Choosing this year's 30 Under 30 honorees was truly a community effort. Our editors and writers culled 540 applications down to the most promising, and then we assembled a prestigious panel of judges to help make the final choices. We could not have done this without them. Each judge, including two 30 Under 30 alums, received several applications to review and was asked for their top choices. They looked for amazing products, companies with the potential to have huge social impact, tremendous growth, trend-setters, industry disrupters -- folks who were just irresistibly cool in some way. Here, we introduce you to our panel, and give you a little glimpse into their insight on a few of the companies that made their hearts beat a little faster.
Ben Lerer, an Inc. 30 Under 30 alum, is the co-founder and CEO of Thrillist Media Group. He is also the managing director of Lerer Hippeau Ventures, New York's most active early-stage technology fund. He chairs the board of directors for Urban Upbound, a New York City nonprofit, and is an associate member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences (IADAS).
Ben's top picks:
"Getaround is one of those companies that sees a trend, identifies a need around that trend, and creates an obvious solution. Car ownership is declining rapidly among Millennials, yet people need a car for specific periods of time throughout the month. Other people are not using their cars for periods of time. It's an obvious solution for both sides and meets the auto market where it is going. It's my belief that the obvious companies like these are the best ones."
"Grove is literally what I imagined when I used to picture 'the future'--a company that can take advantage of hardware and software innovation to disrupt the traditional produce supply chain. Consumers want a sustainable and affordable alternative source for their food and the technology is finally there for an at-home solution. The fact that you can build a farm on a bookshelf and grow your own produce in your kitchen is so awesome. I believe this company will be massive someday."
Debbie Sterling, another Inc. 30 Under 30 alum, is the founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, an award‐winning company on a mission to "disrupt the pink aisle" with toys, games, and media for girls. Debbie is an engineer, entrepreneur, and a leader in the movement to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Debbie's top picks:
"I love plugging my earbuds in to escape from all the noise and distractions of the outside world, which is why I'm fascinated with Doppler Labs. They're developing an incredibly practical hack with the potential to change the way we experience the world around us. They should continue to leverage video as a way to market their product and talk to people about why it exists. Augmented hearing can be somewhat complex. With video, you have an opportunity to paint a picture, making it easier for people to connect with both you and your product."
"We need more startups that are dedicated to improving science and fighting life-threatening diseases like cancer. I admire SQZ Biotech's unique platform--they're on the forefront of something huge that has the potential to revolutionize disease research and cell therapy. If you want to change the world, you need to be fearless and know that you can't fail when you're contributing to a cause that's greater than yourself."
Diane Hessan is the CEO of Startup Institute, which helps people transform their careers by giving them the skills, mindset, and networks to succeed in the exciting innovation economy. She also founded and is the chairman of C Space (formerly Communispace), where she had been CEO for 13 years. C Space is a next-generation market research company that builds online communities to help marketers generate consumer insights. The company was sold to Omnicom in 2011.
Diane's top picks:
"Bark & Co. is one of those "Why didn't I think of that?" companies. What a great idea, and it looks like they are executing well. My main advice is to look at how you can build in as much competitive advantage/differentiation as possible. People adore their dogs, and so once you have a list of customers, there is no end to what they can buy from you: holiday gifts, photography, and more. The main risk seems like other players in the market."
"Jopwell is doing important work. It just makes me crazy when I hear executives say that they can't find people of color to hire, and they are part of the solution. There is also room for them to truly build a communities of these professionals, to have them help each other, celebrate successes, and more."
Raj Sisodia, a thought leader of the conscious-capitalism movement, is the F.W. Olin Distinguished Professor of Global Business and Whole Foods Market Research Scholar in Conscious Capitalism at Babson College. He is a co-founder and co-chairman of Conscious Capitalism Inc., and the author (with John Mackey, founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods) of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business (Harvard Business Review Publishing, 2013).
Raj's top picks:
"Swift Navigation stood out for me as a company with extraordinary potential to enable and help accelerate the arrival of the future. Accurate positioning is vital to so many breakthrough technologies. Swift Navigation has an elegant solution for this, and has already accumulated an impressive list of clients. My advice to the founders is to focus on building a great and enduring company that has a clearly articulated higher purpose. Take care of all of your stakeholders, and make sure that you as leaders model the virtues of selflessness, trust, and caring for all the lives you impact--including those whose livelihoods may be impacted by your technology."
"Vital Vio is an incredibly exciting company built on a truly revolutionary breakthrough idea--disinfecting without using harsh chemicals or other agents that could cause harm to human health or engender resistance to treatment. The potential for this is virtually limitless. We need safe and effective disinfecting almost everywhere. This company will save lives as well money. One thing to watch out for is that as we humans start to disinfect more and more of our environment, our body's natural capacity to fight pathogens appears to be declining. I am sure the company's leaders are aware of this challenge. Perhaps there is a way to adapt the technology so that we still receive some low level exposure to certain pathogens."
Dave McClure is a venture capitalist and founding partner at 500 Startups, a global venture capital seed fund and startup accelerator based in Silicon Valley with approximately $250 million in assets under management. 500 Startups has invested in more than 1,500 companies across more than 50 countries, including Credit Karma, Twilio, Udemy, and Ipsy.
Dave's top picks:
"Ryan [Hoover] is super sharp. Product Hunt isn't just for nerds and can be applied to a wide category of goods and services. In addition to discovery, monetization is coming soon. Advice: Keep doing what you're doing and just take my check please."
"PillPack solves a real problem in the pharmaceutical industry and is profitable. The company is saving lives; what more do you need? Advice: Find a way to launch this globally. Developing countries around the world would benefit tremendously from PillPack. Not to mention the market opportunity is sizable."