8 Silicon Prairie Startups Worth Watching
Welcome to Silicon Prairie Dwolla GrubHub Food Genius FarmLogs AgLocal Bulu Box BallyHoo AutowareHigher Learning Technologies
Who says all of the cool start-ups are on the coasts? The so-called Silicon Prairie is utterly thriving. Missouri beat out both California and New York for growth in technology jobs earlier this year and entrepreneurial activity surged in the Midwest from 1996 through 2011.
Meanwhile, Hyde Park Venture Partners in Chicago is plunking $2.7 million into five early-stage start-ups, and sleeper cities like Des Moines are creating new jobs.
Here are eight of the most promising Midwest start-ups setting the bar for the rest.
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
What it does: Dwolla makes it easier for users to transfer money to one another. But it's making waves in the credit space too. Recently, the company announced a partnership with Comenity Capital Bank, which will let users make purchases through the Dwolla network without a credit card.
Watch for: Dwolla's real-time Internet payment system is so slick, it could upend the traditional financial infrastructure.
What it does: Launched in 2004, GrubHub provides online ordering for more than 20,000 restaurants. Some 1.6 million people in 500 cities use the website to order food delivery.
Watch for: Now that GrubHub has merged with rival delivery service Seamless, the company is poised to dominate the delivery market.
What it does: Among other things, Food Genius creates dish concepts for restaurants by sifting through more than 100,000 menus. The start-up also provides big data insights to food manufacturers, distributors, and restaurant chains. Its biggest client is Kraft.
Watch for: Creating popular dishes might become a science if Food Genius has its way. For now, expect better menus in chain restaurants.
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
What it does: FarmLogs, a Y Combinator alum, helps farmers track their activities, expenses, and crop yield, among other metrics.
Watch for: At $799 per year for an annual pro subscription, FarmLogs could take off if its product proves useful to farmers.
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
What it does: Cashing in on the locavore movement, AgLocal lets restaurants order meat directly from local family farms by placing orders via its app. For restaurants, it makes shopping convenient. For family businesses, it's a way to stand out.
Watch for: If AgLocal catches on with restaurants, it could put the middleman out of business.
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
What it does: Bulu Box is like a Birchbox for vitamins and supplements. Members pay about $10 a month to receive a monthly delivery of free samples and new products.
Watch for: With more than 30,000 total customers and $100,000 in monthly revenue, Bulu Box is off to a strong start. In September, it started raising its second round of capital, locking in more than $600,000 of funding. Previously, Bulu Box raised $500,000 from Dundee Venture Capital and Linseed Capital.
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
What it does: BallyHoo AutoWare creates virtual showrooms that let car shoppers "try on" different accessories for their dream ride. For car dealers, it's a way to sell accessories, cars, and services. In less than six months, Ballyhoo has signed up six dealerships in the Midwest.
Watch for: Founders Rod and Cliff Bennett are no strangers to this industry. Their previous venture, Chrome Enhancements, a service for selling chrome accessories, has clients in 42 states. With backing from Treetop ventures, the company is focused on growth.
Location: Coralville, Iowa
What it does: HLT creates education apps for higher learners, namely dental students preparing for their second-year licensure exam. The popular apps are available in either free or full versions that cost between $24.99 and $49.99.
Watch for: HLT is soaring in growth. The company recently released two new education apps and has several more in the works.