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[Ed. note: Correction made 1/16/23 to Lendbuzz section, from “Total funding to date: $894 million” to “Total funding to date: Undisclosed” due to a large portion of that funding being from debt-financing]
[Ed. note: Correction made 1/13/23 to MeetKai section, from “Total funding to date: More than $500 million” to “Total funding to date: More than $20 million”]
The macroeconomic environment in 2023 portends to be one of recession, inflation and higher interest rates, which will affect the world of startups and VC investment — along with all other sectors. Venture capitalist Bill Gurley spoke in 2022 about the need for startups to be realistic about the current economic environment.
“While many venture firms have a lot of money to invest, deal-making has slowed considerably this year ,” Gurley told McKinsey. “Average valuations of some fundraising rounds have dropped as investors adjust to an economic slowdown and look warily ahead.”
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A good time for startups?
That doesn’t mean, however, that the most innovative new businesses won’t have great success if they’re offering products and services for which there’s growing demand, despite the looming economic challenges.
“This may be a great time to launch a startup,” noted Gurley, adding that “being realistic doesn’t necessarily mean being pessimistic.”
Internet platforms that completely or partially disintermediate brokers or agencies in various industries are a promising trend. By putting more control of transactions or operations into the hands of individuals and small businesses, some notably vibrant startups are successfully disrupting marketing, real estate and other verticals.
Democratizing data analytics tools
A main theme among some of the most promising recent startups is “democratizing” access to powerful data analytics tools for retail investors — tools that were previously the preserve of elite hedge funds and other big Wall Street firms. The so-called “alternative data” market is beginning to level the broader playing field in this domain, as well as enable new sources of credit for unbanked or underbanked people around the world.
The fintech world continues to deliver disruptive new business models that are innovating in the capital markets and making some asset classes available to a wider range of investors. This is particularly the case with the insurance and reinsurance markets, once solely the realm of major firms like Lloyds, Swiss Re and Berkshire Hathaway.
Data management continues to be a dominant factor in market growth. The demand for greater capacities of data storage and retrieval, fueled by the increasingly massive amounts of data required to feed new machine learning (ML) and other AI tech, underlies many of the most disruptive new services coming online. Some of the fastest-growing startups are delivering breakthrough technologies, notably in the field of all-flash drive data storage systems.
Finally, the emerging metaverse is gaining traction as the next leap forward for the internet. Virtual reality and augmented reality environments populated by avatars or tour guides powered by AI are increasingly capable of enabling more natural human-AI conversations than their chatbot predecessors. The mission to create an intuitive metaverse drives some of today’s hottest startups to track now.
Looking ahead at the coming 12 months, the list below highlights startups positioned for exciting growth based on their traction so far, their funding from a year ago, and the soundness of their business models going forward. Some are already profitable, while others are shaping up to make major inroads with innovative offerings, ample venture funding and excellent management teams.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it offers a glimpse of the promising potential of the startup ecosystem in 2023, regardless of the current economic downturn. Here are 10 recently funded companies to watch this year.
Founder(s): Weili Dai, James Kaplan
Headquarters: Los Angeles, California, USA
Total funding to date: More than $20 million
Weili Dai, who co-founded Marvell Technology in 1995 — and led the company’s growth into a multibillion-dollar business — now plans to improve lives with her latest brainchild, MeetKai, by making advanced AI applications accessible to the masses. Recognized as a brilliant software engineer and innovator, Dai co-founded MeetKai with CEO James Kaplan as a startup focused on cutting-edge AI solutions for mapping the real world and enhancing real-life experiences.
“We’re building advanced intuitive products that empower people in every field, to improve their lives, make their work more efficient, and [make] their presence in the metaverse more attainable,” said Dai.
The company claims that one of its latest products, the MeetKai Metaverse Editor, enables anyone with a smartphone to build their own metaverse content from scratch.
MeetKai Reality does something perhaps more exciting. It allows users to create instant 3D replicas of any physical space in seconds, with nothing but a video recorded on any smartphone. Apart from enabling non-technical users to build their own virtual spaces, MeetKai plans to make every metaverse experience available in common web browsers and devices for maximized accessibility.
For speech recognition and related conversational AI applications, MeetKai’s voice-search technology already supports 50 million users from a wide range of enterprise use cases. The company also says its new Cloud AI offering is “the first to leverage any form of multimedia to have instant, knowledgeable conversations with users, at a fraction of the cost and ten times the speed, using real-time reasoning capabilities.”
Founder(s): Yaniv Bertele, Alon Lifshitz, Ben Zickel
Headquarters: Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
Total funding to date: $101 million
Vesttoo bridges the insurance industry and capital markets with AI-powered technology and expertise in data science, insurance and finance. Using advanced machine learning (ML), Vesttoo creates insurance-linked assets from low-volatility insurance liabilities, which provide additional sources of capital for insurers and access to low-volatility assets for investors.
Vesttoo’s ML-based technologies analyze and build risk models from large volumes of complex data associated with insurance liabilities. The company’s platform models the non-catastrophe insurance liabilities and packages them into a variety of financial structures that are familiar to capital market investors, offering them a range of investment products. Its network of partners includes well-established global insurers, financial institutions and large multinational brokers.
Despite the current downtrend for many insurtech companies generally, Vesttoo raised $80 million in its third round of venture capital and had a valuation of $1 billion in October 2022. The deal was co-led by Mouro Capital and a private equity fund based in UAE, with participation from Gramercy Ventures, Black River Ventures and Hanaco Ventures. The company is reportedly profitable already, and says it intends to use its new funding to expand its global footprint and widen the offerings of its marketplace that connects insurers and investors.
The company has recently pursued rapid global expansion, hiring professionals in New York, London, Hong Kong, Seoul, Dubai and Tokyo.
Founder(s): Bülent Tekmen, Mihriban Ersin
Headquarters: London, UK
Total funding to date: $40 million
Colendi provides embedded fintech services that make banking and credit more accessible than traditional lending institutions for consumers, merchants and financial and non-financial entities. The company’s technology enables breakthrough risk-assessment methodologies, using AI algorithms and alternative data types, such as the information that can be mined from a person’s mobile device.
Colendi also offers access to consumer loans with a “buy-now-pay-later” (BNPL) model marketed through a network of strategic partners. The company supports micro-credit and other financial services that are fully integrated into ecommerce, mobile and in-store channels, allowing a current end-user base of around 15 million people to access cheap capital at the point of transaction.
In late 2022, Colendi signed a deal with Turkish Fibabanka, opening a $150 million strategic credit line to Colendi’s millions of end users. A few months earlier, Colendi acquired the blockchain infrastructure firm SETL, whose chairman is Sir David Walker, former executive director of the Bank of England.
Colendi’s securities subsidiary has partnered with DriveWealth, which offers API-based digital trading technologies for access to U.S. financial markets. Under the agreement, retail investors will be able to trade stocks without any lower limit. The company also intends to roll out a corporate blockchain solution that will support new embedded finance offerings in a range of digital market verticals, including securities trading, telco, energy and pay-as-you-go insurance products.
Colendi intends to become the world’s leading embedded finance player and has been innovating different product groups through several major strategic partnerships, as it continues developing a range of unique technologies. The company has also remained profitable throughout its impressive high-growth performance.
Founder(s): Shaun Clark, Varun Vairavan, Robin Alex
Headquarters: Dallas, Texas, USA
Total funding to date: $60 million
HighLevel, a provider of a digital marketing SaaS platform, has shown an upward trajectory in the competitive world of software. In 2022 alone, its product went up 88%, with an 88% growth in annual recurring revenue (ARR). To keep up with this major growth surge, the company’s new employee hires also went up by 116%. HighLevel raised $60 million from Peak Equity a year ago, making it one of the most highly funded startups in recent years.
Founded in 2018, the company enables agencies and marketers to capture, nurture and close sales leads through a fully integrated solution, which is also offered as a white-label product allowing agencies to create a custom-branded app. The company claims that its product is continuously being perfected to help customers scale faster, with less effort, and experience significantly less churn.
HighLevel’s solution expedites the creation of websites, sales funnels and landing pages, as well as surveys, appointment scheduling and more. The platform allows marketers to connect and communicate on all device types with their clients and sales leads through multiple channels, including phone, voicemail, SMS/MMS, emails, Facebook Messenger, Instagram direct messages — and soon WhatsApp.
“We’re constantly rolling out powerful new features such as intuitive, drag-and-drop templates, based on a constant feedback loop that we encourage with our customers,” said HighLevel cofounder Shaun Clark. “Agencies are realizing rapid returns on investment with HighLevel, as they get their clients fully operational on the SaaS platform within very short time frames, opening up lucrative new revenue streams.”
HighLevel’s monthly pricing model allows customers unlimited accounts, unlimited users and unlimited contacts for a fixed fee. The company reports that it currently has a rapidly growing user base of more than 17,000 agencies, supporting more than a half-million business clients in aggregate.
Founder(s): Damian Scavo, Maciej Donajski
Headquarters: Palo Alto, California, USA
Total funding to date: $12 million
Streetbeat, provider of an innovative and patented investing platform, “enables retail investors to benefit from data and tools that, until recently, were available only to elite Wall Street firms,” according to Damian Scavo, the company’s cofounder and CEO. Streetbeat offers individuals access to cutting-edge technology, including an array of automated algo-trading strategies. It also offers customers an international P2P transfer capability (based on blockchain) in 50 countries.
According to Streetbeat, prior to the company’s launch, the market insights derived from its advanced algorithms were unavailable to individuals trading on their own, even though combined retail investors represent 28% of all trading volumes — a rapidly growing percentage.
Streetbeat’s algo-trading tech for stocks, bonds and crypto uses real-time signals derived from more than one billion data points, similar to how leading hedge funds leverage big data and advanced AI to gain a market edge. The company’s tools are designed for successful investing in every market condition: bull, bear, high or low volatility. According to Streetbeat, returns for clients who used its flagship strategies were positive in 2022, despite negative market indexes.
Scavo is a serial entrepreneur with three previous startups in Europe and Silicon Valley and three successful exits, the most recent of those being Axwave, a developer of automated content recognition technology that Samba TV acquired in 2019. Streetbeat’s other co-founder, CTO Maciej Donajski, an economist and software engineer with eight patents to his name, also led Axwave’s tech strategy.
Founder(s): Kyle Stoner, Carson Junginger
Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Total funding to date: $8 million
Unreal Estate, founded by serial entrepreneur Kyle Stoner, employs AI to streamline the traditionally complex home buying and selling process. The company says its algorithms supercharge the house-hunting process online and match sellers with buyers far more efficiently than previously possible. With Unreal Estate’s tools, home sellers take a more active role in the process, making their own listing when they sign up for the marketplace. Unreal Estate’s in-house agents advise and coach clients remotely while using productivity-enhancing software. The company reports it has successfully served more than 36,000 sellers to date.
Unreal Estate charges low, flat fees nationwide, enabling sellers to rapidly list homes on the relevant multiple listing services (MLS), “leaving one-dimensional real estate search engines behind.”
Without completely cutting out real estate agents, Unreal Estate’s AI-based platform typically reduces seller commissions by more than 50% — or $11,000 on average — introducing new efficiencies at every step of the process, from property searches to mortgage shopping and the closing process.
According to the company, it has processed $25 billion worth of real estate deals on its platform to date, saving home buyers an average of $2,140 in closing costs. Sellers and buyers find each other through the company’s algorithmic models three times faster than the industry average, according to Stoner.
Unreal’s dashboard pulls all the transaction pieces of a real estate deal together in one place, freeing up agents to focus more on advising their clients, “making them close to 15 times as productive as the traditional real estate agent,” Stoner noted.
Founder(s): Renen Hallak, Shachar Fienblit, Jeff Denworth
Total funding to date: $263 million
VAST Data wants to pioneer a new approach to storing, protecting and serving data. The company claims that it has made the first significant new breakthrough in distributed systems architecture since the introduction of the Google File System in 2003. This is designed to eliminate tradeoffs in infrastructure that have bottlenecked data-intensive applications for the past 20 years.
With VAST Data, organizations can eliminate complex hierarchies of data infrastructure and deploy a single system of high-performance, all-flash storage at exabyte-scale capacity. Customers realize significant application and infrastructure efficiencies from this simplification, which makes data available in real time, at any scale, for modern AI and big data pipelines.
VAST Data started shipping to customers in late 2018 and has since become one of the fastest growing enterprise software startups in history. The company is backed by Goldman Sachs, General Atlantic, Nvidia and others. Its customers include NASA, Verizon, MIT and Mobileye.
In the first half of 2022, VAST reported that more than a dozen customers had invested over $10 million in its universal storage systems, with three customers having committed more than $100 million, while the company’s gross margins remained at 90% — with positive cash flow, on average, for six straight quarters. More than half of VAST’s customers have spent over $1 million to date.
VAST Data expects its momentum will continue in 2023 as it “doubles down” on the all-flash cloud, brings to market new data lake offerings and onboards large OEM partners, global system integrators and key strategic partners.
Founder(s): Sercan Esen, Serhat Cillidag
Headquarters: New York, New York, USA
Total funding to date: $29 million
Intenseye enables companies to leverage existing CCTV networks by connecting their cameras to a machine learning (ML)/AI system that predicts possible injuries and violations of employee health and safety (EHS) rules, before they happen. The human and economic cost of workplace injuries around the world is an estimated $250 billion per year, according to Intenseye.
The company’s AI uses data from processing over 22 billion images daily, and can connect with 200-plus camera models, empowering EHS teams to protect their frontline staff 24/7. Intenseye notifies EHS teams about unsafe acts and conditions in their facilities, enabling them to take required precautions proactively. The platform does not use facial recognition or any biometric applications that might violate employee privacy. Intenseye is the only safety AI platform that’s fully compliant with SOC 2 and GDPR data privacy standards.
Intenseye says that it is not only making EHS-compliance processes easier, but also fundamentally transforming the way the industry works. Previously, other EHS compliance systems relied on lagging indicators, or violations logged after they happened, sometimes using pen and paper. But with Intenseye’s cutting-edge technology, companies can shift to a system based on leading indicators.
Intenseye works with industries in which there is a high risk of injury — currently mining, warehouses, retail, electricity, chemicals and many others. It has developed 50-plus EHS-specific AI models that can be set up, as a rule, to send notifications to EHS teams from day one in cases of slips, trips and falls, spill and leakage and electrical hazards. The platform supports “psychologically safe” workplaces where workers are encouraged to speak up proactively to fix systemic issues.
Intenseye was founded in 2018 and raised $4 million in seed funding, followed by a $25 million Series A round last year led by Insight Partners.
Founder(s): Amitay Kalmar, Dan Raviv
Headquarters: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Total funding to date: Undisclosed
Lendbuzz is a fintech company using alternative data and ML algorithms to better assess consumer credit risk. The company offers an AI-based auto financing platform that meets the needs of a wide range of underserved borrowers. Its algorithms go beyond traditional credit scores to assess a borrower’s risk, taking into consideration a loan applicant’s full financial profile, employment history, educational background and other data.
Lendbuzz’s ML models enable dealerships to provide better financing terms to customers who are underserved by traditional banks. With its cutting-edge, real-time data analysis, Lendbuzz provides access to auto loans for people who would otherwise be shut out of the traditional financial system.
The company’s ML algorithms allow it to make lending decisions in real time, without the traditional lag period with lenders that rely purely on credit scores. Lenbuzz claims its algorithms ensure the company reports comparatively low default rates.
The company raised $60 million in mid-2021 in its third round of venture capital. Lendbuzz’s investors include Wellington Management, Goldman Sachs and MUFG Innovation Partners. In November 2022, J.P. Morgan provided a $150 million credit facility to Lenbuzz. This was followed by a $135 million credit facility in December from Regions Bank.
Founder(s): Rajat Mishra
Headquarters: Los Altos, California, USA
Total funding to date: $20 million
Prezent.ai offers a “one-stop shop” solution for business communications, using data-based intelligence to mold hyper-personalized templates, storylines and branded presentations. The company says that its solution, currently in use by over 25 Fortune 2000 businesses, cuts down on presentation creation time by up to 70% on average.
Prezent.ai was founded in 2021 by Rajat Mishra, a senior tech executive turned entrepreneur “on a mission to automate presentations and democratize great business communication.”
The company’s AI-powered presentation productivity platform is designed to “supercharge” business communication. Its solution helps users master structured storytelling and build strategic presentations that make their messages stand out. It also enables the creation of presentations tailored to specific audience preferences, as well as supporting brainstorming and collaboration among colleagues.
According to the company, its ML algorithms analyze the preferences of individuals and agencies, enabling its customers to use the software platform rather than reaching out to boutique design agencies. Additionally, present.ai says it works with Fortune 1000 companies to ensure that all presentations are 100% brand compliant. Users can standardize content and distribute presentations instantly.
Prezent.ai reported raising $20 million in April 2022 in its first round of venture capital, which was led by Greycroft. Other investors in the deal included WestWave Capital and Emergent Ventures, both of which invested in the company’s previous $4.3 million seed funding round in June 2021.
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