In the latest version of our HuffPost Innovators Series, we've compiled some of the most interesting and promising startups from the HuffPost community.
These firms, all of which were submitted by HuffPost readers, are doing everything from a crowdsourced approach to corporate innovation -- which has attracted investment from Silicon Valley's elite -- to devising an eco-friendly solution to restaurant and food waste. One firm, which bills itself as an Expedia for personal appointments, just wants to make it easier to book a massage.
To submit an innovative entrepreneur, startup or established company, click "ADD A SLIDE" below and upload a short description and picture of the founder or business leader you'd like to nominate. (Note: Please skip the marketing jargon and keep your descriptions short.) If your story is compelling, a HuffPost staffer will contact you to learn more about your story.
Which company is the most innovative? Check out the latest edition of the HuffPost Innovators Series below:
Number of Employees: 5 Based In: Santa Monica, California Founded: 2009 Funded By: Self-funded Audacious Five-Year Plan: To become the global leader in "micro-equity" Intended to help struggling entrepreneurs, microfinance loans can end up being a burden. A new nonprofit wants to offer startups that have previously borrowed from microfinance providers with interest-free funds -- on the condition they reinvest in their community. "The fact is, a microfinance client is not going to take risks with their business or be incredibly creative in selling their products because they are so concerned with repaying their loans and the interest on them every two weeks or every month," says Shivani Siroya, who in late 2009 founded InVenture Fund, a firm that calls itself a "micro-venture capital fund." InVenture's clients are existing microfinance borrowers with a proven track record -- they've been taking out micro-loans for at least 3-5 years and they have at least a 98 percent repayment rate. "Traditional microfinance is really for the startups or for early stage companies," explains Siroya, "but we're working with businesses not to start, but to expand." InVenture lets anyone contribute "micro-investments" to entrepreneurs who get the funds as interest-free loans. Without the burden of interest payments eating into their profits, struggling entrepreneurs can focus on how to "expand their business into new territories, and create a marketplace where others can succeed." The latter is accomplished by requiring InVenture's clients to reinvest 5 percent of their profits back into their local community in such areas as clean water and education. (Investors who are repaid by InVenture clients can either re-invest in other businesses or put their money back into the original business.) "Good capital can grow businesses, and good businesses can grow communities," Siroya points out. To test the model, the InVenture team invested its own capital in 35 entrepreneurs in communities in Ghana, Mali and India. Over the last six months, all of the entrepreneurs they invested with have paid back the principal, generated a profit and reinvested 5 percent of their profits back into their community. With the first three pilot programs complete, the InVenture team has moved on to Mexico and is now using everyday people to help them with its model. Today, anyone can use InVenture's web platform to lend as little as $25 to entrepreneurs like Griselda Flores, who runs a "highly profitable" medical analysis lab clinic in Milpa Alta, Mexico, or Armando Saavedra, who runs an eco-friendly flower business in Mexico City. "People can be directly invested with these business owners. So now you're a part of that success story, and when a business owner makes profit you get your money back." And in the not too distant future Siroya plans to launch a U.S. pilot. -- Nathaniel Cahners Hindman Submitted by HuffPost User: teefeena:InVenture Fund (www.inventurefund.org) is an online platform that connects socially conscious investors to entrepreneurs in under-served communities. Their theory of change is simple: Give entrepreneurs the resources for real financial and social growth, and they'll lift not just themselves but their communities out of poverty.
Based In: Bozeman, Montana Founded: 2004, Launched March 2009 Funded By: Not Disclosed Audacious Five-Year Plan: “Becoming the Expedia or Travelocity of the service industry.” It’s 10 p.m. By the time you get home after a grueling 12-hour workday, there’s only one thing on your mind: I need to book a massage. But of course, by the time the spas are open the next morning you’ve forgotten all about your aching back until late at night again. If you’re as disorganized as some of us, the Bozeman, Montana-based website Schedulicity promises to eliminate such missed opportunities from your life. As an online booking mechanism and service directory, it puts the dirty task of booking various service appointments — from manicures to horseback riding lessons — only a mouse click away. “We’ve built an algorithm that solves the headaches of scheduling,” says CEO Jerry Nettuno. The result? “Impulse shopping for the service industry.” Formed in 2004 with money from private investors and officially launched in March 2009, the Schedulicity's appeal is two-fold: anyone can go onto the site to search and book appointments for a variety of services. Secondly, starting at $19 a month, business owners can access and manage online scheduling and marketing tools. And unlike workers in actual offices, the booking mechanism never sleeps. “Half of our market is single service providers,” says Nettuno. “But even for businesses with secretaries — this doesn’t replace them, it just enhances what they do. It’s a tool they can use and lets them focus on other areas.” Smartphone apps and social media widgets are also available for users to choose their own booking mechanism. It’s so simple, Nettuno says, that he believes “online scheduling” will be the standard in a year. “We see Schedulicity becoming the Expedia or Travelocity of the service industry,” he says. -- Sara Yin, Huffington Post Submitted By HuffPost User: Bridget Cavanaugh:Each day, nearly 25 million appointments are made in America most still using telephone, voicemail and pencil and paper. Until now, it's been easier to book a trip to Paris than a haircut across down. Schedulicity honors both sides of the appointment equation by allowing clients to book conveniently anytime, anywhere from the web, from Facebook, from a mobile phone. Businesses benefit by using Schedulicity's social media tools, fast online calendar, reporting and more to build client loyalty and grow their business. Just $19 a month.
Number of Employees: 4 Based In: Denver, Colorado Founded: 2008 Funded By: The Founder's IRA and investments from friends and family. Audacious Five-Year Plan: Securing contracts with local cities and global companies. John-Paul Maxfield was fed up with the amount of organic waste being produced by Denver-area companies. Last year, he got a pickup truck and took $9,000 out of his IRA and created Waste Farmers. The idea was simple: collect organic waste from places like restaurants to municipal facilities in the Denver metro area and ship the energy-rich materials to bio-fuel producers and forward-thinking farmers who practice sustainable agricultural. Clients include Denver’s Chipotle franchise, Hilton Garden Inn and St. Anthony Central Hospital. Waste Farmers was financed with less than $200,000, including funding from friends, family and from the founder’s own pocket. It also received debt financing through nonprofit micro-lender Accion. But Maxfield, who still runs the company by the title “visionary leader,” hopes that by next year the company can “move towards a larger capital raise” and “maximize the value of the company prior to a formal round of investment.” Waste Farmers started with just Maxfield working on his own, but now it has four full-time and three part-time employees. “In the next five years, we want to secure long-term contracts for organic waste processing and also renewable energy purchase agreements from local municipalities. We also want commitments from global food and beverage companies to provide their growers with low-carbon fertilizers from renewable resources,” said Maxfield. - Sherry Shen, Huffington Post Submitted by HuffPost User: Waste Farmers:Waste Farmers was founded in 2008 with $9,000, a pickup truck, and an overwhelming belief that idealism and capitalism can coexist – that it is possible to develop a company that builds profit while enriching the community. The focus of the Company is to build and operate regionally-scaled processing facilities, called “Next Door Farms”, integrating proven technologies for the processing of the organic waste stream into high value products. Next Door Farms combines organic fertilizer production, food production and bio-fuels to provide a “closed loop” and cost-effective recycling solution. The Company's mission is to reintegrate urban organic “waste” nutrients with agricultural and energy production in an effort to maximize the value of the items collected and cultivate the communities that they serve.
Number of Employees: 9 Based In: Cambridge, Massachusetts Founded: 2009 Funded By: $1.15 million in seed funding. Audacious Five-Year Plan: Raising angel money, then international expansion. Mark Sherman is not embarrassed by the fact that the average age among users of his geo-social networking site is over 47. “It’s a well-kept secret that baby boomers are very active in social media,” says the 48-year-old founder and CEO of ZoomAtlas. It’s true. Since launching in November 2009, ZoomAtlas has captured over 57,000 unique users and is quickly becoming a hotbed for baby boomers (and younger generations, if you’re bored with Facebook) to reconnect with people from their past. The website facilitates connections by allowing users to look up a specific address and leave “notes”—photos, private messages, shout-outs. These notes are then indexed on search engines for easy discovery. It’s an easy way to find those old summer camp friends or neighborhood playmates whose names you can’t quite remember. Such map-based, user-generated delivery may sound like a hybrid of Facebook and Foursquare, but it lacks the former’s juvenile Mafiawars/Farmville clutter and the latter’s competitive point system. “Others treat [social media] as a game. For us it’s a tool to find people you’ve lost touch with and most importantly make yourselves available to be found,” Sherman says. Furthermore, ever since the Cambridge, Mass.-based team of nine discovered most of its users were, well, older, they’ve kept the site as “warm and comfortable” as possible. “When we discovered the older user base, we scratched our heads. But what it is is that people who are in their twenties haven’t lost touch with their friends… but those in their forties, fifties, sixties, didn’t have technologies to maintain relationships through the years.” Sherman, a serial entrepreneur, funded the initial $1.15 million seed money himself and says he is in the middle of another round of angel investments. In the short to medium term, Sherman expects “aggressive growth” and an international roll-out. Currently its database lists over 140 million places in the United States. Submitted by HuffPost User Zoom Atlas:ZoomAtlas – the largest, most detailed, wiki-map of the US, blending satellite imagery with computer-generated and user-provided information classifies itself as a geo-social wiki. ZoomAtlas is a networking site that combines real-time, location based social interaction with advanced mapping technology. This allows users to connect with friends and family by posting notes at important places in their collective lives, right on the ZoomAtlas map – documenting special times and moments from their past for the generations to come in the future. -- Sara Yin, Huffington Post Since its initial launch in November 2009, ZoomAtlas users have posted more than 59,000 notes across the United States.
Number of Employees: 30 Based In: Waltham, Massachusetts Founded: 2001 Funded By: Venture capital backers include Omidyar Network, Lilly Ventures, and Spencer Trask Ventures Five-Year Plan: Developing private innovation networks for large companies. If your business has set out to tackle a problem, why ask one or two experts when you can ask more than 200,000? InnoCentive has built a global community of more than 200,000 problem solvers, each of whom are helping clients innovate. On the company's Open Innovation Network, businesses or "seekers" post "challenges" -- tasks range from developing a tanning pill that can replace the sun to a cost-effective way to cut aluminum -- and stipulate a cash reward they'll pay one of InnoCentive's registered "solvers" if they can come up with a solution. InnoCentive charges a posting fee and, if the problem is solved, a “success fee” equal to about 40 percent of cash reward. (The "solvers" get the rest of the cash.) The approach, known as "open innovation," can be a cost-effective alternative to companies just scouring their internal resources for solutions. Alph Bingham (pictured), one of the company's founders, says "We've found that broad open challenges are better served by asking, 'What are the real challenges you're facing on the ground?'" InnoCentive's scientists often work with seekers to break down a broad challenge into a number of bite-size tasks, each with reduced reward sizes, which they blast to solvers from a range of disciplines. Since its founding in 2001, Bingham says InnoCentive is growing at an average rate of 50-100 percent each year. The approach has helped InnoCentive attract backing from the Omidyar Network, the VC fund started by legendary Silicon Valley investor and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, among others. As the company looks to the future, they plan to build on different methods of "deployment." For businesses that don't want to make the problems they're trying to solve known to the public, InnoCentive develops private networks that enable companies to deploy challenges to solvers within a crowd of their choice. -- Nathaniel Cahners Hindman, Huffington Post Submitted By HuffPost User: comstrat:InnoCentive is an Open Innovation marketplace where Seeker companies post award-based Challenges which are viewed and tackled by a global network of 200,000+ Solvers. Alph Bingham, the company's founder, founded the company inside E. Lilly, which spun out the venture a couple years later. InnoCentive is the leader in the OI marketplace today.