San Francisco's 20 most exciting startups

Ahead of the debut of DATAx San Francisco in May, we unveil our comprehensive list of 20 of the most exciting startups working in the Bay Area's thriving tech scene

11Jan

Over the past decade, San Francisco has proven itself to be the perfect breeding ground for some of the best startups in the world today. Home to Twitter and Uber, more companies sprout up every month promising to revolutionize well, just about everything, all under the watchful eye of Salesforce tower, a building which has become a beacon of innovation.

Ahead of the debut of DATAx San Francisco on May 9–10, 2019 – a fast-paced festival bringing data science into the real world across five stages, with 100 speakers and more than 500 innovators – we look at 20 of the most inspiring startups working in San Francisco.

Calm

Calm provides a range of apps aimed at simply and effectively helping individuals to relax and "calm" their minds. Founded in 2012 with the aim to improve the world's mental health, it is attempting to bring the benefits of meditation to a busy world. Over three rounds of funding, Calm has so far raised $28m to reach its goal.

So, what does 2019 look for the startup?

"Calm aims to become Nike for the mind, making the world happier and healthier, which comes with bringing Calm to as many people as possible," the company tells us.

"In 2018 we partnered with like-minded brands American Airlines and XpresSpa, to give moments of Calm to travelers worldwide, as well as Sonos, so Calm users can enjoy content in a whole new way at home," it adds. "We also took Calm oversees last year and launched our first localized content in Germany, Calm's biggest market outside of the US.

"Building on this momentum into 2019, we're looking to bring more localized content to other countries and continue securing impactful partnerships that will bring more Calm to the world."

With 39 million downloads and more than 225,000 five star reviews, this is one company set to revolutionize the way look at our minds.

HandUp

HandUp is an online platform that allows anyone to donate directly to homeless people and other vulnerable individuals.

The idea for the company came during a cold night in 2012 when Rose Broome passed a shivering woman huddled in a doorway in San Francisco. That night she made a commitment to do something to make a difference, and HandUp was born.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness found that 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the US in 2017. HandUp gives those battling homelessness the platform to appeal directly to donors in their own voice to fund their specific needs. To do this, the non-profit partners with human services organizations and charities that typically service homeless populations so they can then help their clients create profiles on the HandUp site. The organizations then pay for the items requested.

"It's surprising, but right now, only 8% of charitable giving happens online," Broome says. This is probably because the nonprofit sector is typically late to the game when it comes to adopting new technologies.

"So often, nonprofits are the last to get some of the best technology to do their work," explains Broome's co-founder Sammie Rayner. It is this problem that HandUp attempts to resolve.

HandUp now has 113 partners and $3.06m had been donated on the site at the time of publishing.

LambdaTest

Founded in San Francisco in 2017, LambdaTest is a SaaS firm committed to building whole test infrastructure on the cloud, offering cross-browser testing across more than 2,000 browsers.

The LambdaTest product integrates with top test management and bug tracking tools, allowing its users to log a bug in just one click.

"We love being in the Bay Area because of its access to largest and most talented pool of people, the best tech community in the neighbourhood and faster access to venture capital and growth – in addition to better credibility with access to our target audience," Lambda told us.

What does 2019 look like for this ambitious startup? "We have recently received a funding of $1m (the company's seed round) and our plan in 2019 is to ensure we deploy that funding into improving the product and building a team that would help us reach the goal we have set out to achieve.

"Also, we recently launched the automation cut for web testing which will reduce the testing time spent by web developer and testers to half. Testing is a tedious and repetitive task and at LambdaTest we will continue to do our bit in solving the real-world problems."

It has been in business for a little over a year now, but has already attracted high-profile clients such as Amazon, Trivago and Brothers.com.

uBiome

uBiome has grown steadily into a global leader in microbial genomics since its beginning in 2012. With a mission statement to advance the science of the microbiome, the startup uses its patented precision sequencing process alongside machine learning (ML), AI and advanced statistical techniques to analyze human microbes.

uBiome is built on the recognition that while we can do little to change our genetic makeup our microbiomes can be changed through relatively simple means. It created its platform to empower people to do so themselves.

"Your microbiome is the unique collection of trillions of microorganisms in and on your body," says the company. "They play a big part in your wellness."

It has so far filed more than 250 patents on its technology. Ubiome's product range includes SmartGut, the world's first sequencing-based clinical microbiome test for detecting gut conditions like IBD, IBS and Chrohn's disease; SmartJane, a women's health screening test for STDs and other gynaecological conditions; and Explorer, a health and wellness product helping individuals understand the role food and lifestyle plays in their personal wellness.

Since its inception, uBiome's platform has been used by hundreds of thousands of consumers, patients and doctors, and utilized by more than 200 research institutions around the world.

The company was the first and remains the largest successful crowdsourced citizen science project in history.

Formant

Founded in 2017 by a team of former Google, Savioke and Redwood Robotics employees Formant wants to help unlock the potential of humans and robots in the workforce through a more efficient cloud infrastructure.

The company has created a platform in an effort to make human-robot collaboration in the workplace as frictionless as possible. Using its $6m seed round funding from SignalFire, Formant is working toward launching a beta version of its platform that equips businesses with cloud infrastructure for the collection of data from fleets of robots, making sense or and acting on it. This allows a human to keep an eye on any number of machines and to step in when there is any confusion about what to do.

Basically, the company wants to "help people speak robot".

"What's really going to move the needle in the innovation economy is using humans as an empowering element in automation," says CEO and co-founder Jeff Linnell.

"The tooling is 10 years behind the web. If you build a data company today, you'll use AWS or Google Cloud, but that simply doesn't exist for robotics. We're building that layer," he adds.

Firefly

Firefly has built a platform that allows rideshare drivers to make money through digital advertising. It officially launched in December 2018, when Firefly also announced that it had raised a startling $21.5m in seed funding.

Advertising in cabs has existed for some time now, but Firefly has changed the game by giving drivers a "digital smart screen" that runs targeted, geofenced campaigns at customers.

The company want to use these screens to empower drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services, who often make below minimum wage while working long hours, to make more money. In fact, Firefly has claimed they make around $300 a month on top of their salary.

But Firefly's goal has a much bigger reach than improving the lives of rideshare drivers.

"Our company also aims to dedicate the year to enhancing Firefly's technology to advance the development of smart cities," Firefly's CEO and co-founder Kaan Gunay tells us. "Working hand in hand with municipal governments, we utilize the data collected by our digital screen sensors to provide useful insights and better address pressing urban issues including, but not limited to, pavement conditions, air quality and traffic lighting. Overall, we believe that our unique technology will give communities across the country the accurate insights required to create smart cities that are community-driven and citizen-focused."

So, why San Francisco?

"When we first started Firefly, we wanted to lay the foundation for our company in a place that matched our community-first value and human-oriented approach – San Francisco has given us that and more," the company explains.

FortressIQ

Founded in San Francisco in 2017, FortressIQ has created a cognitive automation platform that powers a cognitive automation platform for  powering digital transformation utilizing imitation learning.

The startup began with the recognition that the largest obstacle in digital transformation is a fundamental lack of detailed information on current state of operations.

"After speaking with hundreds of companies, it became clear that the dollars being wasted on process assessments and documentation are a "tax on innovation", syphoning dollars from transformation initiatives," says Pankaj Chowdy, founder and CEO of FortressIQ. "To address this grim reality, we're delivering on the promise of cognitive automation with the GA release of our platform, putting us in a strong position to build on the sales momentum and traction we're already experiencing with Fortune 500 companies."

FortressIQ has raised $16m in funding over two rounds, and the latest round of funding in December saw it raise an astonishing $12m – so watch this space in 2019.

Layer1

Founded in 2018 – making it the most recent startup on our list – Layer1 is an investment and infrastructure platform.

With the tagline "we empower cryptocurrencies" the firm take concentrated bets on promising blockchain protocols then builds the critical technology support their growth and global impact. It is also building a specialized mining operation and supporting custody infrastructure for a new "proof-of-work privacy coin".

Although the company is in its very early stages, in December 2018, Layer1 raised $2.1m in funding, with notable investors including PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel and Digital Currency Group.

Faire

Faire's goal is to revolutionize the way local retailers go about stocking produce for their stores by providing them with a platform to "find unique and exciting products from thousands of makers all in one place" at standard wholesale prices.

The mission? To help local players stay in the game by breaking "free from the ineffiencies of an antiquated wholesale model."

Founded in 2017 and based in San Francisco the company has raised a whopping $100m in its Series B and C financings – not too shabby for a company that's not even two years old yet. The company puts this success down to the fact it is the first-ever wholesale marketplace that offers free returns.

"While you and your friends have been sending back shoes, mattresses and anything else that didn't meet your expectations the past decade, retailers have never been given this luxury," says Faire co-founder Max Rhodes. This means that retailers can try new products and return them in 60 days if they fail to garner the attention needed.

With a simple idea and a whole load of funding this is a company that is set to explode in activity over the next few years – so take note.

Gametime

Founded in late 2013, Gametime is a platform for users to purchase event tickets, primarily for sports events such as MLB, but also music events, comedy and theater for the best possible price. Its app uses an algorithm to compile the data of unsold tickets from a number of suppliers, examines more than 10,000 seats and produces the 50 best results for the venue, price and location.

So far, the company has raised $41.5m from various industries and received two high-profile awards: SportBusiness Daily and the Appy Awards. It was also named by Deloitte as one of the fastest-growing companies in the US.

The app is currently available in the US and Canada only.

Apptimize

According to Apptimize, nearly one in four people abandon mobile apps after only one use. This lack of interest is exactly what the company set out to tackle when it set up shop in San Francisco in 2013. Today, the team prides itself on being a global leader in accelerating innovation for mobile and OTT apps, with its innovation engine providing A/B testing and feature release management across a number of platforms.

The team's mission is to enable companies to optimize, deploy and manage the features and UX of their native iOS and Android apps in real time through instant updates, A/B testing, feature flags and analytics.

"Apptimize is the industry leader for mobile A/B testing products," says Taussig, president and CEO of Apptimize. "The world's economy is rapidly moving toward a mobile first, global first marketplace and I believe that Apptimize has the opportunity to strongly influence the success of our customers in their bid to compete in this dynamic market environment."

Apptimize works with some of the biggest apps out there right now, such as the Wall Street Journal, Western Union, Glassdoor and HotelTonight, so it might well be the brains behind your favorite app too.

Forkable

In a move that was good news for foodies who hate the buffet-style lunches their company serve each day, Forkable set up its AI-driven lunch ordering service in San Francisco in 2013. Its business model pleases environmentalists too, because Forkable aims to help companies be more efficient and environmentally-friendly by providing individual lunches, which means a reduction in food waste as well as happier employees.

"Our automated service finds the tastiest single-serving meals from the highest quality restaurants" claims the company. "We eliminate the waste of catering, so your company saves money – and your tastebuds rejoice!"

Every week the company offers menu items from about 10 local restaurants. Employees fill out a survey outlining any food preferences or allergies and then, on Fridays, Forkable uses its AI algorithm to recommend meals for the following week. Individuals can accept the selection or substituted for a different choice. To better tailor an individual's order, Forkable lets employees rate every meal they receive.

So, if you are stuck in that classic situation of just not knowing what you want for lunch – let the robot decide.

Spoke

Founded in 2016, Spoke is aiming help companies find a simpler and smarter way to manage workplace requests.

Spoke uses an AI-enabled chatbot to automatically respond to frequent requests and questions from employees on Slack, email, SMS and web (but especially Slack). The best part? Because of ML, the more your company use it, the smarter and more helpful it gets, meaning that employees can quickly and easily receive the information they need. If it does not know the answer, it will ticket to the right team. The aim is to relieve unnecessary interruptions to teams for mundane requests.

"Using Slack as a help desk – with Spoke's help – lets your coworkers raise support tickets without ever leaving their preferred communication tool," says the firm. "Spoke removes the overhead of managing two separate systems, lets you build a searchable knowledge base, and even answers questions for you automatically."

Over three rounds of funding the company has so far raised a total of $28m.

Modsy

Ever fallen in love with a piece of furniture, but struggled to see how it would fit into your home? In steps Modsy. The company create a digital 3D plan of customers' homes and allows them to see how their space would look with various custom design plans, allowing them "to see inspirational designs and décor within the context of your own home". Clients then have the option to shop directly from their design plans as well as earning exclusive discounts.

Established in 2015 in San Francisco, the company's clientele is mostly new homeowners, remodelers and renters.

Payjoy

Founded in 2015, Payjoy's philosophy is to enable financial inclusion for billions worldwide by providing smartphones to individuals, particularly those in emerging markets, to buy on installment payments and to get cash loans, using their smartphone as collateral.

Understanding that for those in developing countries smartphones can be a gateway to economic empowerment it offers leases for smartphones for buyers who have little or no credit history meaning they cannot get the low-cost payment plans major phone carriers offer. If the buyer does not make the payment in time, the phone gets remotely shut down (meaning it can only call 911 or the Payjoy customer service line and open the PayJoy app) until the bill is paid.

"By having the ability to remotely lock the phone, PayJoy essentially makes the device the collateral for the loan," explains Doug Ricket, CEO of PayJoy. "PayJoy's finance technology will open up access to modern mobile technology and consumer finance for people worldwide. This will increase their quality of life and connect them to new markets, opportunities, and the entire world."

The company has set the goal to reach 1 billion people in emerging markets and has so far raised $51.3m over eight funding rounds.

Rothy's

Based in San Francisco, Rothy's is a startup that began in 2015 that manufacturers women's shoes out of recycled plastic bottles. The retailer's range of colorful flats are made using a 3D knitting process from 100% recycled plastic water bottles.

"Our co-founders, realized something was missing from the market," says the company. "Sustainability was growing in importance but was not yet stylish and style and comfort rarely coexisted. Women needed a stylish, comfortable, sustainable shoe they could wear all day every day, no matter where their busy lives took them."

The shoe boasts some famous fans too, with actress-turned-princess, Meghan Markle, having been photographed in a pair.

In case you're not yet convinced by its potential yet, in December 2018, the company closed on a whopping $35m in funding from mega-investor Goldman Sachs. And at the end of last year it told Bloomberg it expects to see $149m in revenue for 2018 – that's 1.4 million pairs of shoes.

Good Eggs

On a mission to reinvent your food system – for good – Good Eggs is an online grocer and meal kit delivery service founded in the Bay Area in 2011.

Good Eggs boasts that it provides "absurdly fresh groceries" that are "picked yesterday, caught last night, baked this morning… the freshest groceries you've ever tasted" as well as "stupid-easy dinner kits" that take around 10–15 minutes to cook with same-day delivery. It also provides wine, beer and spirits to accompany your meal.

Passionate about supporting local businesses, more than 70% of its offerings are local and every item carries a strict list of sourcing standards. It is also proud to be a responsible employer, with every operations team member receiving benefits, carrying equity in addition to enjoying a wage that is 20–50% above the industry average.

Its environmental, social and everything-in-between business model has led to the company to raise $65m to further its mission so far.

Motiv

Bursting into the bustling San Francisco scene in 2013 with the goal to make wearable devices that fit seamlessly into people's day-to-day lives, Motiv is a personal technology brand. To that end, its flagship product is the "Motiv Ring", a 24/7 smart fitness ring which seamlessly tracks your activity throughout the day, allowing individuals to get a complete view of their health and sleeping patterns, for a cost of $199.99.

Seeing a gap in the market for a sleek and stylish fitness tracker that doubles as a fashion accessory, Motiv created the ring out of lightweight titanium and ensured that it was discreet, comfortable and waterproof – as well as in a choice of three colors. It has a three-day battery life, but only requires a swift 90 minutes to recharge.

The ring connects to your phone via Bluetooth to share the data it collects, then allows people to input activities, view fitness stats, track their sleep and monitor their heart rate.

FastCompany describe the ring as "a taste of the wearable future to come – a future that won't be defined by blinky, distracting gadgets like the Apple Watch, but technology that's subtly woven into the fabric of our lives – and our clothes".

Nurx

The penultimate company on our list is one that is fast becoming known as the "Uber for birth control".

Nurx is an on-demand mobile health platform and birth control delivery company that allows individuals to be prescribed contraceptives and a select few other medications through its app in an effort to eliminate the hassle and stigma of obtaining prescription medications. A doctor on the Nurx network can write a prescription following a few simple questions and then send the appropriate medication directly to the customer, with free delivery.

But it gets better. The whole process, from the first tap to the delivery, takes less than 90 minutes.

Nearly 20 million women in the US live in "contraceptive deserts", areas where the number of clinics does not meet the demand for accessible affordability, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The number of people downloading the app reflects the drought in these areas, with its significant popularity in Texas, a state with infamously stringent access to birth control, in particular.

"Texas is our largest market every week," notes Nurx founder Hans Gangeskar.

In addition to contrac

eptives, the company currently provides a select few easy-to-prescribe drugs, including Truvada for PrEP and travel medications.

Crew

Founded by serial entrepreneur Danny Leffel in 2015, Crew is a communications app that is a bit like Slack, but for mobile workers. The app is targeted at desk-free workers who do not have direct access to effective communication technology on the job, such as those working in hospitality and emergency services workers, allowing all employees to keep "on the same page".

According to Leffel, Crew is all about "creating shared understanding on teams and it's an important leadership quality because sharing understanding means when everybody understands the big picture, knows how their efforts are going to contribute to the goals".

That way "everybody knows where they need to be and when they need to be there, and so that everybody can be split up to have a successful day at work" he adds.

With its latest round of funding finishing in December 2018, the company has raised almost $60m to further its goal of empowering mobile workers to help their businesses and organizations run a lot more smoothly. 

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