Mobility
k4 mobility

K4 Mobility is bringing web surfing to the open seas. The company provides broadband service to 80-foot and longer sea vessels using a proprietary algorithm that finds the best satellite or land-based networks available. Yachts, cruise lines and commercial shipping and fishing crafts are all serviceable through the platform. The company was founded by CEO Michael Small who previously led Gogo, which used similar technology to bring broadband to commercial airplanes. K4 Mobility raised a $5.2 million seed round in April 2019 that it used to expand the platform's reach.

Leveled Pro co-founders
leveled pro

Home renovation projects can become a headache for everyone involved. Leveled Pro allows homeowners, investors and contractors to stay on the same page throughout project lifespans, offering all parties a specific set of features to ensure the project's success. In the app, homeowners can track progress, investors can manage expenses to optimize ROI, and contractors can manage and verify the necessary funds. The WiSTEM graduate hopes to expand outside the home and take on commercial construction projects in the future.

Young people volunteering - Little Lion
shutterstock

"Social good" isn't just a trendy phrase; it's becoming an increasingly important factor for employees across the workforce. Little Lion is tapping into this market by offering employers services aimed at increasing the number of altruistic initiatives they participate in. The WiSTEM graduate's growth platform connects companies with social impact advisors and charts a course for them to scale their philanthropic efforts while providing a metrics system to track growth. Little Lion also offers individual workshops that teach staff about topics like the importance of having a purpose-driven culture and how to manage work while raising a child. 

Livly team members
livly

Relationships between property managers and residents can be defined by miscommunication, thanks to outdated tenant portals and antiquated rental payment systems. Livly aims to increase the two parties' ability to coordinate with one another with its self-described "operating system for physical spaces." For residents, Livly offers a single space to manage rent payments, package deliveries and on-demand services. For property managers, the startup offers a communication tool, as well as maintenance and unit status management. The company has grown quickly in the proptech space since its inception, raising $10 million in funding in March and housing 60 employees in its Chicago office. 

Mavely team
mavely

Mavely is helping consumers earn money while they shop by partnering with retailers and giving users cash-back incentives via its app. By doing so, Mavely gives direct-to-consumer companies exposure to the app's more than 15,000 community members, letting brands circumvent the costs of advertising on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The company raised $1 million in funding in August and is actively adding more retailers to its platform, which currently includes 200 brands. 

MyStrongCircle team
MyStrongCircle

When fitness enthusiasts enroll in multiple memberships to meet all of their fitness needs, costs can add up. MyStrongCircle hopes to alleviate some of that financial stress by offering bundles of users' preferred gyms and studios with unlimited access for a single monthly cost. The MyStrongCircle app allows users to customize their fitness selections and book directly through the platform. Founded in 2018 by Borislava Baeva, the company has already secured 20 partnerships and will soon launch in Chicago, which now has an active waitlist. Whether users want to combine pilates with indoor cycling or boxing with a more traditional gym, MyStrongCircle's goal is to help them to break a sweat without breaking the bank.

NativeERP - empty commercial property
shutterstock

NativeERP is an enterprise resource-planning solution made for real estate that's built on Salesforce. The customizable service is capable of optimizing and automating workflows for real estate verticals including commercial, hotel, student housing and even RV sites. Acquisitions, operations, utility management and many other duties are managed through more than a dozen built-in components, accessible in a centralized location. Following a $2 million seed funding from March 2019, the platform is expected to evolve and the company plans to expand nationally. 

NestEgg team
nestegg

NestEgg is a multi-sided resource for property owners to manage their units. The platform allows tenants and owners to submit maintenance requests to the company's help center. Then, NestEgg's rental experts diagnose the problem and let owners review and book a professional from the company's network of discounted service providers. The company handles all coordination of services, and work progress is tracked within the platform. NestEgg's team can provide owners with free advice on property management, tenant issues and more, and the platform also works as a rent collection portal. The company raised over $1 million in seed funding last year.

Omega Grid energy plant
shutterstock

The clean energy effort is full steam ahead, and consumers can now earn rewards for their energy-conscious efforts. Founded in 2017, Omega Grid plans to be a part of a new era of energy where blockchain tech is implemented into the fabric of existing power infrastructure. Specifically, Omega Grid has developed a blockchain-based software that could potentially allow peer-to-peer management of energy resources, rather than relying on traditional utilities. Omega Grid recently developed a partnership with the utility Ameren, implementing Omega Grid's software into Ameren's experimental microgrid.

Orderve team
orderve

For restaurant chefs in need of ostrich filets for their next Saturday night dinner special, Orderve is here to make the ordering process a little easier. The startup offers a marketplace that connects chefs with vendors large and small who sell specific food items in bulk shipments. Dairy, protein and dry goods are searchable by distinctions including "lactose-free," "fair-trade certified," "grass-fed," "hormone-free" and more. 

Rhaeos team
Rhaeos

Hydrocephalus occurs when water builds up within the cavities of the brain, causing brain damage. Those who suffer from hydrocephalus — around 1 million individuals annually— have a new option to moderate the side effects of the ailment. Founded in 2018 by John Rogers, Amit Ayer and Siddharth Krishnan, Rhaeos offers a bandage-sized shunt monitor to potentially prevent the side effects of hydrocephalus before they happen. The FlowSense monitor, which is placed on the neck, detects the presence and magnitude of cerebrospinal fluid. Data is then relayed to a mobile app where patients and doctors can make a more informed medical decision. Rhaeos is currently working to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Speciate AI - man looking at graphs on iPad
shutterstock

It's crucial for a company to keep a pulse on how customers feel about its brand, product and mission. Speciate AI wants to provide more clear insights on this information through an AI-powered platform that digests unstructured user data from videos, images, reviews and audio recordings. The platform then gives companies insight into the effectiveness of their marketing strategies and analyzes how they stack up against competitors. Co-Founders Kate Besser and Paul Blase tapped into their backgrounds in market strategy and data analysis to launch the company in 2018, the same year they raised $2 million in seed funding. 

Specifix app
Specifix

Though Specifix is one of the many Chicago tech companies that's in the B2B software space, it's one of only a handful that specializes in augmented reality software. The startup's technology is used by companies in the paving and flooring industries to give customers a better idea of what carpet swatches and pavement samples could look like once installed. The company's tech is available as a white-label iOS app and web application. 

TaxProper - man filling out form with coins visible
shutterstock

Real estate tech company taxProper had a strong 2019. The company was part of Y Combinator's summer cohort and its co-founders, Geoff Segal and Thomas Dowling, were recognized in Forbes "30 Under 30" Law & Policy list. TaxProper developed machine learning software that automates property tax assessment appeals, enabling homeowners to save significantly in property taxes. 

The Small Exchange leader
The Small Exchange

The Small Exchange is a customer-focused futures exchange for investors. CEO and company President Donnie Roberts started the company to give members of the public access to proprietary futures products that were once exclusive to institutional investors due to the large size of the futures. The Small Exchange reduces the size of the products to make them more manageable and accessible to more traders. His mission was supported by a $10 million investment in May of 2019, which was used to expand The Small Exchange team. 

Tillable team
tillable

Tillable wants to help landowners and farmers harvest big wins. Tillable is a data-centric service that gives landowners additional options for renting farmland and helps farmers find available land to rent. Tillable provides a one- or three-year rental agreement to the landowner and manages the land for the lease's duration. Farmers place blind bids on properties they wish to cultivate, and Tillable considers details like past yields, growing history and more to select the best fit. Once a farmer rents a space, they're able to track details like soil management, fertilizer usage and more via Tillable's reporting tools, all of which are reported back to the landowner. The company raised an $8.25 million Series A in February and used the financing to double its staff and deepen the data it provides. 

Transistor.fm co-founders
Transistor.fm

Once a podcast's recording sessions conclude, there's still a lot of work to be done. Transistor.fm handles the publishing, distribution and analytics of a podcast, using an episode's MP3 file or the RSS feed of the entire show. The two-person company — consisting of Co-Founders Jon Buda and Justin Jackson — then publishes podcast episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and other host platforms. Other services include website creation for customers' podcasts and embedding technology that enables direct listening on webpages and in tweets. 

TruckPark staff in front of big rig
TruckPark

Finding parking in the city sometimes feels like a Herculean task. Now, imagine trying to find a spot for a 70-foot semi-truck. TruckPark's app provides freight haulers nationwide with their choice of secured parking spots for up to 12 hours by connecting them with private lot owners. Beyond individual drivers, the platform also caters to partners that can ensure safe and reserved parking for entire driver fleets, efforts that were bolstered by a $500,000 seed funding raised in 2018.

Twisted Road team with motorcycles
Twisted Road

Access to rental cars is considered a given for most, but for motorcyclists, the road to renting has historically been fraught with speed bumps. Founded in 2017, Twisted Road allows owners to list their bikes for rental to prospective riders who, once verified, can search by brand, location or price to find the perfect ride. In just over two years of operation, and with a team of fewer than 10 employees, Twisted Road has seen its platform take root in 49 states. 

Unifyed team
Unifyed

Life at a college — for students and administrators both — is a busy time. Between admissions, financial aid and class management, students and staff have a lot to handle. Unifyed's platform, which offers education management software from top to bottom, is currently employed at more than 850 colleges and universities in seven countries. The company raised a $5 million Series A round in its founding year of 2017, and in October of 2019, signed a 10-year, $2.8 million contract with Western Illinois University.

UpHold Health team
UpHold Health

Uphold Health is working to personalize and streamline end-of-life health care for patients. The company, a graduate of healthtech incubator MATTER, pairs patients with a licensed clinical social worker who guides them through ideal treatment and care options based on their wants and needs. It combines consultation with technology and has a number of features on the platform, including educational resources for patients, care documentation, integration with healthcare systems and an employee benefit portal. Uphold expanded to Houston and Boston in 2019 and aims to raise seed funding in 2020. 

Valqari team
Valqari

First, there was two-day shipping worldwide. Now, Valqari wants drones to deliver packages. The company has developed a mailbox intended to be usable by virtually any drone, where the machines can land and deliver parcels to a secure storage container. Valquari recently inked a partnership with Sprint, becoming the first smart mailbox to connect to its HTC 5G Hub. To date, the company has raised $1 million in funding.

Vistasuite team
vistasuite

If a picture says a thousand words, what happens when teams can share photos (and videos) and discuss them on message boards? Vistasuite hosts a mobile and desktop-based visual communication, collaboration and storage platform for small to enterprise-level businesses. Users can upload media to customizable hubs where those with access can view, comment on, favorite or download shared media. Vistasuite works to eliminate the need for teams to discuss images in lengthy email chains where attachments can easily be lost. The company has raised almost $1 million in seed funding since founding to help spur those efforts. 

zerv - phone being used as access reader
shutterstock

Zerv wants to turn cellphones into keys. The company's hardware and software make digital access readers found on apartment buildings, garage doors, hotel rooms and office buildings unlockable via Bluetooth. A member of the hardware incubator mHUB, Zerv creates digital skeleton keys that can integrate directly with their target access points — without requiring upgrades to existing systems. Following a $750,000 seed round in January 2019, Zerv is gearing up to produce around 10,000 hardware units and is looking to raise more capital. 

About Built In Chicago's 50 Startups to Watch in 2020
Once each year, Built In Chicago hand-selects startups that have the vision, team, focus and funding to drive innovation within the tech community. For our 50 Startups to Watch in 2020 list, we chose local companies founded within the past three years that we believe have positioned themselves for rapid growth and scaling in the year to come.

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8 Best Industries for Starting a Business in 2020 - Inc.

Posted: 04 Feb 2020 03:08 AM PST

When you're considering starting your own business, one of the first questions to ask yourself is: Does my company fulfill an actual market need? Success as an entrepreneur requires bringing solutions to market, and too many startups today are really just solutions in search of a problem.

For aspiring entrepreneurs, Inc.'s 2020 Best Industries report, a list of the best industries for starting a business, serves as a roadmap for finding the most promising opportunities. Every year, we speak with industry experts and crunch the latest data to identify areas of the economy that are primed for new entrants. Read on to see which sectors are welcoming tomorrow's fastest-growing startups.

Clean Water Services

No one can afford to ignore the safety of our most precious natural resource: water. Managing and monitoring drinking water quality is a significant opportunity for entrepreneurs who can protect public health by delivering solutions at scale. Companies in this sector are also working on developing new sources of drinkable water.

Why it's growing: The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has raised awareness about the harmful effects of contaminants, making water filtration an important issue for consumers and enterprises across the U.S.

Barriers to entry: Building systems that connect water testing hardware and software can require significant investment.

The downside: Companies working on clean water initiatives have not been popular investment targets for venture capitalists.

Competition: Xylem and Danaher are public companies with multiple brands in the clean water sector. Zero Mass Water, backed by Bill Gates's billion-dollar Breakthrough Energy Ventures, created a $2,000 solar panel that draws drinkable water out of thin air.

Forecast: Investment in U.S. companies addressing declining water quality has grown 25 percent to $50.7 million in the past five years, according to data and research company PitchBook.

Gender-Neutral Personal Care

Gone are the days when personal-care products were categorized as "beauty" for women and "grooming" for men. A growing group of startups are now making moisturizers, deodorants, shampoos, fragrances, and other products that lead with their ingredient lists and don't target a particular gender. 

Why it's growing: Many consumers, especially younger ones, are rejecting traditionally gendered products in favor of nonbinary options. More men are also embracing skin care regimens and following other wellness trends.

Barriers to entry: It's easier than ever to develop a product and start selling it online, says Larissa Jensen, vice president and beauty industry adviser at market research firm NPD Group. Customers are willing to try new things and aren't loyal to established brands. But with so many companies in the industry, you'll have to do more to stand out.

The downside: Distribution can be a challenge. High-end specialty stores that spotlight gender-neutral brands are a growing segment of the market, but have limited reach, while larger cosmetics retailers and department stores remain very gendered. Customer concerns about sustainability and skin-irritating synthetic ingredients are also driving demand for "clean" formulas and eco-friendly packaging, which can be expensive to develop.

Competition: Not only are new "indie" personal-care brands popping up every year, but large consumer-goods companies and luxury brands like Lululemon and Gucci are increasingly offering gender-neutral options as well. Aesop and Deciem (the parent company of skincare brand the Ordinary) are two of the most prominent companies that market their products, including moisturizers and face oils, based on ingredient formulas rather than gender.

Forecast: Market researcher CB Insights named "expanding inclusive beauty" among the industry trends with significant momentum in 2020, and noted that men's and gender-neutral personal-care products are both growing sectors. The pending billion-dollar acquisition of men's shaving startup Harry's and billion-dollar deal for Dollar Shave Club, the latter of which has shifted to gender-neutral marketing, offered early evidence of the industry's growth.

Gun Violence Prevention

In the wake of mass shootings, businesses, schools, and other organizations are investing in security consultants and technology to help them prepare for the unthinkable. Companies in this industry provide employee training and surveillance tools and work with organizations to develop policies to prevent--and, if necessary, respond to--violent incidents.

Why it's growing: There were 417 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2019, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. In a 2019 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, nearly half of HR professionals said their organization had experienced a workplace-violence incident, and half of those said an incident had occurred within the past year. These tragedies can happen anywhere, so a wide variety of organizations are turning to outside firms for guidance.

Barriers to entry: Businesses must make sure the policies they develop are compliant with state and local laws regarding surveillance, weapons possession, and profiling, as well as HR regulations, according to Matthew Doherty, senior vice president of threat and risk management at Hillard Heintze, a risk-management consulting firm. Many founders in this industry have military or law-enforcement backgrounds, but that's not sufficient for a well-rounded operation, Doherty cautions. It's important to find your niche and then hire for the skills you don't have, whether that's technical security experts, intelligence analysts, engineers, or even psychologists. "Don't purport yourself to be an expert on everything," he says.

The downside: Gun violence is a sensitive topic, and it can take time and effort to build relationships with clients. There's also disagreement about best practices in this emerging industry: There is little independent research to show that any particular security measure is effective in reducing gun deaths or injuries, while there is evidence that active-shooter drills can be traumatic. Liability can be an issue, too, if participants are injured during drills or if security firms run afoul of regulations.

Competition: As high-profile shootings spur more conversation about safety measures, expect more existing security consultancies to shift their focus to active-shooter training, and equipment vendors to start pushing products like reinforced doors, panic buttons, and cutting-edge surveillance systems. The Alice Training Institute, founded in 2000 after the Columbine shooting, is the country's most prominent for-profit provider of active-shooter training. Startups have also proliferated in the industry; Tomahawk Strategic Solutions, which runs active-shooter drills and sells equipment to law enforcement, brought in $2.8 million in revenue in 2018.

Forecast: There are few statistics that encompass the entire industry, but market research firm IHS Markit estimates the U.S. market for security equipment and services for educational institutions--things like surveillance cameras, high-security doors, and metal detectors--will grow to $3.2 billion in 2022, from $2.5 billion in 2017. A 2019 Wall Street Journal survey of 800 small businesses found that 35 percent of business owners have taken steps to prevent workplace violence or plan to do so.

Healthier Junk Foods

Healthy diets are all the rage, but Americans still crave chips and cookies. As a result, companies are inventing new kinds of packaged foods made with minimally processed fruits and vegetables, as well as snacks that mimic the taste and texture of popular junk foods but have fewer calories and artificial ingredients.

Why it's growing: Health-conscious consumers are seeking out better-for-you versions of their favorite snacks. Some consumers assume products labeled with terms like "vegan" and "sugar-free" don't taste as good as ones packed with salt, fat, and sugar, so startups are aiming to strike a new balance between indulgence and health.

Barriers to entry: Businesses in this industry face many of the same hurdles as those in any packaged-food sector, including acquiring sufficient startup capital for manufacturing and product development, finding distributors, managing logistics, and meeting FDA and other regulations. 

The downside: Competition is fierce for shelf space at national grocery chains like Whole Foods. The biggest snack-food producers, which have a firm foothold in the market and are able to keep their prices down, are increasingly diversifying their offerings with healthier options. 

Competition: Aside from the many smaller companies making less-processed healthy snacks like dried fruit and kale chips, startups in this industry will have to take on big brands like General Mills-owned Annie's, whose products include organic alternatives to Cheez-Its and Chex Mix. "Low-calorie products from large brands have grown at a much faster rate than high-calorie products over the past decade," according to IBISWorld. Up-and-coming brands include Peatos, which makes a crunchy Cheetos alternative using pea protein, and Snacklins, which offers a meatless pork rind made with mushrooms, onions, and yuca.

Forecast: In the U.S., snack food production is a growing category that was valued at $43 billion in 2019, according to IBISWorld. Healthier snacks are driving much of that growth, as Millennial consumers boost demand for lower-calorie, organic, and gluten-free options.

Next-Wave Logistics

Third-party logistics companies only recently began crunching data to drive greater efficiencies. The industry's increased reliance on automation has helped create opportunities for software companies that can match shippers with trucks and optimize the movement of freight, among other services.

Why it's growing: Truckers are producing more and more data on driving time, miles driven, and engine performance, which digital freight brokerages can use in conjunction with sophisticated GPS systems. Plus, a 2016 federal law required many commercial vehicles to electronically log data about their operations. 

Barriers to entry: Attracting engineers to the comparatively unsexy logistics industry is a significant challenge. 

The downside: Compared with the $86.5 billion overall freight brokerage market, the market for bolt-on software is small: Supply-chain consultancy Armstrong & Associates estimates it at $3.2 billion.

Competition: FourKites, Project 44, and MacroPoint allow shippers, brokers, and carriers to track products in transit, while HubTran and Triumph Pay focus on automating freight brokers' back offices. Uber Freight and Convoy are also large players in third-party logistics.

Forecast: U.S. freight industry revenue is expected to increase 54 percent to $1.6 trillion by 2030, while overall freight tonnage is expected to grow 26 percent to $20.6 billion, according to the American Trucking Associations.

Pet Wearables

Health and wellness monitoring devices are not just for humans. Growing awareness about pets' physical and mental health is driving demand for wellness data on animals, while GPS tracking devices are becoming increasingly popular.

Why it's growing: U.S. pet care spending in 2018 reached a record high of $72.6 billion, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Barriers to entry: Since it's still a nascent industry, the barriers to entry are low relative to many other consumer electronics categories.

The downside: Wearables represent just a small segment of the overall pet care category. Other products competing for consumers' dollars include beds, collars, leashes, toys, travel items, clothing and other accessories.

Competition: Whistle and FitBark focus on dog health and location trackers, while Garmin and Motorola offer a variety of products that aid in dog tracking and training.

Forecast: The global pet wearables market is expected to grow to $1.7 billion in 2024 from $703 million in 2019, according to data from research firm MarketsandMarkets.

Space Technology

America's private space industry is booming thanks to the declining costs of sending rockets to space and the increasing availability of launch vehicles. Advances in commercial electronics have enabled even hobbyists and high-school students to build small satellites that have reached orbit. While the U.S. government is one of the world's largest procurers of satellite data, Earth imagery taken by satellites will soon be in high demand from farmers, first responders, and scientists.

Why it's growing: The rise of companies like  SpaceX and Blue Origin have helped bring the number of global rocket launches to around 100 per year, while demand has grown for increasingly high-resolution satellite imagery.

Barriers to entry: While launch prices but are coming down, hitching a ride on any rocket remains an expensive proposition.    

The downside: Launch failure is a significant risk for every launch vehicle, regardless of past performance.

Competition: U.S. companies focusing on Earth-imaging satellites include Capella Space, Planet Labs, and Spire. Among the international competitors are Italy's e-GEOS and Japan's Synspective.

Forecast: Venture capital investment in space technology companies has grown to $2.27 billion in 2019 from $2.6 million in 2011, according to market data provider PitchBook.

Sustainable Consumer Goods

It's not just plastic straws: A wave of high-tech startups and innovative consumer-goods brands are developing reusable, recyclable, and compostable alternatives for a range of household products.

Why it's growing: The escalating climate crisis has prompted a growing consensus that consumers need to end their reliance on plastic. Many U.S. cities and a few states have issued bans or taxes on single-use plastic bags with largely positive effects, and customers are interested in companies that offer either plant-based alternatives to plastic items that are less polluting, or reusable products to help cut down on materials altogether.

Barriers to entry: The amount of technical expertise required is a major hurdle. Like other big-picture issues related to the changing climate, the sustainability problem can't be solved cheaply or quickly--though, since plastic has so many uses, there are many entry points into the market. 

The downside: Persuading customers who aren't already eco-conscious to choose a pricier item over a cheaper, more convenient one can be difficult. Some biodegradable alternatives also require significant resources and carbon emissions to produce, don't break down as quickly as advertised, and can contribute to pollution if not disposed of properly. 

Competition: Startups helping consumers cut down on plastic include Abeego, which makes a beeswax-coated alternative to plastic cling wrap; Stasher, which makes heat-resistant, dishwasher-safe silicone storage bags; and Truman's, which sells cleaning products in the form of concentrates you mix with water in refillable containers. E6PR makes compostable, turtle-friendly six-pack rings for beer producers, while startups like BioCellection and Kiverdi are developing ways to break down plastic waste and recycle it into new materials.

Forecast: Bioplastics (made from renewable materials like corn) are a $486 million industry in the U.S. with an annualized revenue growth rate of 2.1 percent between 2014 and 2019, according to market research firm IBISWorld. CB Insights also named the movement away from single-use plastic among its trends to watch in 2020 in the CPG industry.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the acquisition of Harry's. The acquisition is pending.

Published on: Feb 4, 2020

Your Cleaning Products Have a Climate Change Problem. This Startup Has a Solution - Inc.

Posted: 04 Feb 2020 04:32 AM PST

Editor's note: This article is part of Inc.'s 2020 Best Industries report.

When Jon Bostock and Alex Reed left their executive roles at Big Ass Fans, they had one criterion for their next venture: The industry had to be boring. Having worked in the ceiling fan business, boring was familiar--and they knew it also offered an opportunity to inject some excitement into said industry. 

"We said, if we're going to go do something, let's take a leap," Bostock says. "Let's go solve some pretty significant issues." 

Today, the entrepreneurs are co-founders of Truman's, an e-commerce startup they launched in 2018 that's focused on reducing the amount of plastic in household cleaning products. The Louisville, Kentucky-based company sells nontoxic cleaner concentrates that can be mixed with tap water in reusable spray bottles. 

Truman's is one of many companies trying to break our addiction to single-use plastics. As people become more aware of their consumption habits--and their impact on climate change--startups have been quick to capitalize. There's everything from reusable tote bag makers like Lotus Trolley Bags to green companies like TerraCycle, which is partnering with retailers through its Loop program to provide reusable containers for a variety of consumer packaged goods. Blueland, which makes a concentrate product similar to Truman's but in tablet form, launched last April. 

The U.S. sustainable packaging industry grew to $52.9 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $77.6 billion in 2027, according to Research and Markets. Fueling this trend are new regulations: Single-use plastic bags have been banned in California and New York, while Maine, Maryland, and a handful of large cities have banned styrofoam containers. 

"We think more innovation in this space is ultimately a good thing," Reed says. "If we can collectively move the market in a more sustainable direction, we're achieving our goal." 

Reinventing the spray bottle 

Reed and Bostock's search for an industry to disrupt began in grocery store aisles in 2018. The co-founders noticed that their local store had more than 50 different cleaning products, most of which came in single-use containers. Sensing an opportunity for disruption, they started brainstorming potential solutions. Their research led them to look at sustainability-focused food corporations like Starbucks and Chipotle, where employees would mix jugs of concentrated cleaning solutions with an appropriate amount of water. "It would make no sense for them to ship a product that consists of 98 percent water and uses a lot of plastic," Bostock says. "It's a huge drain on the supply chain." 

He and Reed knew making consumers buy jugs of concentrate wasn't realistic, and they didn't want to create potential friction points by making customers do any measuring or mixing. So they partnered with a cleaning company that makes concentrates for commercial spaces to create four formulations: kitchen, bathroom, glass, and floors. Then they designed reusable spray bottles and small concentrate-filled cartridges to fit into them--and only in a certain way, to reduce the chance of customer mistakes. Each cartridge is nontoxic and biodegradable, further reducing the impact on the environment.

Today, a Truman's starter kit, which comes with all four products and their respective spray bottles, costs $22 on the startup's website. Customers have the option to sign up for a subscription service at a discounted rate.

To coincide with its product launch, the startup posted short videos on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn showing how the products work. All got considerable traction, and the company's website received hits from more than 120 countries in the days following. While the company won't disclose revenue or sales numbers, it says it has tens of thousands of subscribers and one-time customers. In September, it closed a $5 million funding round led by Henkel, maker of cleaning brands Dial and Purex.

Not the traditional way

Bostock says that Truman's plans on rolling out new products in the next three to six months. It's also considering paths to brick-and-mortar retail, but only if the company can do it in an environmentally conscious​ way. "We don't want to have a product with a long supply chain where it sits in distribution centers and then sits on the retail shelf and there's no education for the customer in-store," Bostock says. "We're discussing options with retailers, but if it happens, it won't be the traditional way."

Rethinking entire supply chains is an approach environmentalists applaud when it comes to making consumer products more sustainable. "What may be more effective and meaningful to help fight ocean plastic pollution and our waste crisis is to not focus on merely swapping one material for another, but taking a deeper look at how and why we consume products," says Kelly Cramer, director of program management at GreenBlue, a nonprofit dedicated to helping organizations use materials more sustainably. "We hope more and more companies look to concentrates."​

Meanwhile, the Truman's co-founders are riding the wave of environmental consciousness, while not positioning themselves specifically as a green company.

"If you build a great green product but only 5 percent of the market cares about it--the very eco-conscious people--then your overall impact is limited," Reed says. "So that's been our approach: We want to make a very positive impact on the environment, but appeal to people who aren't necessarily consciously trying to do that."

Published on: Feb 4, 2020

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