Elsa Sze, founder of the online civic engagement startup Agora.
Elsa Sze, founder of the online civic engagement startup Agora.

People often ask me how we pick the finalists for the 50 on Fire awards (which are next week). The answer is, 50 on Fire is a little like the law. Or sausages. You don’t necessarily want to see how our list of finalists is made.

This year, we got a lot of nominations, plus a liberal number of last-minute additions from staff. In a series of meetings involving over-inked whiteboards, we narrowed that list down to 200 finalists.

Throughout the process, we kept coming across companies and individuals who are full of promise, but who hadn’t shown enough traction yet to say they’re “on fire.” It happened often enough that we started keeping a spreadsheet tab labeled “2016.” Here’s who was on it.

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One caveat: There are several companies I’ve got my eye on for 2016 and not all of them are on this list. Driftt is one of them, for example. You can’t be on the list unless someone nominated you for 50 on Fire, see?

That said, it’s inspiring to see so many companies and individuals showing such promise at an early stage in their work.

Agora (Civic)

Agora is a Harvard Innovation Lab startup that aims to facilitate political discussion. You may remember the recent renewal of the debate over noncompetes in Mass., on Beacon Hill. Agora helped bring the voices of more than 100 entrepreneurs into that debate. They’ve also worked with Boston city councilors to enable online outreach to citizens who can’t attend hearings. “I’m from Hong Kong,” founder Elsa Sze told us earlier this year. “I didn’t grow up with democracy, so I’ve always been fascinated by it. I’ve noticed that up until now, votes have only counted on Election Day. But I want it so people have a voice every day.”

Resilient Coders (Civic)

Resilient Coders has been at its mission to teach young people to code for just six months. During that time they’ve run seven cohorts of teens from Boston schools, prisons and communities that are underrepresented in tech. They’ve amassed donated computers, launched a computer science lab and partnered with the Boston Police Department. This is an organization that has the potential to change lives in Boston and build the city’s next generation tech entrepreneurs.

Ashley Reid (Healthcare) 

Wellist provides an Angie’s List-like platform for hospitals to refer patients to post-care services. They’re in the midst of raising a round of seed financing with Vinay Seth Mohta, a former Endeca and Kayak executive who’s now CTO at Kyruus, leading a BOSS Syndicate round on Angellist. Ashley Reid, its co-founder and CEO, has helped build its database of resources and partnered with two major Boston healthcare institutions: MGH Cancer Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Justin Goodstein (Civic)

Justin Goodstein is the principal photographer for digital projects at the Boston Public Library. His most recent work has been on the Haymarket, a living piece of Boston’s history that is still a vital part of the city’s economy. His work on Haymarket began with a photo exhibition at Suffolk University, followed by a 30-minute documentary and most recently a book, published in October by Arcadia Press. “People like Justin are rare and deserve to be recognized,” wrote Paul Costello (Agency 180) in his nomination. “My hope is that this nomination brings forth a new wave of young Bostonians who realize it’s perhaps just as cool to help preserve Boston’s soul and its past, as it is to benefit from its momentum and its future.”

Creative Mornings Boston 

Led by ex-HubSpotter Keith Frankel, the Boston chapter of Creative Mornings offers what amounts to a rare nexus in this silo-bound, buttoned up town. It’s a place where tech and creative meet and most of the discussion ends up aimed at the far future or the extravagant. For example: I saw the CEO of Vecna talk about the moral case for robots replacing human labor in front of an audience of creatives at Fringe, a makerspace in Somerville; I heard the founder of Johnny Cupcakes talk about over-delivering on customer experience to an audience full of tech types at WeWork. Might just be a bunch of people in a room, but this is kind of the thing Boston has been not so great at historically. The impact isn’t quantifiable, but it can be great.

ClearSky Data

ClearSky Data is trying to bridge a gap that’s kept some companies from moving to cloud-based storage. They’ve been called the Akamai of storage and if they get it right, their managed storage offering will be like Spotify compared to a stack of compact discs. They launched their managed global storage network in August with a handful of customer testimonials. Co-founders Ellen Rubin (Netezza) and Lazarus Vekiarides (EqualLogic) are not new at this. Keep your eyes on the skies, as they say.


Software development, to read about it in the tech press, is a solitary art. You read about the “10X programmer,” and the poor social instincts of people who spend their days writing code. It’s not really like that, as DevOps professionals well know. Codeship automates all the processes involved in setting up infrastructure and workflows, and measuring performance. It has 75,000 users, partnerships with Amazon Web Services and Github and has raised a $2.9 million seed from Sigma Prime Ventures, Boston Seed and Devonshire Investors.

Daquan Oliver

Before graduating from Babson College last year, Daquan Oliver had some pretty interesting ideas for marketing to college students. He started giving away free gear, slapped with QR codes to market brands. Eventually he dropped that idea, but spun it into work with Uber and Zipcar on campus promotions. But we’re more interested in a nonprofit venture he started at the same time, called Recesspreneurs, which recruits college students to act as mentors to kids age 11 and 12 in entrepreneurial projects. It’s now called WeThrive and Oliver reports he’s raised $100,000 for it and reached 150 individuals.


Hydroswarm is working on an adaptable, smart drone platform that communicates with underwater, football-sized, data-collecting drones, and it can be used for a number of applications, including environmental monitoring and in the oil and gas industry. MIT PhD student Sampriti Bhattacharyya is the founder. They were a $50K winner at MassChallenge this year.


What happens to your potential customer after she clicks on your ad? Jebbit knows. The adtech company launched a new product, the Jebbit post-click marketing platform, in April of 2014. Since then it’s signed Volkswagen, Dell, EMC, CBS, AutoNation, New Balance, Reebok, Zipcar and a handful of 2016 presidential campaigns. That’s brought revenue to an average quarterly growth rate of 154 percent over the past six quarters.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong number of nominations. It’s been changed.