Fresh off one of its most active funding years to date, Austin tech has never been hotter, with the ecosystem’s innovation catching the attention of investors from around the world.
And one of the reasons our tech community continues to shine so brightly is the number of fresh startups emerging from Austin.
Now in its fourth year running, our 50 Startups to Watch list highlights local tech companies less than five years old that we think are bracing for a big 2019. This year’s list includes startups with big ambitions for everything from improving mental health to leveraging emerging technologies like blockchain, robotics, quantum computing and more.
Government data has never received a proper digital upgrade, but Esper plans to change that. The company launched in the summer of 2017 in San Francisco and relocated its headquarters to Austin this past year. Led by CEO and co-founder Maleka Momand, Esper delivers a platform that offers a virtual, collaborative workspace for policymakers. When a regulation is adopted, the system continues to pull data so lawmakers can measure how effective the policy is.
More than 3,000 companies have adopted Proof’s online marketing solutions since its 2017 launch. The firm brings honesty to web-based marketing by allowing customers to do the selling. Its platform displays real-time, verified customer activity. As someone visiting a Proof-powered site, you may see real-time notifications about how many people recently viewed the page you’re on, who recently bought a specific product, or how many people are currently looking at the same item you are.
Pushnami, an AI-fueled messaging platform that claims to increase client subscription rates, user conversions and overall website traffic, reported recently that it’s consistently growing at a pace of 20 percent month-over-month. Since launching in 2017, Pushnami’s tools have collectively produced over 40 billion — and counting — messages for more than 3,000 clients.
Tech founder Cole Evetts believes sales reps need to be reminded regularly of what they are working toward. So he and former colleague and Trendkite co-founder AJ Bruno teamed up on a new platform called QuotaPath to keep sales teams motivated. QuotaPath automatically tracks quota progress and commissions in real time and allows for personal customization. Just two months into its formation, the startup locked in a $1.5 million seed round.
Hundreds of inventory solutions exist for managing the front end of a retail shop, but what about the back end? Smarter Sorting launched in 2015 to fill this void and to support businesses and local governments’ zero waste initiatives. Its point-of-reversal solution uses machine learning to make dynamic decisions about the future of damaged and unsold products. These decisions can include how to dispose, ship or reuse the products.
In June, 101 Commerce made a big splash on the startup scene with a $12.7 million Series A funding from investors that included Austin tech royalty: HomeAway founder Brian Sharples and RetailMeNot founder Cotter Cunningham. CEO and founder Richard Jalichandra launched the e-commerce company in early 2018 to invest in, and purchase, 101 private-label brands that utilize Amazon’s fulfillment platform.
MassChallenge Texas, a new accelerator in Austin featuring more than 80 startups, named Abraxas Technology as one of the top 16 startups to compete for a share of $500,000 given to winning startups. The company, launched by military veterans in 2017, uses IoT devices to measure the reach of outdoor advertising by detecting mobile phone signals.
Prior to last year, ALTR had been quietly operating since 2014 to develop secure, blockchain-based data storage for commercial use. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the biz made its grand entrance out of stealth with a $15 million funding in June. In addition to the investment, ALTR snagged some big-name techies to support its growth, including board member Mike Maples, Sr., who worked for IBM and Microsoft throughout the 80s and 90s.
While podcasts continue to explode in popularity, advertisers are left wondering how to quantify success for the podcasts they support. Backtracks launched in 2016 as a podcast analytics solution to show advertisers and podcasters who is listening and from where, how long they are listening for, at what point they are bouncing off, and more. Backtracks collected a $100,000 seed investment when it joined Sputnik ATX’s inaugural class at the start of 2018.
This public benefit corporation is hoping to make life easier for families impacted by Type 1 diabetes. Michael Maniscalco, a parent with Type 1 diabetes and a serial tech founder, kicked off Better Living Technologies in early 2018. Currently in development, the platform aims to provide parents with updates regarding personal health, industry news and analyses of activity and health history.
After completing the Techstars Music Accelerator in Los Angeles last spring, Austin-based Blink Identity locked in $1.5 million in seed funding from Live Nation, Techstars and other live entertainment-related funds. Founded by Mary Haskett and Alex Kilpatrick, Blink Identity’s facial-recognition technology provides access control and personalized customer experiences to live events and commercial spaces.
Hailing from the live music capital of the world, Care2Rock is on the lookout for talented musicians capable of teaching lessons online. That’s just the beginning, though: Every lesson taken over the platform benefits a child in foster care who gains access to Care2Rock’s music program. Karyn Scott, who also founded the nonprofit Kids in a New Groove, launched Care2Rock in 2016.
Booking a home cleaning service often feels archaic, with most services even requiring a — gasp — phone call. Clean ‘Em launched last year to take on cleaning services and bring them into the modern age. The startup’s booking platform runs on machine learning for a fast, simplified reservation process, and all cleaning providers within its network are background verified. In December, Clean ‘Em launched its enterprise model with its first client, Lamborghini Austin.
In March of last year, healthtech startup ClosedLoop AI, raised $3 million from undisclosed investors. CEO Andrew Eye co-founded the predictive analytics company, which helps healthcare providers identify high-risk patients and find the best way to treat them. This isn’t Eye’s first go-round as a tech founder: In 2012 he launched Boxer, which VMWare acquired in 2015, and in 2007, Eye founded cybersecurity firm Ciphent, which Accuvant, now Optiv, acquired in 2010.
Out of 500 companies competing for cash from Mass Challenge’s global network of startups, mental health startup Cloud 9 won the second highest prize of $75,000. Launched in 2015, Cloud 9 hopes to make mental healthcare more accessible to those currently affected by mental illness. Its platform offers intervention and prevention support by connecting patients or those in crisis with mental healthcare professionals.
With Code Pilot’s platform, companies can use deep learning to analyze how developers work within a coding environment that closely resembles their actual working environment. Launched in 2018, Code Pilot is used for everything from onboarding new hires to training current engineers and assessing candidates for open roles.
Created by three tech prodigies under the age of 21, Coder came into the limelight in 2017 with its cloud-based integrated developer environment. Its platform allows for developers to collaborate in real time and code from any device, at any time. Since launch, the company has grown from the three co-founders to almost 30 full-time employees. In late 2018, CEO John Entwistle sent out a few cold emails and landed $4.5 million from investors.
Debt collecting should be as easy as calling an Uber, right? That’s what CollBox hopes to deliver. The four-year-old fintech startup automates debt collecting for small businesses by directly integrating with their accounting software. The platform reviews a business’ accounts receivable to determine slow-pay and no-pay customers. After selecting which accounts to send notices to, CollBox handles the process of collecting the balance.
Loan paperwork is challenging enough for individuals, so imagine dealing with it at the scale of major construction projects. Contract Simply formed in 2017 to centralize and digitize all of the data from spreadsheets, e-mails, phone calls and documents associated with construction project loans. With all of the information in one secure, traceable and organized location, the risk of error declines significantly.
CrowdOut Capital hosts a lending platform that lets middle- and lower-market companies raise money. In November of last year, the fintech startup raised $2.5 million from members of its investor network who participate in their loans, as well as from its CEO and co-founder, Alexander Schoenbaum. Individuals interested in investing can put $1,000 or more directly into corporate loans ranging from $3 million to $50 million.
One of nine social good startups in Tarmac TX’s latest cohort, Day Dreamer provides direct access for artists looking to collaborate on projects together. Its app, which launched in November, acts similarly to a dating app in that you can see the artists that you’ve bookmarked to potentially collaborate with that have also bookmarked you.
Meet Moxi, a social, intelligent end-to-end robot that supports clinical staff with hospital services. Moxi is Diligent Robotics’ first robot, designed to work side by side with humans. AI and machine learning experts Andrea Thomaz and Vivian Chu co-founded Diligent Robotics in 2016, and secured $2.1 million in funding in early 2018. The two women have extensive experience in human-robot interaction and hope to improve the quality of care across hospitals.
To expedite the development of pharmaceuticals, biotech products and medical devices, Elligo Health Research brings clinical trial resources and research to physician practices to boost patient participation. Launched in 2016, the healthtech startup closed a $16 million Series B in March, which funded service expansions and improved data collection and submission processes.
There’s no better time to launch an event venue booking service than at the world’s largest tech festival. Alexis Neal went live with EventSpace in 2015 during SXSW. What Neal described as a “scouting service” for new event venues soon transformed into something very uniquely Austin: a venue finder for spaces that aren’t actually event venues — think parking garages and abandoned commercial spaces.
Become the urban gardener you’ve always dreamed about being with a little guidance from Gardenio. The subscription box service operates similarly to meal kit services, but for gardening. Each gardening starter box comes with planters, compost, soil, starter plants that you select and care guides. The greentech startup took off in 2017 and participated in Tarmac TX’s summer social good accelerator.
Hitch co-founders Kush Singh and Tanuj Girish welcomed two Austin tech stars as additional co-founders this year, with uShip co-founders Jay Manickam and Matt Chasen joining the team. The ride-sharing company delivers intracity, long-distance rides, currently offering services between Houston and Austin every two hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The multifaceted AI startup Hypergiant hopped out of stealth mode in February 2018. With a motley crew of Austin tech founders, including Ben Lamm, John Fremont and Will Womble, Hypergiant creates its own line of AI products and custom AI solutions for enterprise partners, and it has a VC branch for investing in other machine learning startups. In December, the company acquired Seattle-based Black Pixel, a boutique software design firm. All 50 of Black Pixel’s employees joined Hypergiant under its Space Age Solution’s team.
Winner of SXSW’s 2018 Accelerator Pitch event, ICON prints low-cost, sustainable homes in 24 hours or less. Following the win in the social and culture category, ICON revealed its plans to build 100 concrete homes in El Salvador throughout 2019 with nonprofit partner, New Story. In October 2018, the construction tech company raised $9 million.
Launched five years ago in San Antonio, cybersecurity firm Infocyte moved up the I-35 corridor to Austin in 2018. The company creates threat-detection solutions for clients that include Dell EMC, the Department of Defense and Logix. Its platform, Infocyte HUNT 3.0, earned top recognition by CRN as one of 10 hot new security solutions in 2018.
Kathy Terry, co-founder of local burger chain P. Terry’s, added tech founder to her resume this year after launching the charitable giving app, inLieu. Like Venmo but for giving to nonprofits, inLieu allows people to donate to charities in the name of their friends. According to an Austin Business Journal article, inLieu had enabled nearly $110,000 in donations to 480 nonprofits in October of last year.
Ask any new parent — or parent in general — what it’s like to line up daycare for their kiddos. Chances are, their reactions are going to vary between anger and exasperation. That’s because it’s an industry that hasn’t received the intervention of technical enhancements that many other verticals have. JuiceBox Hero, launched in 2017 by founder Laurie Felker Jones, intends to fix that with a search and filtering platform that streamlines the process of locating a daycare suitable for your child.
Meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh have taken off in recent years, with many startups adopting similar models. But this Austin startup took the meal kit approach to another level. Lettuce, an urban farming company, grows its own ingredients locally across plots of land throughout town. It also operates as a zero-waste business through its reusable packaging, built-in composting and short delivery transports.
Led by CEO Ashley Rose, Living Security gamifies cybersecurity training to teach employees how to reduce cyber risks. Its products include the Living Security Escape Room as well as a digital training platform, Cyber Escape. This past November, Living Security raised a $1.25 million seed round led by Active Capital, with participation from Cathexis Ventures and Capital Factory.
Thanks to Newchip, now you can invest in startups just like your favorite venture capitalists. The fintech firm launched in 2016 and hosts a marketplace for anyone to invest in pre-IPO companies, real estate and REITs, with minimum investments as low as $100. When the company closed a $2 million seed funding in June, Newchip reported its platform had surpassed over 50,000 users actively investing.
In retail inventory, studies show that one in 10 items gets falsely reported as missing due to human error; and the effect is costly. Pensa Systems addresses this through its autonomous perception platform using small drones that analyze shelves. Created in 2016, the company raised $2.2 million in May and another $5 million this January. The company is currently conducting product trials with several global retailers and manufacturers, including active investor Anheuser-Busch.
A couple of self-described “geeks that like to eat” co-founded a new startup that provides online ordering for Austin food trucks. With QuickBite, customers can skip the line by ordering and paying online ahead of time, simultaneously helping food trucks with crowd control. The company is currently accepting foodie and truck vendor sign ups.
Reliant Immune Diagnostics develops at-home, over-the-counter health test kits that can connect users to doctors within 10 minutes of processing the results. Its suite of tests cover conditions ranging from urinary tract infections to sexually-transmitted diseases, influenza, colon cancer and strep throat. Paired with an app, Reliant ID’s machine learning platform will then analyze symptoms and recommend remedies. No more waiting in line at your closest urgent care — praise.
In February, the video streaming platform Restream raised $2.5 million in funding. While the company did not issue a statement, Restream has seen explosive growth since its 2015 launch. Restream takes live streaming to the next level by simultaneously streaming one video across more than 30 platforms. To date, it has broadcast 21 million videos with more than 29 billion minutes viewed.
Henry Yoshida is back at it again with Rocket Dollar, a new fintech startup co-founded with Thomas Young and Rick Dude, that unlocks retirement savings for things like small business loans, purchasing real estate and making crypto investments. Yoshida co-founded Austin-based Honest Dollar, which Goldman Sachs acquired in 2016.
Sandbox Commerce takes online stores from e-commerce platforms, like local favorites BigCommerce and Volusion, and turns them into mobile apps. Its setup connects to the online stores and walks business owners through customizable steps to build a mobile-friendly store app. Once the app is live, Sandbox’s marketing optimization tools kick in to help drive traffic and better engage with shoppers.
Founded in 2016, logistics platform Shipwell nabbed a $12 million Series A round in October to scale operations well into 2019. Its centralized platform brings shippers, carriers and brokers together under one booking system, and currently supports more than 1,000 companies. In November, president and co-founder Jason Traff demonstrated Shipwell’s natural language processing and machine learning technology to an audience at MarketWaves, a large freight conference in Dallas, which resulted in the company winning “Best in Show Demo.”
In November, four months after announcing that Austin-born SparkCognition and Boeing would be teaming up on a new venture, the companies launched SkyGrid. Its aerial operating software uses AI and blockchain to support autonomous aerial vehicles, and will provide data analytics, cybersecurity tools, traffic route planning as well as package delivery, industrial inspections and emergency assistance.
Co-founded by Matt Randall, the founder of online art gallery Twyla, and Maria Miller, a former New York Life executive, Spot is a new short-term life insurance platform for thrill-seekers living on the edge. The company provides streamlined, on-demand, short-term life insurance plans. In December, Spot closed over $5 million in funding led by Silverton Partners.
Serial entrepreneur and Austin resident William Hurley founded Strangeworks in 2017 to make practical use of the futuristic technology known as quantum computing. Its software will solve complex math problems for clients from finance, energy, the pharmaceutical industry and the aerospace sector, and will specifically support researchers, developers and systems management infrastructure. In June, Strangeworks raised a $4 million seed round.
Favor co-founders Zac Maurais and Ben Doherty released a new rental platform in 2017 called Sunroom Rentals. The website allows for interested renters to search, tour and apply for rental properties around town. Over the summer, Sunroom secured a $1.5 million seed round to develop its engineering team and grow its user base and property listings. The platform is live in Austin, and Sunroom plans to expand to other cities like Nashville and Atlanta in the future.
Four-time Ironman Dave Hayes and his triathlon coach Troy Clifton took their health and fitness platform Thrvly live in 2018. Rather than having to pull up several sites for workouts and recipes, users can access both from some of their favorite wellness professionals, all in one location. The site organizes content by instructors, workouts and recipes. With free memberships, users can access five classes every month — or they can pay $9 per month for unlimited access.
The world recently welcomed a new line of advertising with the explosion of social media influencers. Trend, founded in 2017, connects brands with influencers who apply to advertise their products via their social channels. The startup selects which influencers to include in its network and ensures that each one yields more than 600 likes and at least 50 comments per post.
With Fitbits, Apple Watches and workout apps, health and fitness data has never been more available. But what are we doing with it all? Serial tech entrepreneur Bryan Menell is building Verimos’ first product, Korus, a data hub built on blockchain technology to simplify storing and prioritizing your health data — and even make it possible to monetize it. Think of Korus as a digital health collective that rewards your wellness activities.
Austin welcomed XOR AI, the brainchild of co-founders Nikolay Manolov and Aida Fazylova, to its neighborhood of startups in 2018, after the company relocated its HQ from Eastern Europe to the 512. Its chatbot acts as a hiring assistant for early-stage interview processes in retail, logistics, hospitality and more. When we talked to Manolov in June, the company had conducted over one million interviews worldwide since its founding in 2016.
HomeAway’s founding CTO Ross Buhrdorf announced last February the launch of his latest venture, ZenBusiness, along with $4.5 million in funding. New business owners can create an LLC or corporation for free using ZenBusiness’ platform that also offers continued monitoring of legal requirements and upkeep throughout the year. The capital will be put toward product development and to enter new verticals.
About Built In Austin’s 50 Startups to Watch in 2019
Once each year, Built In Austin 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 2019 list, we chose local companies founded within the past five years that we believe have positioned themselves for rapid growth and scaling in the year to come.