Lemonade stands they are not. From an artisan pet-food maker to a designer of medical inventory systems for the developing world, this year's field of the coolest college startups showcases as much technical innovation as it does social consciousness.
These 16 companies aren't just spinning out big ideas. Their young founders are keeping tabs on production systems, marketing, and consumer preferences, all while exemplifying maturity, professionalism, and good old-fashioned gumption--keys to just about every entrepreneurial success story.
And lest you think catching our eye is easy, Inc.'s 2015 coolest college startups were culled from a list of more than 100 companies. This year's winners were chosen based on three main factors: originality of idea, pitch (which we left mostly intact, below), and growth potential.
Here, in alphabetical order, are Inc.'s 2015 coolest college startups. To cast your vote for your favorite company, check out our March Madness-themed tournament. A new vote will take place each week, with the final winner announced on April 7.
Pitch: "On average, academic advisers have a caseload of roughly 300 students each, making it hard to consistently dish out personalized service and accurate information. At larger schools, these numbers get even worse. But what if, by hiring one additional adviser, universities could provide all of its undergraduate students with one-on-one, personal academic advisement?
Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Advyzr is a mobile app that seamlessly integrates academic goals and user preferences to provide personalized academic advisement for undergraduate college students. By linking their social-media accounts, we are able to generate a 52-point personality profile for every user, allowing us to build schedules and recommend courses that both satisfy degree requirements and genuinely interest students."
Traction: Advyzr raised nearly $20,000 from business-plan competitions, acquired roughly 30 pre-launch letters of intent from higher-ed administrators, and gathered more than 500 student requests on its website in the past three months. Graduates from the first-ever City University of New York Startup Incubator Program, the Advyzr team has on-boarded advisers from firms such as IBM Worldwide, Credit Suisse Financial, and Google.
2. Ava Anderson Non Toxic
Pitch: "Ava Anderson Non Toxic is a company that remains true to the mission of its founder, Ava Anderson, to share important information about harmful chemicals in daily products and to provide a solution to this issue in the form of personal care and home products. Our goal is to create an increasingly well-informed populace, whose voices--collectively--can make a real and lasting difference for health and well-being."
Traction: Five years ago, when she was 15 years old, Anderson launched her consumer-products company with a single skin care line, consisting of six products. Today, her company offers 11 distinct product lines, which consist of more than 75 products, including home cleansers, cosmetics, and candles. Ava Anderson Non Toxic's annual revenue is $20 million, up more than 300 percent from last year, according to the company. To date, more than 7,500 "Ava Consultants," or independent business owners sharing Ava's message and products, have signed on to peddle her products.
Pitch: "Baro is a multiplatform, mobile-optimized Web app. With our service, we make it possible for small business and consumers to rent high-tech items like Go Pro cameras, drones, and 3-D printers. For inventory, we are partnering with small to medium-size businesses, some of which already rent and others that are looking to rent for the first time. In a marketing sense, this allows us to gain their user-base without spending any marketing dollars. Users can rent out their own electronic devices too. Just upload your rentable items, set a price, and wait for requests. Once a booking is confirmed, Baro has partnered with a New York City courier service to pick up and deliver items to and from the owners and renters, if desired."
Traction: Since the beginning of February, Baro has attracted 269 users to its platform, 66 of which have made a transaction. The company is also working on a new iOS app, which it hopes will help the company scale outside of New York. Baro expects to reel in $30,000 to $40,000 in revenues in 2015. It's also now looking to raise $500,000 to $1 million in a seed round of funding beginning in June 2015.
Pitch: "BetaBox is a custom prototyping lab built inside of a shipping container. Whether you're a K-12 school, a university, or a company, BetaBox is the perfect rapid prototyping solution for classes, events, conferences, and community outreach.
Every pod comes with rapid prototyping equipment like 3-D printers, laser cutters, and 3-D scanners. Betaversity excels at fostering a culture of creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. Betaversity also operates Atlas, a job-matching tool for engineers, which is now being used by more than 25 universities and corporate clients. This product is targeted at universities and employers with which Betaversity already has working relationships."
Traction: In 2014, just a few months after launching, Betaversity won the "People's Choice" award for best exhibit at the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance 18th Annual Open Minds conference in Silicon Valley. By mid-2014, the founders had won more than $52,000 in competitive, non-dilutive grants, and hired two full-time employees to help scale. The company's 2014 revenue was upwards of $100,000.
Pitch: "Chalk.com is like the Microsoft Office for teachers. It's a suite of productivity apps for K-12 educators. Used in over 20,000 schools worldwide, Chalk.com solves the problems of lesson planning, assessment, and collaboration designed to ease teachers' pain, facilitate personalized education, and help drive student success."
Traction: Suraj Srinivas, a graduate, Ryan McKay-Fleming, a dropout, and William Zhou, currently an undergraduate, make an unconventional trio working on revolutionizing classroom cultures. With just 10 employees, Chalk.com is used in more than 20,000 schools worldwide and by 100,000 teachers. The Waterloo, Ontario-based company has raised $500,000 from Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes and John Baker, the CEO of Desire2Learn.
Pitch: "EnvoyNow is an on-demand food-delivery mobile app that brings the myriad of restaurant options around college campuses to the students' fingertips. Using our logistics algorithms, our Envoys (delivery people) enable restaurants around campus to offer delivery, taking away the nightmare of providing delivery away from the restaurant. Because of this, we are increasing revenue for restaurants, creating flexible, part-time work options for students, and giving customers the convenience of having their favorite food delivered straight to their doorstep."
Traction: The company turned a revenue of $22,000 in its first semester of operation at the University of Southern California and has since expanded to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana University-Bloomington. This semester, the company has plans to continue its nationwide rollout with five additional schools.
7. Fedwell Pet Foods
Pitch: "In 2010, when my dog became ill, I carefully examined his diet and the dog food industry. I was horrified by what I learned. Traditional dog food starts with poor quality ingredients (waste from the human food industry) and is processed so heavily by extrusion that it is necessary for companies to add synthetic vitamins to sell food as 'complete and balanced.' Fedwell starts with the highest-quality ingredients and bakes food at a low temperature to retain nutrients.
"Typical dog food labels have 50 ingredients. Fedwell has fewer than 20. The difference is in the quality of ingredients, the processing, and synthetic vitamins. I believe that dogs should be eating the same quality of food we are and not overly processed leftovers. I founded Fedwell on the same principles that healed my dog and keeps him healthy: high-quality ingredients that are minimally processed."
Traction: In 2013, Emily Lagasse, a business school student at Babson College, raised $20,563 for Fedwell Pet Foods on Kickstarter. In 2014, she recorded a revenue of $25,000--from online sales, direct sales, and 14 retail locations in Massachusetts. The business also ships products to consumers in Florida, New York, California, and Texas via online orders.
Lagasse is currently raising $500,000 and has about half of that committed. She is looking to secure an investor in Hong Kong, which she identifies as a growing market for premium pet food with little competition.
8. Fever Smart
Pitch: "Fever Smart was founded to solve the problem of temperature monitoring. After one of the company's co-founders, Colin Hill, underwent chemotherapy treatment and identified a need for continuous temperature monitoring, the team worked to create a technology solution. Fever Smart works with consumers, hospitals, and health care providers to support patients who need continuous temperature monitoring. We are focusing on parents with sick children and women who are trying to get pregnant as well as hospital applications (including post-op care) and governments working to fight the outbreak of Ebola and other disease."
Traction: Founded by University of Pennsylvania students in 2013, Fever Smart raised more than $63,000 during an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in the fall, reaching 150 percent of its target amount.
Following preliminary clinical trials, the company is now in discussion with a major New York City hospital to integrate Fever Smart into a large clinical research program. The founders are also finishing up programming at the Digital Health Accelerator in Philadelphia. Fever Smart was a part of the Founder.org Class of 2015 and reports an annual revenue of $100,000.
9. Foxtrot Systems
Pitch: "Foxtrot's Web app and API help distributors execute better last-mile deliveries. We use traffic and weather information, in-house route-optimization algorithms, and machine learning to boost our customers' fleet efficiency and delivery success. Foxtrot provides small businesses with software to streamline the distribution of their products through an algorithm. Though large distributors use complex and expensive software for this purpose, we aim to empower smaller businesses to cut emissions, reduce costs, and control their logistics with precision.
"Our platform allows companies to react to changing conditions real-time, learn about their fleet through data analytics, and improve their end-customer experience by letting them know exactly when they're getting there."
Traction: Foxtrot Systems is currently working with 12 beta customers in the U.S., India, and Brazil, which represents a total of 180 drivers in a wide array of markets--from delivering laundry and beer to ice and lumber. Foxtrot, which was founded by two brothers from MIT and Tufts University, is currently halfway through its seed round of $500,000, with angel investors such as the founder of Google Shopping Express. The company also landed first place at the 2013 MIT 100k Pitch Competition.
10. Loco Labs
The Pitch: "Loco is a location-based mobile application for communities to share relevant information in their areas. It was developed entirely by two college students. We have taken no outside funding, and have kept our own costs extremely low by developing the application ourselves."
Traction: Loco Labs has recently become a member of the Bucknell University Entrepreneurship Incubator. And while the company already cites a few hundred users for its app, the founders are in the midst of an app relaunch. Additionally, the company has partnered with multiple chambers of commerce to provide advertising revenue for the startup. For now, Loco is still pre-revenue.
11. Orora Global
Pitch: "Orora Global is a for-profit social enterprise with a simple mission to end energy poverty: to provide access to affordable, reliable, and clean energy solutions to rural households and urban slums in developing countries. Orora's first product, the Premium Home System, provides lighting, air circulation, and cell phone charging, via solar, and is currently being manufactured and sold in Southern India. The system takes six hours to charge, has a run-time of eight hours, a 10-year lifetime, and a three-year warranty. Orora distributes its products through partnerships with nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits, and hires and trains women for sales and service, providing economic, educational, and environmental impact in each community it serves."
Traction: In December, Orora installed its solar Home Lighting Systems in an Irula community in Southern India, which has only six hours of electricity access each day. During its pilot in 2014, Orora Global sold more than 30 systems, accounting for $3,000 in revenue. The company's revenue projection for 2015, based on selling 1,500 units of its Solar Home Lighting System, is $250,000. It has already signed agreements with three channel partners in India, so 1,500 units is a conservative number, says Maria Goldstein, co-founder and current MBA student at Babson College.
Pitch: "Piper is a Minecraft toolbox for budding engineers that leverages kids' love of Minecraft to show them that building real gadgets is effortless and fun. At a time when technology pervades every part of our lives, kids learn to passively 'use' technology but not to 'create' with it. We believe that giving kids an opportunity to become creators rather than consumers, and to do it through a game they already understand and love, is a powerful way to replace screen-time with build-time. Letting kids invent, tinker, and build in the physical world while they are young is the most powerful way to empower them to create the future."
Traction: The Piper team is now working out of co.lab, a learning games incubator run by Zynga’s nonprofit arm in San Francisco. More than 350 kids at approximately 10 museums and schools have piloted the company's products. In 2011, at the age of 17, co-founder Shree Bose won $50,000 at Google's Science Fair for her research on cancer. Fast-forward four years, and the company's Kickstarter campaign, which just launched this month, has already nearly tripled its initial $50,000 goal.
Pitch: "In 2012, CEO Daniel Yu was abroad in Egypt when he saw shelves of expired medications and was told that expired medication wasn't even a problem compared with the completely stocked out medication.
"When Daniel returned to the University of Chicago, he researched ways to alleviate this problem, and came up with an interesting statistic: Mobile phones have a 90 percent penetration rate in developing countries. So why not use mobile phones? The basis of Reliefwatch was thus founded: Using the basic mobile phone to track inventory to decrease the rates of stockouts and expired medication and to have a potential impact on millions of people."
Traction: Reliefwatch ran its pilot program with Global Brigades in 42 health clinics across Honduras, Panama, and Nicaragua. Overall, the company claims to have reduced stockouts and expirations by 90 percent, digitized more than 9 million units of inventory, and saved 70 percent in time needed to track and record inventory. The company currently has a contract with Heart to Heart International to track Ebola in Liberia, which is expected to launch in early 2015. It also has a contract with RTI International to track vaccination distribution in Benin, to launch mid-2015. Reliefwatch has landed $25,000 from social impact accelerator Impact Engine, and $85,000 from social entrepreneurship competitions.
14. Stasis Labs
Pitch: "Stasis Labs aims to modernize how health care is practiced in medical facilities across the world. Stasis Labs is currently designing the Stasis System, an affordable health-monitoring platform for hospitals and clinics in emerging markets. The system consists of custom vital signs monitors that continuously measure six core health parameters and wirelessly transmit that data to Android tablets for doctors and nurses.
"Our business model focuses on affordable hardware investments paired with a recurring revenue stream built around per-patient transactions. Our low initial investment allows for smaller facilities to reap the benefits of increased patient monitoring, and our seamless, automated payment system ensures that facilities pay only when they have patient flow."
Traction: By the summer of 2016, Stasis Labs, out of the University of Southern California, plans to enter the health sector in India, a rapidly growing market of over 1.6 million hospital beds. Stasis Labs was awarded the Most Innovative Venture Award and the Trojan Family Choice award at the USC Stevens Innovator Showcase. The company has been awarded more than $25,000 as a grant for customer discovery from the National Science Foundation, and is looking to raise a pre-seed round to bring the product to market. Stasis Labs is currently in the process of raising a $500,000 pre-seed stage convertible note.
Pitch: "TalentTrail lets companies put up branded landing pages geared toward attracting interns and other entry-level employees--helping firms reach top computer science and business students at universities. TalentTrail's algorithm then filters students using culture, work experience, and more, so that companies can find the best fit quickly and easily. For students, the app, which helps showcase a candidate's personality along with his or her skills, helps them stand out in a crowd--particularly if students attend the same university. Further, students are matched and rematched through the system on a regular basis, so they are never just sitting and waiting."
Traction: The Los Angeles-based company has no investors but has garnered $13,000 from various competitions such as $5,000 from the University of Southern California's 2014 New Venture Seed competition. Companies that are currently posting positions on the site include Tinder, Secret, Cornerstone OnDemand, Acorns, Humin, Mark Cuban's Cyber Dust, and more.
16. Wiivv Wearables
Pitch: "Everyone should have the ability to be as active as they want in life. Everyone's body is different, and in order to get the most out of their bodies, they will need personalized care. Wiivv uses additive manufacturing to push forward wearable devices through mass customization.
"Combining 3-D printing and custom fit with real-time data tracking to enhance and learn a person's biomechanics, ultimately, these wearables will be self-powering and responsive. They will provide haptic feedback and offer bionic tendencies, such as assisting balance and offering protection and cushioning when and where the user needs it."
Traction: The company, co-founded by Claremont McKenna College student Louis-Victor Jadavji, raised $1 million, with investment firm Formation 8 leading the round. (Formation 8 acknowledged its investment in the company, but declined to verify its investment amount.) As of February 2015, the Wiivv Wearables team has grown to 11 people from diverse fields such as biomechanics and mechanical engineering. It is also expecting to launch an app for iOS, Windows, and Android in April this year.