Earlier this month, we gave your our list of 17 Boston startups to watch — a guide to the hot startups for this year that have 50 employees or fewer. Now we’re going into beast mode and taking a look at the Boston startups that have already done their fair share of growing and have a lot more room to expand this year. (This list originally appeared in the BostInno Beat newsletter.)
The industries represented by these startups include agriculture, cybersecurity, network routing and consumer robotics. While we made efforts to showcase startups that haven’t been included in “startups to watch” lists from past years, there were a few that have continued to impress us or pique our attention, including ezCater, Lola Travel and Jibo.
Here are our 17 Boston tech companies to watch with more than 50 employees:
EzCater, an online business catering marketplace, is in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose which investors it wants to work with. The startup recently announced the close of its $35 million Series D round led by ICONIQ Capital, a family office and venture firm that manages funds for big-time tech executives like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. The funding in part will help it grow from 175 employees to 275 in the next year. ezCater CEO and co-founder Stefania Mallett told me revenue has been growing at an annual rate of 2x to 3x for the last four or five years and that revenue is growing faster than bookings because of expanded services it provided to caterers. Nearly 50,000 catering businesses are on the company’s marketplace so far, and it has processed orders for more than 16 million business people across the country.
While it may not have the same resources as Alphabet or Uber, nuTonomy has already made waves with its autonomous vehicle technology, which is already helping power autonomous features in cars made by companies like Land Rover Jaguar. The Cambridge startup, which has raised nearly $20 million in venture capital in the last 12 months, even beat Uber in becoming the first company in the world to start testing self-driving taxis in public. That testing is happening in Singapore, where the company is also located and where has received significant support from Singapore’s government. That said, nuTonomy started testing its self-driving cars recently in Boston, where city and state officials have started working on a policy framework for autonomous vehicles. The company now has over 60 employees.
Can a messaging app that combines artificial intelligence and travel agents become the dominant way we book travel? That’s the thesis for Kayak co-founder Paul English with his travel tech startup Lola Travel, which debuted its app last year and plans to release its second version this spring, thanks in part to a new $15 million Series B round led by venture capital firm CRV. There’s even one more “top-tier VC” that could apparently bring the company more money. English said the new version of Lola, which is only available for iPhone so far, is expected to provide a “first-of-its-kind, mobile experience and AI-assisted hotel recommendations.” If Lola can push some impressive user acquisition numbers this year, then we’ll start to get an idea of whether or not it will become the new go-to source for travel.
Last year, consultant marketplace startup HourlyNerd decided it was time for a rebrand so it could go after larger enterprise customers. As a result, it became Catalant, a portmanteau of catalyst, brilliant and talent. Catalant also closed on a $22 million Series C led by General Catalyst, with GE Ventures also participating in the round. Catalant’s consultant marketplace now includes more than 35,000 boutique firms, custom teams and independent experts who can be tapped to serve the company’s thousands of clients, 15 percent of which are on the Fortune 1000. The company most recently hired former Salesforce sales executive Dave Walsh as its chief revenue officer.
There is a lot of investor dollars going into this Charlestown-based startup, which aims to change the face of agriculture by using machine learning to make farm crops more sustainable. The company closed on a $100 million Series C round led by the Alaska Permanent Fund last summer to expand research and development, hire more employees and scale commercial operations. Indigo is developing a seed coating using microbes that are found to improve a plant’s sustainability so that it can have a better chance of surviving in droughts and creating higher yields. New preliminary data shows that its first commercial product, Indigo Cotton, had an average yield increase of 11 percent.
As its name suggests, Desktop Metal is working on 3D printers that can create complex metal parts for a lower price and a higher performance than current options out there. If Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop, a former North Bridge Ventures partner and A123 Systems founder, can pull it off, it would be a major boom for industrial engineering teams. The company has raised a total of $55 million in the last 18 months, attracting two major investors working in the industrial space: GE Ventures and the venture capital arm of Saudi Arabian Oil Company. Desktop Metal has been rather hush-hush about its tech so far, but that’s expected to change when the company officially launches this year.
Not many Boston-area companies can claim to have worked on major brands like “Star Trek,” “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead.” But Disruptor Beam, a Framingham-based game developer that has been funded with nearly $10 million from investors, can make that claim, having released mobile games for the two former titles, with development underway for a game based on the latter. Disruptor Beam CEO Jon Radoff previously told me the company has been able to convince license holders that it can make compelling mobile games based on big-name franchises by combining storytelling-driven gameplay with online community features. In the last year alone, the game studio has seen its revenue grow 300 percent. Because of the company’s successes with its “Star Trek” and “Game of Thrones” games, major companies are starting to seek Disruptor Beam to make more.
2016 was a bit of a rocky year for Jibo for a few reasons. That includes the startup delaying the release of its namesake social robot to 2017 and canceling international orders because latency issues were leading to problems with Jibo understanding accented English. Despite the missteps, however, investors still see promise in the company, putting an extra $13 million into the company for a new financing round last fall. While Amazon and Google have released voice-control home assistants, Jibo founder Cynthia Breazeal said they don’t’ compare to her social robot, which is “designed to be an interactive character” that combines utility, fun and companionship. That said, a number of other companies have revealed that they’re working on their own social robots, meaning 2017 will be a big year for Jibo to prove itself.
BitSight invented the cybersecurity category of “vendor security ratings” when it launched in 2013 and things have been paying off since then.The company raised a $40 million Series C round last year — while openly boasting that it had $60 million in the bank — for geographic expansion, product development and strategic acquisitions. BitSight’s list of customers grew 160 percent last year to 650, 50 of which are Fortune 500 companies, and its core business grew 115 percent year-over-year in 2015. Thanks to its fast growth, the company landed on Forbes’ Next Billion Dollar Startups List in October.
Andreessen Horowitz is one of the latest VC firms to find promise in this crowdsourced investment platform, which raised a $25M round last fall led by the prominent Silicon Valley firm and landed a deal to manage funds for hedge fund magnate Steve Cohen last year. The company’s platform has more than 100,000 members, who can get paid for licensing stock trading algorithms they created on Quantopian based on how they perform. With Cohen, the company is expected to manage up to $250 million in a new hedge fund, marking the beginning of Quantopian’s efforts to manage other peoples’ money.
Mobile restaurant payments startup LevelUp got a recent shot in the arm when it announced it would partner with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. to provide some its order-ahead feature for the banking giant’s Chase Pay app. According to The Wall Street Journal, J.P. Morgan “quietly invested” $10 million into the company last fall “as it was developing Chase Pay.” With the mobile payments industry expected to reach $410.5 billion by 2020, according to research firm Javelin Strategy, LevelUp’s new partnership with the banking giant puts the company in a nice position as big players like Apple and Google put the heat on.
Iora Health is poised to disrupt the primary care industry by building out its own network of practices that use the company’s proprietary collaborative care IT platform, and it got a major boost last fall when it closed on a $75 million Series D round by an investment firm owned by Singapore’s government. With the funds, the company plans to expand beyond its triple-digit growth it had last year and the approximately 34 practices it already runs in 11 U.S. markets already. Its expansion plans are being made possible in part through a partnership with healthcare giant Humana, which helped it launch five new practices in Arizona, Colorado and Washington.
Among the dozens of cybersecurity companies in the Boston area, Carbon Black is poised to become the next one to go public. The Waltham-based cybersecurity company, which has big customers like Coca-Cola and Major League Customers, confidentially filed for an initial public offering last fall, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. While we don’t have revenue numbers from last year, its revenue in 2015 was $70 million, a 70 percent increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, the company employs over 500 people and has over 1,000 customers.
The mobile payments industry is a crowded space, with incumbents like PayPal and relative newcomers like Facebook (which lets you send payments over its Messenger app), but that hasn’t stifled investor support for Circle, whose mobile payments app is powered by blockchain and allows cross-border payments without any fees. Last summer, Circle closed on a $60 million round led by Beijing venture capital giant IDG Capital Partners, with a number of strategic partner partners in China participating. At the same time, the company announced it was expanding into China with the launch of an independent company called Circle China. Circle has also expanded into Europe.
Like Zenefits, Maxwell Health is also a cloud-based employee benefits software provider, but what separates it from the controversial Silicon Valley startup is that instead of hiring its own insurance brokers and benefits consultants, the Boston startup partners with consultants from insurance brokerage firms. The company received a major boost from insurance providers like Sun Life Financial and Guardian Life Insurance, who helped fund a $22 million Series C round for Maxwell Health last spring. At last count, Maxwell Health had roughly 20,000 consultants using its software to help automate aspects of interacting with clients.
This social media analytics company has built a repository of 1 trillion social media posts that businesses can mine to make decisions regarding sales, marketing, product development, customer support and beyond. Near the beginning of last year, the company raised a $20 million round, which it used to hire more than 100 people and move into a new headquarters in 2015. Crimson counts Adidas, Amazon Instant Video, Harvard University and Greenpeace among its customers, who pay large yearly contracts starting at $30,000 to gain access to its social media database.
Founded by Acme Packet co-founder Andy Ory, 128 Technology has been pitched as the company that aims to “fix the internet.” The company, which has raised a total of $36 million from investors, plans to do this with new network routing technology that’s entirely based on software, not hardware, and improves the way internet traffic is routed. After developing the tech for a few years, the company is now selling it into the wild and catching early adopters like Revation Systems, a firm that works with banks and healthcare providers. Because its routers can intelligently regulate traffic, unlike traditional routers, 128 Technology has the potential to displace a big business of “middle boxes,” which have been designed to do the same thing for a higher cost.