21 Austin Companies to Watch in 2021
While the rise of remote work in 2020 seemed to spell the beginning of the end of coastal cities’ tech dominance, Austin’s local scene appeared to go from strength to strength over the last 12 months.
Case in point: the announcement of Tesla’s so-called “Texas Gigafactory,” which is due for completion by the end of this year. Meanwhile, the city’s top 10 funding rounds in 2020 represented more than $800 million in fresh VC cash headed for Austin.
But while gigafactories and giant investments bode well for the Texas capital, they only represent the big end of town. To help you get a handle on the city’s vibrant startup scene, we’ve rounded up 21 of the tech startups you should be watching in 2021. Some were born in the mythical founder’s garage, at least one started at the University of Texas (“Hook ‘em Horns”) and a few came out of intriguing corporate mergers, but one thing connects them all: They all have enormous plans and should be on your radar for the rest of the year.
What they do: The techies at Acrisure Innovation are bringing big data and artificial intelligence technology to insurance distribution and underwriting, with the goal of turning it into a science. Their mission? Build a platform that can support its eponymous parent company, one of the world’s fastest-growing insurance brokerages.
Why we’re watching: Acrisure Innovation was founded when Acrisure acquired AI company Tulco’s insurance practice in a $400 million deal last year.
What they do: For construction companies, waiting for an existing project to pay can force them to turn down upcoming contracts due to insufficient funds for supply purchases. To bridge that gap, Billd offers a financing and payment platform where it pays suppliers for the materials needed for upcoming projects, then takes repayments within 120 days.
Why we’re watching: In a recent interview with Built In Austin, President and CEO Chris Doyle said Billd would roll out new products and “increase headcount significantly” in 2021.
What they do: After a harrowing personal experience with America’s terminally fragmented health system, Kristen Valdes founded b.well Connected Health to build a unified healthcare experience. The software integrates with datasets and software solutions across the healthcare space to centralize insights, data and partners into a single user interface.
Why we’re watching: The company has been on an executive hiring spree as it has grown over the last year, bringing on a former Amazon, Microsoft and Vrbo technology leader as its chief technology officer, a healthtech data science guru as its chief information officer and a healthcare industry veteran as its chief revenue officer.
What they do: In our book, any business whose customers include NASA, the U.S. Navy, the Missile Defense Agency, Blue Origin and Airbus — among plenty others — is worth watching. CesiumAstro’s communication systems are designed for satellites, unmanned autonomous vehicles, rockets and other space-bound or airborne vehicles.
Why we’re watching: Later this year, CesiumAstro plans to launch its very own mission to space using its own hardware, with the goal of performing a number of experiments to “push the boundaries of small satellite communication.”
What they do: For e-commerce marketplaces, managing the return of big, bulky items like furniture can be a royal headache. However, reselling those returned items can also add a lucrative new revenue stream from consumers looking for cheap, environmentally friendly products, so FloorFound works with e-commerce providers to manage returns and resales on their behalf.
Why we’re watching: After launching last year, FloorFound raised $4 million in seed funding in February 2021.
What they do: One of the world’s biggest names in resorts, hotels, cafes and merchandise is branching into tech with an online sports betting platform. With mobile sports betting now becoming legal in more U.S. states, Hard Rock Digital sees a big opportunity ahead — with some estimates putting the potential market size at $7 billion for sports betting and $14 billion for online gaming.
Why we’re watching: Hard Rock Digital has a big advantage over sports betting rivals: a global network of venues and a database of more than 130 million customers.
What they do: HUVR’s analytics platform analyzes images taken from drones as they inspect industrial and agricultural facilities and assets. The technology integrates images, inspection data and legacy enterprise asset management databases into one place.
Why we’re watching: HUVR raised $5 million in October, with plans to triple the size of its tech team.
What they do: Ibble is revamping video-based social media, with a platform that allows users to ask questions, hang out with friends, and access and tune in to conversations about current events, formatted as back-and-forth video conversations. While platforms like TikTok drive “one-to-many” broadcasting, ibble is built to facilitate two-way asynchronous conversations in an attempt to foster better online conversations.
Why we’re watching: While ibble only recently opened to the public, it has a few tailwinds behind it: It has raised one of the largest seed rounds in Texas to date, and CEO Raymond Kaminski previously was founding member to fintech startup Honest Dollar, which was acquired by Goldman Sachs.
What they do: ICON incorporates 3D printing technology into construction, creating cheaper, stronger and more sustainable buildings. In 2019, the company paired with housing nonprofits to build the world’s first 3D-printed neighborhood in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco.
Why we’re watching: Since its Mexican housing project, ICON has gone on to raise $35 million in funding and help build the first 3D-printed lunar launch and landing pad at Camp Swift, a national guard training center outside Austin.
What they do: InKind offers a unique financing model for restauranteurs in need of cash to start up or renovate their establishment by purchasing food and beverage credits, which it then resells to consumers in the form of high-dollar gift cards. Restaurateurs don’t pay interest on a loan or relinquish ownership of their establishment, while inKind says its model encourages customers to spend more.
Why we’re watching: As one of the only groups that are “aggressively funding” restaurants right now, inKind is poised to grow even more quickly as pandemic restrictions ease.
What they do: While edtech for hobbies and schoolchildren has boomed in recent years, one group that has gone largely overlooked is skilled trade workers. Interplay Learning leverages virtual reality and 3D simulation technology to build hands-on training experiences for plumbers, electricians, maintenance workers and others.
Why we’re watching: Demand for Interplay Learning’s services surged during the pandemic, and in February the company raised $18 million — with plans to double its headcount — to help scale its operations.
What they do: Unstructured data is the bane of any business: potentially useful, yet labor-intensive to manage and analyze. Katana Graph seeks to take on those headaches on behalf of its clients with technology designed to ingest large datasets and extract valuable insights.
Why we’re watching: Founded at the University of Texas-Austin, Katana Graph raised a $28.6 million funding round in February with plans to hire marketers, sales reps and engineers.
What they do: Expanding the minds of readers everywhere, Literati provides curated books for all ages through its subscription book club. Younger readers can join a try-before-you-buy book club service, while adult readers choose book clubs based on the “Luminaries” leading them: authors, intellectuals,and other notable figures who inspire a lifelong love of learning.
What they do: By gathering and connecting real-time and historical data points, Ontic’s security platform helps businesses protect their employees and other assets against everything from insider threats to physical violence. The company also offers consulting services, as well as security and safety education.
Why we’re watching: Bearing a novel approach to threat mitigation, Ontic’s revenue reportedly soared 177 percent for the fiscal year ending January 31.
What they do: Place Technology puts financial forecasting, modeling and budgeting tools in the hands of small and medium-sized service and technology businesses. Built as a native app within Salesforce, the service plugs into sales pipelines, quota schedules and any number of reports and dashboards.
Why we’re watching: Last November, Place Technology announced it had seen a whopping 1,400 percent increase in new customer acquisitions.
What they do: SIERA.AI converts forklifts into autonomous vehicles using AI-capable attachments. The company started with a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the industrial automation market, in which they found some $30 billion spent each year on forklift accidents — including almost 100 deaths and 36,000 serious accidents.
Why we’re watching: SIERA.AI is seeing impressive growth, selling its safety system into the logistics, retail, food manufacturing, food service and manufacturing industries in the last quarter alone.
What they do: Founded by three touchscreen industry veterans, SigmaSense says it has developed a new type of sensing technology that offers higher resolution, operates at a lower voltage and collects better data than older systems. The technology is used in mobile phones, tablets and smart watches, and the company has plans to crack the medical sensing, automotive, robotics, communications and IoT industries.
Why we’re watching: Any executive can claim that their technology will eventually be used in “every industry,” as SigmaSense CEO Rick Seger did to Built In last year. But when a company raises a $22 million Series A from Foxconn — manufacturer of the iPhone — we sit up and take notice.
What they do: Spruce brings the efficiencies of scale to dog walking, cleaning, laundry and other services for apartment complexes. The company assigns a local business to each of the buildings it works with to avoid inefficient overlap and provides those businesses with tech support like workforce management software and customer service.
Why we’re watching: Having banked $8 million in funding last November, Spruce is investing in its technology and growing its employee base.
What they do: Studio X is a startup founded in collaboration with Shell to revolutionize the process of resource exploration. Through intensive R&D, the organization has already rolled out three products, including a data crowdsourcing solution for geoscience workflows and a remote virtual exploration platform.
Why we’re watching: The studio also recently rolled out SixLab, a “no-strings-attached” incubator for entrepreneurs and startups.
What they do: It seems like every healthcare provider now offers virtual telemedicine these days, but who’s building all that software? In many cases, the answer is Wheel: a white-labeled platform and plug-in API that allows healthcare companies to provide access to a nationwide network of virtual care clinicians, all under their own brand.
Why we’re watching: Wheel reacted fast to the pandemic, developing one of the first FDA-approved at-home COVID-19 tests and hiring a new CTO and CFO to support its rapidly scaling business in March and April last year, respectively.
What they do: At best, a well-made API can expose a startup’s product or service to a whole new user base. At worst, they operate poorly and languish at the bottom of the marketplace, unknown and unused. With its SaaS platform, Stoplight allows businesses to tap into its expertise and build better APIs.
Why we’re watching: Stoplight raised $6 million in Series A funding in January 2020 and added a further $11 million this past February, with plans to expand its engineering efforts and hire more people.