Looking at what early-stage startups are working on is not only entertaining — and sometimes concerning — it can also be a good indicator of where tech is headed.
Since we have data on these young ventures at my company, Startup Tracker, we have the opportunity to glimpse emergent product trends in the startup space. We decided to put together a list of the 100 most interesting little-known startups in existence right now and to analyze the underlying patterns.
We specifically focused on companies that are building something unique or unconventional. One interesting trend we spotted was the apparent birth of a startup meta-industry — startups building products for other startups is becoming a thing. There’s also a trend in customizable B2C products for sale.
We limited our analysis to companies that met the following criteria:
1. No vaporware: their product must be accessible/purchasable immediately
2. Novelty: their product must present a unique, unconventional solution
3. Credibility: proof that people want or already use their product e.g. successful crowdfunding campaign or existing active user base
4. Stealth: the company must have had little or no coverage in major publications.
Our sampling was also limited to the companies that were searched on Startup Tracker in the past five months.
We grouped our 100 startups into 17 different categories:
HERO — A smart health appliance that stores, dispenses, and manages pills
The Scribble Pen — Draw in any color by sampling them from the objects around you
Angel Sensor — The Raspberry Pi of health wearables
Blank — Make vivid, fully covered t-shirts from your Instagram pictures
Snug Vest — A deep pressure therapy vest that helps people with autism, anxiety, and ADHD
Inkbox — Temporary tattoos with real look and feel that last two weeks
BloomSky — A weather camera and app for weather geeks
Pacif-i — Measures baby’s temperature from your smartphone
Turtle Mail — A Wi-Fi connected turtle-shaped thermal printer for kids
FlapIt — A split-flap display counter for social accounts
SunToWater — Lets you produce your own fresh water from air using solar energy
LIVIN farms — A desktop hive for home-to-harvest edible mealworms from kitchen scraps
Ohayō Tomorrow — A hangover prevention drink that glows so you can find it in the dark
Bakeys — Affordable edible cutlery
Josephine — Lets you get home-cooked meals from your neighbors
Cheese Posties — Delivers a grilled cheese sandwich to your doorstep every week
Nima — Claims to be the world’s first portable gluten sensor
OLIO — A food-sharing app to reduce food waste at home and in your local community
CITRUSMARK — Prints marketing messages onto citrus fruits
Blue River Technology — On-tractor live plant analysis and care for industrial farming
GrassOmeter — Optimizes grass growth, fertilizer use, and reseeding using ultrasound sensors
Lono — Lets you control sprinklers with your smartphone
Teslasuit — Lets you feel virtual reality
WizDish ROVR — A VR treadmill
Beloola — Browser-based 3D social platform
Shapr3D — 3D modeling software for iPad Pro
WallaMe — Hides messages in the real world using augmented reality
Vrideo — Streams immersive videos on the web, mobile, and VR
LifePrint — Lets you print videos on the go
Tools for Startups
Equidam — Calculates a company’s valuation in minutes
Jaco — Records what visitors do and see on your site
Smartlook — Records everything visitors do on your site
Tapglue — Turns any app into a social network
Maître — Creates a viral waiting list
Reactful — Adds emotional intelligence to your website
Bablic — Hassle-free website translation
LaunchDarkly — Lets you dynamically test new app and website features without having to redeploy
FitYo — Lets you build and launch your own fitness iOS app without any coding
MyAppConverter — Converts your native Objective-C apps to Android or Swift online and instantly
Privacy — Creates a new virtual debit card each time you want to subscribe/buy something
LessChurn — Increases website revenue by reducing churn while tracking exit feedback
Locent — Mailchimp for SMS
PLEENQ — Turns website images into hoverable individual items users can click to buy
EmbedSocial — Claims to be the first Facebook Notifications platform for marketers
La`Zooz — Collaborative ride sharing powered by a virtual currency
Droners — Lets you hire a drone and its pilot on-demand, or get hired
Staffjoy — Automates the process of scheduling shifts
Encore — Lets you book a music gig, or get booked
EquiTable — Splits restaurant bills based on gender and racial wage gaps
Placemeter — Automatic pedestrian and vehicle activity analysis for city and physical business optimization
x.ai — Meet Amy, an AI personal assistant who schedules meetings for you
Desktop Genetics — Building an AI for CRISPR genome editing to help find the genetic causes of diseases
Aipoly — Computer vision for the blind
Api.ai — Conversational user interface for connect devices
Apifier — Extracts structured data from any website
Kommute — An offline news reader that gives you web-like access
Fedger — Structured data about startups entirely crawled from the web
Chirp — Sends data with sound
Pandascore — Gets data from the widest e-sports database
Glancify — Displays any data from the web on Apple Watch using glances or complications
This. — A social network where each member is allowed to share just one link a day
Sup — Connects you with nearby friends so you can meet
Cuddli — Dating app for geeks
Blab — Live video conversations about any topic
Karkoona — License plate-based messaging platform
Yapply — Lets you chat with people on the same website as you right now
Smell Dating — A mail odor dating service
MightyBell — Lets you create a community and a business on your own native mobile networks
ConvoLounge — Out of the box live chat platform for communities
Mapme — Lets you build smart maps without any coding
Josh — Voice-activated home automation system
Roam — Lets you sign one lease and live around the world
Flip — Gets you out of your lease, hassle free
YourWelcome — Increases hospitality of Airbnb homes
Recharge — Lets you nap or shower in a luxury hotel room near you and pay by the minute
Truebill — Lets you find, track, and cancel your paid subscriptions
Throttle — Gets you a new unique email address for everything you sign up for online to conquer spam
Ghostnote — Attaches notes directly to applications, documents, folders, and websites
Smooz — Opens a channel between two Slack teams
Gi FlyBike — A maintenance free electric bike that folds in one second
Alta Motors — Performance-oriented electric motorcycles
SimpliRoute — Optimizes delivery routes
Transmetrics — Accurately predicst future cargo shipping volumes
SOSmart — Smartphone-based automatic car accident detection and notification
Relay — A robot for automated hotel deliveries
Cover — Takes a photo of something you want to insure to get a quote
Claimdog — Finds out if a business owes you money
Notarize — On-demand remote, electronic notarization
Taxfyle — Lets you hire a CPA through an app to do your taxes
CountUp — Helps you find and work with on-demand business accountants
CaseHub — Lets you build class action lawsuits online
AmpMe — Syncs your phone with friends to create a portable sound system
Studio Sessions TV — Lets you learn music producing by watching others or broadcast yourself
Dreampire — A crowdsourced audio-visual collection of dreams
Tattoodo — Show and tell for tattoo artists
Serendipity — Introduces you to a randomly selected professional every month
Party with a local — Enables you to meet locals to take you out when you’re traveling
HangoverApp — Shared albums that can only be viewed when the owners are co-located
AirConsole — Turns a computer into a multiplayer video game console and smartphones into the gamepads
The first noticeable contrast in this list is between startups that aim to offer a better solution for something people already do and those that want to create new behaviors.
In the former category, Uber for X is a popular model, where the innovation comes from the type of services offered on-demand rather than the model itself. For instance, you can now hire a harpist for a night (Encore), a drone to film your wedding (Droners), a CPA to do your taxes (Taxfyle), or even a notary (Notarize), in a couple of taps.
Proposing solutions that take less effort than the status quo is also achieved by making algorithms work instead of people. Interesting examples include getting an insurance quote simply by taking a picture of the vehicle/item/animal in question (Cover), automated workforce scheduling (Staffjoy), and an AI personal assistant that takes care of scheduling meetings for you (x.ai).
Optimization is a similar trend, where startups try to optimize an existing process to increase the reward for the end user. This is happening in B2B applications such as automated lettuce thinning to minimize fertilizer use (Blue River Technology) or delivery route optimization to reduce planning time and fuel consumption (Simpliroute). In B2C scenarios, examples include automatically finding and tracking your paid subscriptions (Truebill) or generating new virtual debit cards each time you buy something to stay on top of your finances (Privacy).
Conversely, some startups are creating their own market, offering us entirely new things to do and ways to work.
The most striking example is virtual reality, which is set to be a hot topic this year. While the first mainstream VR headsets are starting to be commercialized, startups are building the ecosystem around them, such as a suit to ‘feel VR’ (Teslasuit) and a treadmill to make movement in VR more lifelike (WizDish ROVR).
Beyond VR, a host of unexpected — yet somehow credible — products are seeing the light of day. It’s now possible to purchase a kitchen hive to harvest edible insects to substitute meat-protein (LIVIN farms), take a shower or nap in a luxury Bay Area hotel (Recharge), or get a water generator that makes 40-100 gallons of drinking water every day from thin air using solar energy (SunToWater).
But perhaps the most interesting trend we’ve seen here is the emergence of an entirely new industry, one where startups are trying to sell products to other startups. In this startup meta-industry, companies offer peers solutions to build, market, and sell their own product. Whether founders want to add emotional intelligence to their website (Reactful), see exactly how users interact with their product’s landing page (Jaco, Smartlook), or calculate their valuation, there’s a startup for that!
Taking things a step further, some startups are on the verge of proposing a SaaS model where the first S stands for startup. You can buy a customizable iOS fitness app template that supports in-app purchases for under $500 (FitYo) — have a go at starting a mobile fitness business without any programming skills! While the idea might seem far-fetched, one startup already allows users to create and monetize their own social network (MightyBell). The barriers to entry for starting up are about to get even lower.
Jeremiah Smith is a cofounder of Startup Tracker, a browser extension that aggregates, crawls, and crowdsources structured data about startups.