In a year when companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Snapchat became a part of the exclusive Billion-Dollar Startup Club, it's obvious that founders like Travis Kalanik, Brian Chesky, and Evan Spiegel have officially become inspiring success stories. Each of these companies had humble beginnings, like most startups. Just because yours isn't a part of this club doesn't mean it's not a success story in its own right. For example, take a look at these 15 entrepreneurs who made their marks in 2014.

15. Or Arbel (Yo)

Earlier this year, a little app known as Yo dominated headlines and app stores. It took the founder a mere eight hours to develop the app that only sent and responded with "Yo," but Or Arbel quickly saw his creation become "the No. 1 social networking app in the U.S. App Store and the No. 4 app overall" after its release on April Fools' Day. The app was even valued from $5 million to $10 million.

While Yo's popularity died down as the year progressed, Arbel is looking to keep the app relevant by using its location feature to receive anything from recommendations to weather updates. Arbel explained to Business Insider:

"Imagine landing at the airport and double-tapping UBER to get an Uber, then double-tapping HOTELTONIGHT to get a hotel recommendation, and in the evening double-tapping YELP for the best restaurant, all based on your current location."

14. Debbie Sterling (GoldieBlox)

After enrolling in an introductory mechanical engineering class at Stanford, Debbie Sterling became fascinated with the subject. Her passion led her to create a toy line that would get girls interested in engineering. In 2012 she launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, and now her products can be found in more than 6,000 stores worldwide.

2014 has been a great year for Sterling and GoldieBlox--the company won a free Super Bowl ad sponsored by Intuit. GoldieBlox also unveiled the Girl-Powered Spinning Machine float during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

13. Jason Calacanis (Inside.com)

Back in the beginning of the year, serial entrepreneur and startup investor Jason Calacanis launched Inside.com, which he called "a mobile-first news reader that's full of external links and story summaries," with topics ranging from Google to Wonder Woman. The site has gained favorable press throughout the year from various publications, including the MIT Technology Review, The Atlantic, and Time.

12. Raad Mobrem (Lettuce)

In 2008, Raad Mobrem started a business called Dura Doggie, but Mobrem and his team came to realize that people were more interested in "his company's in-house order system." With that, Lettuce--an inventory management program--was born. However, Lettuce was acquired by Intuit early this year and will no longer accept new accounts.

Still, the story of pivoting from dog toys to software has made Mobrem one of the most interesting entrepreneurs in 2014.

In January, Glamsquad--an on-demand beauty business--launched to much fanfare. The New York City-based startup raised $7 million in Series A funding in 2014. The concept was appealing enough to persuade Alexandra Wilkis Wilson to leave Gilt Groupe to become CEO and co-founder of Glamsquad in September. Under her leadership, services have already expanded from New York to Los Angeles and Miami.

10. Jack Conte and Sam Yam (Patreon)

Jack Conte, who was one-half of YouTube darling Pomplamoose, and Sam Yam, who was the founder of AdWhirl, came up with Patreon as a way to support artists, not just on one project but for their entire careers. In June, the founders "raised $15 million in a Series A from Alexis Ohanian, Sam Altman, David Marcus, Joshua Reeves, and a bevy of other tech entrepreneurs."

9. Josh Kushner (Oscar)

It took only one year for the insurance startup Oscar to be valued at $800 million. Founded in July 2013, Oscar is run by entrepreneur and investor Josh Kushner. Recently, Kushner's Thrive Capital was able to raise $400 million in a fourth fund, the firm's largest to date. Also, over the past five years, Thrive Capital has invested in companies like Twitch--which was sold to Amazon over the summer for $1 billion.

8. Caroline Walerud (Volumental)

Caroline Walerud is the co-founder and CEO of Swedish startup Volumental. In an interview with VentureBeat, Walerud explained, "Our vision is to make tailored products the norm rather than a luxury." The custom clothing is based on 3-D models and recently landed $3 million in seed funding from Stockholm-based Moor Capital, the investment arm of Kaj Hed, and Silicon Valley-based Founder.org.

7. Zain Jaffer (Vungle Ads)

In the six months ending in February, Vungle Ads announced not only its $6.5 million Series A funding but also its $17 million in Series B. This mobile ad startup focuses primarily on 15-second, in-app videos and is run by Zain Jaffer. He claims "100 million people see Vungle Ads every month." He was also a speaker at the VentureBeat Summit in April.

When Skybox Imaging started up in 2009, the founders wanted only to "launch small, cheap satellites into orbit that could be used to send information back home." However, when the company launched its first satellite, SkySat-1, into orbit on November 21, 2013, everyone took notice.

Skybox ranked No. 1 on Inc. magazine's 25 Most Audacious Companies in 2014 and was acquired by Google for $500 million in June. With its current technology, Skybox is expected to capture real-time video and high-resolution images from orbit three times a day.

5. Alejandro Foung and Nicholas Letourneau (Lantern--formerly ThriveOn)

Lantern kicked off 2014 by winning "the health category at the South by Southwest accelerator competition." Since then, this mental health startup has not only provided affordable care, it's also become a part of the wellness program for on-campus students at Washington University.

4. Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos)

In 2003, 19-year-old Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford and founded a company that can run multiple blood tests on a single drop of blood. This disruptive startup has teamed with Walgreens to create Theranos Wellness Centers. So far, the plan has worked. This college dropout is now the youngest self-made billionaire.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, the BRCK team released their highly anticipated product in 2014. This little box, which is "Made in Kenya, Assembled in America," has been described as a "backup generator for the internet." However, it's actually a "go-anywhere, do-anything, self-powered mobile Wi-Fi device" that many hope will someday connect people in the most rural regions with the rest of the world.

2. Logan Green and John Zimmer (Lyft)

As Uber's biggest competitor, Lyft has spent the past two years defining itself--with the most obvious example being the fuzzy pink mustache. Lyft has also earned a reputation as a more friendly and casual alternative to Uber. In fact, a feature launched this year was its "Driver Destination" service. It allows drivers to "give carpool rides during their own commutes or while running errands." Owing to recent PR and governmental problems Uber has experienced, Lyft may be able to capitalize and raise more than the $332.5 million it has already.

1. Palmer Luckey (Oculus VR)

For a 21-year-old college dropout, Palmer Luckey has had one incredible year. Luckey founded his virtual reality headset startup in 2012 and quickly secured funding through Kickstarter and eventually $75 million in Series B venture funding from the firm Andreessen Horowitz. In March, Facebook acquired Oculus VR in a $2 billion deal.

Luckey was the 2014 recipient of Smithsonian magazine's American Ingenuity Award in the Youth category. He continues to work at Oculus. The company's envisions creating virtual technology both "wearable and affordable." No one is expecting Luckey to disappear anytime soon.

Published on: Dec 10, 2014
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