It’s definitely December, and just like that 2017 is almost over. As everyone takes a moment to look back at what’s happened in the past 12 months, we’re busy looking ahead.
A few of these names are already pretty well-known — so well-known they’ve landed investments from the SoftBank Vision Fund. Others have some of the top investors and rising D.C. tech stars behind its name, but they’ve spent the better part of the past year heads down. No matter the background, we’re betting they’ll be splashed across the headlines, local event circuits and investor portfolios in 2018.
Without further adieu, here’s our 2018 list of startups to watch, in alphabetical order:
Fresh off of their $6 million Series A funding round in June, energy tech startup Arcadia Power is looking to expand even further. In 2017, they doubled their employee head count and moved into a new office near the McPherson Square metro stop. Arcadia Power also reports that its membership base has grown from 14,000 in early 2017 to now more than 40,000 users.
With its $30 million funding round in March, CAVA has now raised more than $90 million in the past two years. That’s no joke. Both Revolution Growth and SWaN & Legend Venture Partners, two local D.C. names, have invested in the Mediterranean fast-casual dining chain. In 2018, they’re planning to expand into three entirely new markets, split across the East and West coasts. One of those will be Boston, while others have yet to be announced.
Sure, CommonLit is technically a nonprofit. The education platform has user numbers to rival those of Facebook in its early days. Startup growth in a nonprofit model is nothing to ignore. This time last year, founder and CEO Michelle Brown was moving out of 1776 and into their Eastern Market office space. CommonLit also landed a $3.9 million grant from the Department of Education last year. They’ve grown from three full-time employees to a team of 17, and Brown has plans to hire more.
It’s not every year that a homegrown coffee startup can say they closed a round of funding and landed on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list. But that’s why Arlington, Va.-based Commonwealth Joe is the only D.C. coffee brand on this year’s list. Founded by two former Accenture consultants, founders Robbie Peck and Chase Damiano took a pretty business practical approach, running out the gate with a Vornado partnership under its belt. WeWork’s D.C. locations also use Commonwealth Joe’s cold brews. Now, with a fresh $2.5 million funding round, the company plans to spend 2018 expanding its cold brew business further.
FS Card has been heads down since its founding in January 2014. But with both a new $150 million credit facility and $30 million equity funding round under its belt to support its product growth, FS Card has a lot in store for the coming year. Founder Marla Blow helped launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and spent seven years at Capital One. With her guidance, the company is not only targeting subprime customers, but they’re also aiming to help rehabilitate those with poor credit histories.
Girls’ Night In
Founder Alisha Ramos started Girls’ Night In in January with the idea of providing a community for women who just want to stay in. With companies like Vox Media and Nava on her resume, Ramos has been able to build out her wellness and self-care focused newsletter into a larger organization — including multi-city book clubs, expansive social media presences and much more. With so much success in just 12 months, there’s no reason this company shouldn’t be on everyone’s watchlist.
Hatch Apps has been staying under the radar in the past year. The Y Combinator-backed startup democratizes the app building process so anyone can build their own mobile app. Basically, Hatch can be thought of as the WordPress for mobile apps. Founders Param Jaggi and Amelia Friedman plan to officially launch their platform in 2018 after years of testing and collecting customer feedback. Jaggi is a two time Forbes “30 Under 30” List honoree and Friedman founded the local chapter of The Vinetta Project.
Homesnap is the Revolution-backed startup you haven’t heard of yet. Founded in 2008, Homesnap has been quietly making a name for itself in the real estate world. Homesnap competes with top names, including Zillow and Trulia, and it just landed a major partnership deal with Multiple Listing Services, called the Broker Public Portal, to become the realtor-preferred listing service — allowing realtors to list their information next to their properties at no fee.
Legends of Learning
D.C.-based edtech startup Legends of Learning has seemingly come out of nowhere this year, with the launch of their tablet-based internet games for middle school students on March 27. The startup also created a marketplace for video games where developers can build and contribute their own games for review. As of March, they had over 900 games for 90 lessons.
In April, the group closed a $9 million funding round with the plan of expanding into new subject areas and growing the team in 2018.
In October, Mapbox did what few companies outside of the major tech hubs have been able to do: Land a SoftBank Vision Fund investment. With the $164 million Series C round, the D.C.-based mapping technology startup will building its automotive unit within the company, expand its AR/VR/gaming team and accelerate growth in Southeast Asia, China and Europe.
Earlier in June, the company moved out of its garage in Logan Circle to a few floors in MakeOffices location with Logan Exchange on 16th St. NW. Now, they’re eyeing another office move to match their accelerated growth.
Powered by former TIME and Bloomberg journalist Jay Newton-Small, MemoryWell is changing the way the world handles elder care. Through the media startup, Newton-Small and her expanding team plan to partner with retirement homes to tell the stories of their residents. The stories are aimed at not only helping a family member keep the memory of their loved ones alive, but they’re also meant to act as supplements to the arduous patient questionnaires caregivers rely on.
In 2017, MemoryWell went through the Halcyon Incubator, landed a WeWork Creator Award of $130,000 and Theo LeCompte, a former Department of Commerce and Democratic National Convention Committee member, joined its ranks as COO.
The Mentor Method
The Mentor Method has proven it knows how to listen to its customers. In 2016, founder Janice Omadeke launched the startup as a way of pairing women with possible mentors, using an algorithm on shared interests and career goals. In 2017, they pivoted — like any good startup should — and are now taking a business-facing approach, working with mostly local companies to ramp up their diversity initiatives so they’re doing more than just hiring a chief diversity officer and 1-2 minority candidates.
In 2017, The Mentor Method has seen some promising traction. They were a part of SEED SPOT D.C.’s first cohort and subsequently landed a $5,000 SEED SPOT Audience Impact Award. Omadeke also went through the humble ventures’ spring cohort and landed Deloitte as a client.
In three years, MISFIT Juicery has grown from a student-run startup with production set up in the founders’ dorm room to a startup with products distributed in Whole Foods across D.C. and New York City. In 2016, founders Phil Wong and Ann Yang decided to take imperfect produce — those tomatoes that aren’t perfectly round or melons that are just a bit too brown — and turn them into juice.
Since then, they’ve expanded to New York City, completed the Chobani Food Incubator, landed a distribution deal with Whole Foods and are also started to eye an expansion into food products. No doubt, 2018 will be just as big as 2017.
It’s not often that a startup launches both a equity funding round and a debt round in one year, but Washington, D.C. student loan startup isn’t the usual growth startup. MPOWER has spent the past year gearing up to match demand it’s seeing from its customer base. Founded in 2014, the startup works with 223 universities across all 50 states and has received more than 4,500 applications for its $25,000 student loans.
In 2017, they launched a $100 million debt round to fund more student loans, landed a partnership with Nelnet and received $500,000 in additional equity funding from 1776’s venture fund ahead of its planned Series B round.
It’s been a rough year nationally for meal delivery startups. Just look at Blue Apron’s failed IPO. But D.C.-based startup Plum Relish might have found the key to making the model work out financially.
Founder Sarah Van Dell isn’t afraid of pivoting and following her business to where her customers need them. Previously, Plum Relish was just a subscription-based lunch delivery service catering to offices, with each meal prepared in their in-house kitchen. Now, they’ve added subscription-based delivery to local restaurant chains — starting with a partnership with Mike Isabella’s Kapnos in D.C. and Requin in Mosaic.
Van Dell also added a slew of new advisors to her board earlier this year — all women — ranging from a Dunkin’ Brands board director to the CFO of America’s Test Kitchen.
Launching a media startup is difficult. Launching one while you’re a student is even more difficult. But in the case of Unsung Heroes, having a student-run operation has worked in their favor. Febin Bellamy launched the series of campus-based chapters of Unsung Heroes as a undergraduate at Georgetown University. Since launch in spring 2016, Unsung Heroes has grown to now include five communities, and they’ve received interest from over 40 schools — both colleges and high schools — to launch their own chapters.
Unsung Heroes started as a Facebook page to tell the stories of the “heroes” on a college campus, a lá Humans of New York. Examples include campus bus drivers, crossing guards, security guards and janitors. Now, the group has expanded into a media brand with web content and a series of Kickstarter campaigns where readers can support the “heroes” being featured. Unsung Heroes is backed by more than $10,000 in grants, scholarships and other funding.
It’s hard to ignore Upside Travel. Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline.com, started the D.C.-based business travel discount site in 2016. Upside Travel closed a $50 million round in January, putting its valuation at $200 million. The business travel went live in mid-January, and it helps business travelers find bundles on flights and hotels at a discounted rate. Upside also incentivizes travelers to adjust their schedules, such as suggesting they stay at a hotel a bit further away or taking an earlier or later flight, by offering gift cards in the equivalent of the savings.
Upside is only just now getting started. They had deals with 1,200 hotels as of March and continue to add flights each day. Hired, a job search marketplace for tech workers, listed Upside as one of the top 10 companies techies want to work for in the D.C. metro area.
Veda Data Solutions
In a male-dominated tech world, it’s no easy feat for a women-led startup to land over $1 million in funding for her startup — especially a firm outside of the San Francisco, New York City and Boston tech hubs. But Meghan Buck became a part of the elite group of D.C. area women who crossed that milestone this year for her health tech startup, Veda Data Solutions.
Veda Data Solutions is out to solve a rather simple problem: updating the directories of physicians covered by insurance policies. In September, Veda closed a $1 million seed round led by New Dominion Angels, and in 2016, the company received $200,000 from undisclosed investors. In September, Buck won The Vinetta Project’s 2017 grand prize of $20,000, which brings her total funding for Veda Data to $1.2 million. With that sort of funding traction and a clear business model, it’s fair to assume 2018 will be a big one for Buck and her firm.