Which startups could be on the verge of big things?
That’s a question we attempt to answer in our new list of 18 Boston startups to watch, which has been an annual tradition for BostInno. However, we decided to shake things up for this year’s list and add an event where you will get to meet many of the startups below.
In the past, we had run two separate posts every year, one focused on early-stage startups and another on growth-stage companies. To simplify things this year, we decided to consolidate the two posts into one article, which has an even number of startups to watch that are seed-stage or earlier and those that have raised a Series A round or later.
In compiling this year’s list, we did something else different: We consulted with several local investors and operators on companies they think are on the verge of big things. We also used our own judgment to add a few other companies to the mix. In the end, we had the final say on every startup that is included in the list below.
Interested in meeting some of next year’s startups to watch? BostInno is hosting its first-ever Startups to Watch event on Jan. 25 at CIC Boston.
Founded by three Northeastern University graduates, Elsen provides a big data platform that helps financial institutions test and discover new investment strategies by giving them an easy way to extract and clean up data from proprietary and third-party sources. The startup recently raised a $2.4 million seed round led by local venture capital firm Hyperplane, with Managing Partner Jack Klinck, previously an executive at State Street, joining the company’s board. Earlier this year, the company announced its technology would power Thomson Reuters’ new investment modeling software tool. Other investors include Accomplice and Launch Capital.
Forge.AI is an artificial intelligence startup founded by former Skyhook Wireless CEO Jim Crowley, Adelphic co-founder Jennifer Lum and former MITRE senior principal AI engineer Jack Crowley. The startup is creating a system that can turn unstructured data “into rich, usable information for intelligent machines.”
Kuebix is a Maynard-based provider of freight intelligence software that has made some significant leadership hires in the past year. That includes CEO David Lemont, who previously led Currensee, AppIQ and Revit Technology, the latter of which was acquired by Autodesk; CFO Rich Forcier, who was previously at DataXu; and Vice President of Business Development John McCammond, who was previously at Fleetmatics. The company, which counts local venture capital firm Pillar as an investor, said in November that its new free transportation management system was seeing quick adoption less than a month after launch.
Sentenai came out of stealth mode in November with a software platform that helps manufacturers, Internet of Things providers and other companies looking to gain insights from sensor data. The company was founded by former Techstars Boston director Rohit Gupta and Hyperplane Venture Capital co-founder Brendan Kohler. In early 2016, the company raised a $1.8 million seed round from local venture capital firms Flybridge Capital Partners, Founder Collective, Project 11 Ventures, and Hyperplane Venture Capital.
Founded by former Promoboxx executive Janet Comenos, Spotted aims to turn natural brand endorsements by celebrities into a bigger opportunity for companies. The company provides brand marketers a data platform that monitors a list of 10,000 different brands that more than 8,000 celebrities wear and use so that they can make better marketing decisions. The company raised a $4.7 million seed round in 2016 that included early HubSpot investor Joe Caruso.
After winning $50,000 from MassChallenge in 2016, Tranquilo turned heads earlier this year when the company showed off its portable vibrating mat for babies on the ABC TV show Shark Tank. The Tranquilo Mat is designed to make vibrations that mimic a mother’s heartbeat and motions as a way to calm down a baby. The company was founded by maternity nurse Melissa Gersin, and her co-founders are Ashley Robinson and Annie Hall.
Virtudent is a Boston telemedicine startup that provides mobile dentist services. While the startup provides services to large corporate clients like Wayfair and LogMeIn, the company also works with nonprofit clients like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire and Manchester. Earlier this year, the company hired longtime athenahealth employee John Voith as its senior vice president of operations, five months after it raised a $2 million seed round led by Sparta Group LLC, the investment office of Desh Deshpande.
WEVO is an artificial intelligence and crowdsourcing software platform that launched in September with a $1.6 million seed round. The company, which lets digital marketers test and and improve sales conversion on websites, was founded by CEO Nitzan Shaer, a former Skype executive, and Janet Muto, a former Constant Contact CMO. Most recently, the company hired former Spotify executive Eli Daniel as its CTO. Investors include Will Graylin, global general manager of Samsung Pay, and former MIT Media Lab director Frank Moss.
Zemcar is a startup that provides secure transportation services for children. When we first wrote about the company last year, we deemed it the “Uber for kids,” but a recent article in The Boston Globe positions Zemcar more appropriately as the “Care.com of transportation.” In October, the company announced Juliette Kayyem, who served as a homeland security official in the Obama administration, would serve as its new CEO, taking over from founder Bilal Khan. The company also appointed serial entrepreneur Shahid Azim as COO and Care.com co-founder Donna Levin and former Google executive Laura DeBonis as advisers.
Series A/Series A+
Buoy Health is a chatbot platform that competes with WebMD by providing a conversational interface that can check a person’s symptoms and provide a detailed analysis of what to do next. In August, the company announced it had raised a $6.7 million Series A round led by an undisclosed strategic investor in the healthcare payer space and F-Prime Capital, a venture capital firm associated with Fidelity Investments. At the time of the announcement, Andrew Le, Buoy’s founder and CEO who went to Harvard Medical School, said the company was working with three customers: a healthcare system, the payer that co-led the investment and a healthcare vendor that works with self-insured employers.
Circulation helps facilitate non-emergency rides to medical appointments with its digital transportation platform. The company counts Lyft and Uber as transportation partners, and it’s now serving more than 1,000 healthcare locations across 44 states. Circulation raised a $10 million Series A round in July that was lead by Flare Capital Partners and Providence Service Corporation. Other investors include Boston Children’s Hospital and Humana.
Founded by Israeli Air Force veterans, ClimaCell is developing a weather software platform that aims to provide granular, highly accurate forecasts. In late November, the company announced that it had raised a $15 million Series A round led by Canaan, with participation from Fontinalis Partners and Square Peg Capital. At the time, the company said it has customers in the aviation, construction, financial services and outdoor entertainment sectors. It also said it plans to double its Boston workforce of 25 by the end of the year.
Drift is a conversational sales and marketing software platform founded by former HubSpot executives David Cancel and Elias Torres. In September, the company raised a $32 million Series B round led by Sequoia, General Catalyst and CRV, all three of which previously invested in HubSpot. The round also received participation from HubSpot, which is developing its own conversational sales and marketing platform. At the time of its funding announcement, the company said it planned to reach nearly 200 empoyees by the end of 2018.
Gamer Sensei is an esports coaching platform that pairs gamers with professional players for one-on-one sessions. In August, the company announced that it raised a $4 million Series A round from a group of venture capital firms, including Accomplice and Advancit Capital. While the company hasn’t provided specific numbers, it has previously said that users are spending “many thousands of dollars” on hundreds of coaches in the company’s platform. More recently, the company said it was partnering with colleges to provide esports training for students.
PathAI is startup that uses machine learning and other tools to help pathologists with the diagnosis of diseases, among other things. In early November, the company announced that it raised an $11 million Series A round led by General Catalyst, with participation from Pillar, Refactor Capital and 8VC. At the time, the company also said that it added Vertex Pharmaceuticals CEO Jeff Leiden and serial entrepreneur Stan Lapidus to its board. The company’s early customers include Philips and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Spun out of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 2013, Tamr uses a machine learning platform to help big companies access and combine large amounts of data from multiple sources. The company counts General Electric, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Thomson Reuters as both customers and investors, with GE investing an undisclosed amount in Tamr in May. Other customers include Toyota, Novartis and Merck.
Veo Robotics has created a software and hardware platform that allows for a closer and more fluid collaboration between robots and humans in factories. In October, the company raised a $12 million Series A round led by GV (formerly known as Google Ventures) and Lux Capital, with participation from Next47, the venture arm of manufacturing giant Siemens. At the time of the funding announcement, the company said it was already working with automotive manufacturers, consumer packaged good companies and major household appliance makers.
Vesper makes low-power, durable microphones that are being used for voice-interface devices, including smart speakers. Late last year, the company raised a $15 million from investors, including Accomplice and Amazon’s Alexa Fund. More recently, the company announced that it would supply microphones for Synaptics’ Amazon Alexa Voice Service development kits.