50 Austin startups to watch in 2016

Colin Morris
As we reported last week, 2015 was another year of healthy growth for Austin's digital technology sector. Many young companies matured through new investments or exited in larger deals, making room for new startups to test new products and ideas.
 
We've carefully selected 50 of them we expect to succeed in the near future and listed them below. They're all less than five years old, and while some of them are already well on their way to success, many are still in their infancy.
 
Expect to hear more of these 50 names in the year to come.
 
This mobile strategy shop doesn't just develop apps. It collaborates with clients to consider all the goals of the organization behind it, as well as those of the users, with a specialty in lean UX and an eye for beautiful design.
 
 
 
Reaction founder Michael McDaniel had two inspirations for the Exo: Hurricane Katrina and a paper coffee cup turned upside down. The high-tech shelter is suitable for victims of natural disasters and posh music festival goers alike. It sleeps up to four people and costs half as much as the six-bed FEMA trailers where so many New Orleans residents found themselves living once they escaped the Superdome.
 
 
 
Before RunTitle’s inception in 2011, oil and gas companies would pay thousands of dollars for a “land man” to travel to individual county courthouses. A “land man” would then spend weeks thumbing through paper documents and hard drives to locate surface and mineral owners. Three years later, RunTitle is the leading title source for the oil and gas industry's land acquisition needs. Users can eliminate the middleman and get the information they need with the click of the button. Read more here.
 
 
 
Silvercar was founded on the frustrating realization that the car rental industry hasn't innovated in decades. Tired of hidden fees, subpar service and surprise substitutions they call “PT Cruiser roulette,” Silvercar co-founders Todd Belveal and Bill Diffenderffer decided to use tech to put connected business travelers in a car they’d actually want to drive every time: a shiny, new Audi A4. The company has raised more than $50 million in funding.
 
 
 
 
Verb connects large corporations and foundations to social entrepreneurs around the world through competitions and a proprietary technology platform. The company closed a $2.3 million seed round last summer, one of the largest rounds ever for an Austin-based social enterprise. Two philanthropic foundations, the Graham Family Foundation and the Tingari-Silverton Foundation, were among Verb's investors.
 
 
 
For those of us with student loan debt, the Skills Fund manifesto is irresistible. They think student loans should work like investments, where all the players have skin in the game. The fintech startup primarily partners with bootcamps that teach skills in coding and data science programs. Those companies share the risk in the student loans brokered by Skills Fund, which closed an $11.5 million seed funding round in October. Read more about it here.
 
 
 
Snaptrends literally put social media on the map. The startup provides geosocial intelligence and social media monitoring, and they can even map trending topics to identify brand challenges for corporate clients. That same technology can be used by government agencies to monitor emergencies. Its clients include law enforcement agencies, schools, sports teams, telecoms and movie studios.
 
 
 

The Austin-based small business loan platform comprises entrepreneurs and the family and friends they recruit to fund their businesses. The backers from their network front 25 percent of a business loan at an interest rate of their choosing. Able funds the rest, which is just one of the ways it distinguishes itself from crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
 
 
 

Atlas Wearables emerged from TechStars in 2013 pushing wearable fitness tech to the next level. While Fitbit, Jawbone and Apple portables are known for tracking activity, Atlas integrates the Motion Genome Project, a database to help users perfect their workouts by tracking their form. The company announced a $500,000 funding on Friday.
 
 
 
Founded in 2012 by social and video game veterans, Bee Cave creates mobile apps for gambling on the go, whether you’re on Facebook, iOS, Android or even Amazon’s Kindle Fire. The company has completed several rounds of funding from East Coast and Chinese investors, amassing more than $10 million to roll out casino classics like slots and Blackjack in 18 languages for players of varying levels and locales.
 
 
 
Broomly is betting on a more personal, trust-based touch for a tech-enabled home services industry. Rather than hire landscapers, cleaners and handymen on separate sites, Broomly customers schedule it all through one service and might even get an occasional visit from full-time Broomly staff to manage the relationship.
 
 
 
 
Since its founding in 2012, Datical has garnered a devoted customer base and nearly $15 million in financing from investors. The company's golden goose is Datical DB, an enterprise-scale version of Liquibase, which is an open source tool created in 2006 by Nathan Voxland for managing database changes required by application updates. If you don’t know what that means, you probably don’t need it. But lots of people do, and that’s making Datical a very promising venture indeed.
 
 
 
This Austin auto shop makes software to take electric cars a few steps beyond their next level of evolution. Its DriveOS platform is a vehicle control unit (VCU) for electric sports cars whose millisecond torque vectoring has already set lap records. The company was founded by President and CEO Dean Drako, best known for email security outfit Barracuda Networks.
 
 
 
Austin-based Dropoff has been sprinting ever since they launched in November 2014. The company has raised over $8 million to date from notable investors like Austin Ventures, Silverton Partners and Mucker Capital. The company’s same-day delivery order management system and independent delivery agents allow businesses to meet on-demand expectations without building delivery infrastructure from the ground up. Learn more from CTO Christian Carollo.
 
 
This is a classic example of a startup improving on an idea that’s already in the market. Equipboard is an online database of equipment used by popular musicians that answers the question on every player’s mind: How their heroes get that certain tone from their instruments.
 
 
 
Factom helps enterprises migrate applications to the blockchain with custom tools and services built on the company’s proprietary, open source software. One example has been helping the government of Honduras migrate its land title records to distributed ledger technology. The company raised nearly $1.5 million in December 2015.
 
 
 
Favor's high profile and rapid growth makes it hard to even classify them as a startup. The company passed the milestone of one million deliveries in November, and launched in three more Texas cities in December, bringing its market count to 18. So far, they haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. With more than $15 million raised in less than four years, they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.
 
 
 
FoundersCard is a global membership community of over 20,000 entrepreneurs, innovators, and business professionals, offering exclusive access to premier benefits with travel, hotel, business and lifestyle brands and unique member networking events throughout the world. It’s basically a VIP pass to sit in business class wherever you go.
 
 
 
GameSalad’s paid service allows game developers to design, publish and distribute games without coding. The games can be run on iOS, Android, HTML5, Kindle, Windows and even Tizen. The company also built a free online academy last year to teach hobbyists how to build simple games. After a soft launch in the summer, the company publicly announced GameSalad Academy in December. Read more about it here.
 
 
 
Gest is a wireless, motion-sensitive controller for desktop and mobile devices that you wear like a glove. It’s so futuristic, it’s fit for sci-fi, and doesn’t even look dorky. While the first prototype was cobbled together with duct tape and copper strips in 2013, the Kickstarter limited edition features a distinctive wood grain finish. At least 902 people are dying to get their hands in it. That’s how many pledged to its Kickstarter campaign last year, which raised a total of $199,988 — twice its goal.
 
 
 
Harvest bills itself as the Kayak.com for food delivery, aggregating options available in your area to minimize hassle and maximize selection. The service passes users’ orders through in real time without a surcharge.
 
 
 
Honest Dollar’s mission is to make the investment process more transparent. That includes fintech products such as a new savings plan the company launched in collaboration with Lyft late last year for independent contractors, the workforce driving the booming gig economy. Read more about it here.
 
 
 
Humanify promises to make interactions between brands and their customers “immediate, intelligent and personal.” Its digital engagement software is built on open, API-based architecture for flexible integration and extensibility with the solutions clients are already using. There’s a lot of research out there making the case for using a platform like this: the company cites research from a variety of studies indicating customers who experience good customer service tend to spend 140 percent more, 86 percent of customers will pay more for a better customer experience, and a solid digital engagement platform cuts customer call volume by 10 percent. Success for Humanify is just a matter of making it easy for their clients to adopt.
 
 
 
Hypori is an enterprise software company providing a secure, virtual mobile infrastructure platform for both Android and iOS that allows companies to protect their data, even on employees’ personal devices. That’s important in the age of Bringing Your Own Device (BYOD) to the office and syncing your work emails and other sensitive data to it. You probably didn’t even know you’re the IT department’s worst nightmare. 
 
 
 
One of the greatest uncertainties facing small business owners is also one of the most overlooked: location. IdealSpot lays claim to an algorithm that uses more than 15,000 metrics to determine the best locations for restaurants, retailers and other enterprises to rent or buy real estate.
 
 
 
The founders of Knocki thought most IoT sensors are either too costly, too time consuming to install, or both. They came up with a way to cut down on interfaces by creating a device that attaches to virtually any surface and detects vibrations using mechanical sensors. Customizable knock patterns tell Knocki when and how to interact via WiFi with your other devices. Read more here.
 
 
 
The online landscaping service and Techstars graduate raised a $6 million Series A in June of 2015 to expand their engineering and marketing teams in Austin as well as launching new markets. Read more here.
 
 
 
LeaseBuddies is a roommate matching service that focuses less on the property and more on the people who have to share it, based on a five-page questionnaire that establishes preferences and behaviors spanning every roommate pain point from noise and dirty dishes to sleep and social schedules. Read more here.
 
 
 
When Suman Poluri moved to Austin last year, he didn’t have the tools to set up his new apartment. He didn’t know anyone who would lend them to him, either, so he created a site called Lendemout, where users can rent virtually anything short term. Here are five things you can rent on the site.
 
 
 
Localeur is info for travelers, provided by locals. The company defied the odds threatening every passion project. Even facing the threat of evictions and dangerous levels of debt, the founders doubled down when they were rejected by YCombinator. Last year, Time magazine named Localeur one of the best free apps for travel junkies.
 
 
 
This startup offers personalized gifting for businesses to help promote brands, win business and build goodwill. It attracted an $100,000 investment from Steve Case at a Google Demo Day in April last year, weeks before being accepted into the 2015 REach accelerator class. 
 
 
 
OnePay is a subscription service that rolls all your bills into one so there’s only one login and due date to remember. Just connect the app with your service provider accounts once, and it will pay your bills on time, automatically. Using software, the team behind OnePay developed a way to algorithmically parse the data in your accounts to compare your bill to your actual usage — and other deals in your market. Read more here.
 
 
 
Even after raising $2.7 million in equity funding last summer, this startup is still mum on its strategy and business model. But the stealth operation is led by Presidet Eric Korman, a board member at RetailMeNot and former president of Ticketmaster. Korman also led digital and global e-commerce for Ralph Lauren Corp.
 
 
 
The trivia app syncs up with the show you’re watching on Netflix and poses timed questions to you and your friends, keeping score of who guesses the next twist best. It’s everything you love about going out for trivia night, available from the comfort of your couch. The app launched on iOS in early November with 4,000 users from early signups, tacking on about 1,000 new subscribers per month.
 
 
 
When the smart home sector of consumer electronics went mainstream in 2012, lighting control was the product category at the head of the pack. Thus began Plum, a startup featuring a suite of smartphone-operated home devices. The crux of the company’s product offerings is the Lightpad, a “smart” answer to the traditional lightswitch. Controlled by Plum’s smartphone app, the Lightpad can adjust lights remotely (both throughout and away from the home), configure different lighting settings, and monitor the energy used by the lighting. Read more here.
 
 
 
PopUp Play was founded by Bryan Thomas and Amelia Cosgrove, a couple who wanted to connect the digital toys of today with the pillow forts of their past. They combined their backgrounds in solar tech and engineering to create a four-and-a-half-foot fiberboard castle playset and an iPad app children can use to customize it. Read more here.
 
 
 
RideScout calls itself “Kayak.com for ground transportation” and aggregates ground transportation options in real time. That’s an important piece of the puzzle as tech companies race to reinvent the way we get around. Transportation networks like Uber and Lyft may have a powerful engine for optimizing car rides, but RideScout weaves all the options into one program. The company acquired GlobeSherpa in July to integrate mobile transit ticketing.
 
 
 
 
Roostio Media will pay you without you having to do any extra work. The company pairs advertisers with drivers willing to turn their cars into billboards with a branded vehicle wrap, then go about their day. The advertiser gets exposure along your route, and you get paid for being the literal vehicle for their message. The service is launching soon, and you can sign up for early access here.
 
 
 
Using Shelfbucks is like having a constantly updating coupon book in your hand that knows your preferences and can provide reviews. During a shopping trip, users look for a Shelfbucks sign, tap their phone on the display and find special deals or discounts. Customers only get information when they are actively looking for a product, instead of being spammed by offers they don't want or need. The company uses iBeacon, BLE and Bluetooth Smart Beacons to communicate with customers' smartphones. Read more here.
 
 
 
 
SimplyTapp launched its mobile payments platform for card issuers and developers in the summer of 2014 to ultimately allow consumers to make easy payments from their smartphones in lieu of physical cards or cash. The technology that allows consumers to store credit cards on their phones is called host card emulation, or HCE, and SimplyTapp isn’t the first to provide it. CEO Douglas Yeager has plenty of background in the field, and used to be the CEO of TradeWind Technologies, a developer of RFID readers.
 
 
 
Serial entrepreneur Mellie Price founded SoftMatch to help the Austin ecosystem find a greater number of smaller acquisition deals, which are more sustainable than the moon shot approach of waiting around for unicorns. SoftMatch gathers and presents business intelligence for companies seeking exit opportunities or acquisitions of their own. The roster of advisors Price has enlisted is a who’s-who of Austin tech including HomeAway CTO Ross Buhrdorf, Dell Executive Director of Software M&A Ian Burk and SXSW Innovation Director Hugh Forrest.
 
 
 
When companies compete to attract top tech talent in cities like Austin, sometimes career decisions really do come down to benefits. Student Loan Genius offers a leg up with a 401k-style financial perk to help employees pay off their school debt faster. The startup counts Intel, Boeing and Kellogg’s among its growing roster of clients.
 
 
 
To diners, Tastegraphy is basically Pandora for food. For restaurants, it has the Shazam effect: The system gathers metrics based on the tastes expressed by input from audiences, eventually compiling enough data to predict trends. Just as the data from Shazam can predict the recipe for the perfect pop song, Tastegraphy aims to sell valuable information to the restaurant industry: what people really want to eat.
 
 
 
 
Videotape is like Vine on steroids, a feed of short videos posted by other users that you can embellish with jumpcuts of your own footage or voiceover. The mashup clips can be as long as 40 seconds. The app launched publicly in December. The company raised an extra $150,000 last week to continue developing the service. Read more here.
 
 
 
Virtuix is the next step in virtual reality. Its flagship product is a round enclosure called The Omni. It pairs the usual goggles and light gun with special shoes that fit into low-friction grooves that detect the speed and direction of a player’s walking to allow for natural movement in almost any video game. That means to you run, jump, strafe and crouch through your favorite virtual worlds. It combines the best of Wii Bowling and Call of Duty, and way more fun than a treadmill. The company raised more than $1.1 million from more than 3,000 backers on Kickstarter in 2013. The Omni and its accessories are now available for purchase directly from Virtuix.
 
 
 
Waldo Photos allows professional photographers to upload photos directly from their cameras as they shoot using WiFi-enabled SD cards. Then, thanks to a facial recognition engine running on Waldo’s cloud, registered users who appear in the photos will automatically receive push notifications to view them. To register, users supply a selfie and a phone number. Waldo then analyzes the selfie and compares it to every photo on the platform. Each time it finds a match, it sends a notification to the phone number.
 
 
 
 
WayBlazer delivers contextual, personalized advice and insights for consumers across all phases of travel, from inspiration to transaction. Utilizing the cognitive computing power of IBM Watson, WayBlazer has the unique ability to interact in natural language, process and understand vast and disparate forms of big data to transform the way travelers seek advice with a travel discovery experience that can be individualized for every user, every time. The company raised a $5 million Series A funding round last May.
 
 
 
The Internet of Things may make life easier for consumers, but designing them is no simple task. That’s because these devices are governed by competing protocols. WigWag is attempting to restore peace and order to the galaxy of connected devices with a unified programming language so inventors and manufacturers can build and scale IoT applications and devices easily and quickly.
 
 
 
Yonomi is another company hoping to bring harmony to the connected home. It connects devices like Sonos, Jawbone UP, August Locks, Wemo, Hue, Nest, Quirky, Wink, Withings and many more without a hub or any additional hardware. 
 
 
 
YouEarnedIt is a peer-to-peer recognition program that allows employees to send their coworkers points for a job well done. Employees can then accumulate and redeem those points for prizes, which can even include charity donations. It’s a fun and feasible way for companies to recognize employees with rewards they’ll actually want, all while encouraging those employees to recognize one another.
 
 

 

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