Making microbes do our bidding. A better-than-Craigslist way to find roommates. The new way forward for daycare. Here's how six great companies--and their inspiring founders--are reinventing everything from sports data to delivering medical supplies

 

The Robots That Will Save Lives

"We strongly believe," says Zipline's Keller Rinaudo, "if we can order a hamburger for instant delivery in the U.S., we should have delivery for life­saving medical products, too." That's why he co-founded Zipline, which has delivered blood to hospitals and health clinics in Rwanda via drone since 2016. For years, the startup, which has raised more than $41 million and is headquartered on a dairy farm in Half Moon Bay, California, couldn't launch in the U.S., owing to regulatory red tape. But under the FAA's three-year commercial drone pilot program, Zipline expects to begin blood and medicine delivery in North Carolina by early 2019--too late, unfortunately, to serve areas affected by Hurricane Florence. But the company's drones can fly 70 miles per hour, navigate bad weather, and clear the Appalachians--so they'll be able to quickly and easily get to, say, barrier islands like the Outer Banks.

The service works like this: A pharmacist or medical professional opens the Zipline app and places an order, and, within 30 minutes, a GPS-equipped autonomous drone airdrops the package via parachute. "As goofy as it sounds, think of it as DoorDash or Instacart--you select what you want, click 'order,' and it's delivered," says Rinaudo. "We want to provide a superpower for doctors and nurses." --Will Yakowicz

Revenue in the commercial drone industry will grow 2,936 percent, to $34 billion, by 2022. Source: Guinn Partners

450,000: Number of commercial drone licenses that the FAA expects to issue by 2022. 
Source: FAA

By 2026, the drone industry is expected to have an impact on U.S. GDP of up to $46 billion.
Source: McKinsey

The Airbnb for Residential Rentals

Here's a trend no one likes: For the past few years, nearly one-third of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 have reported living with their parents, according to Pew Research Center­--making it the most common living arrangement for that age group. It's not hard to understand why. In places like San Francisco and Denver, Trulia's data reveals, a one-bedroom apartment's cost has jumped 30 percent or more in the past five years. "Rent growth is just completely decoupled from income growth," says Andrew Collins, CEO and co-founder of Bungalow, which offers a solution.

Bungalow, currently operating in seven U.S. cities, is an Airbnb-like platform that makes it easy to find roommates or to rent out one's apartment--thus, potentially, bringing more units on to the market. Especially when you consider that all renters come prescreened, unlike those on, say, Craigslist, where any stranger you agree to live with or sublet to could turn out to be a deadbeat (or worse). For homeowners, it's a turnkey way to turn a family apartment into income, without the need to interview for tenants or fears they'll trash the place. (Bungalow supplies weekly cleaning.) Airbnb has been criticized for driving up rents by incentivizing owners to take units off the rental market, but, says Collins, Bungalow will have the opposite effect: "For homeowners who don't want to be part of the problem, we're able to say, 'Hey, we're the easy button.' " --Jeff Bercovici

The Platform That Will Remake Child Care in Big Cities--and Beyond

Affordable child care and early education weigh on millions of American families, especially in key urban areas, where young couples are starting families and struggling to juggle the demands of their work and their offspring. Enter San Francisco-based Wonderschool, a platform that gives people tools to launch their own home-based child care programs. In exchange for a 10 percent cut of each enrolled child's tuition, the startup, which was founded in 2016 by Chris Bennett and Arrel Gray, helps new caregivers--whom the company calls directors--design their teaching philosophies, get licensed, build a website, and market their services. "If you can empower people to start programs in their homes, it makes economic sense," mainly, says Bennett, because of high rents in the three markets that Wonderschool currently serves: New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. (Home-based child care can also avoid certain regulations applied to typical child care facilities, like mandates to install a sprinkler system and to provide parking.) Bennett says, by running their own programs, Wonderschool caregivers earn, on average, $78,000 a year--more than triple the average salary of child care classroom staff in the U.S. "We help directors," says Bennett, "become small-business owners." --Diana Ransom

Reprogramming a Microbe--to Create Almost Anything

Computers are great at handling information, but if it's matter you need to manipulate, you can't beat nature. The problem is getting nature to play along--and that's where Ginkgo Bioworks comes in. A microbe is just "a self-replicating assembler that runs on digital code," says Jason Kelly, the Boston-based startup's CEO. If you rewrite the code, by splicing new segments of DNA into its genome, you can induce a yeast cell to produce rose oil, which Ginkgo does for perfume manu­facturers. "Our job is to get the microbe to do what the customer wants," Kelly says. "It's looking at biology from the viewpoint of a programmer."

Kelly founded Ginkgo in 2008 with three classmates from his PhD program at MIT--Reshma Shetty, Barry Canton, and Austin Che--and their professor, Tom Knight, one of the pioneers of the field now known as synthetic biology. When they first worked together seven years earlier, the science was roughly where computers were in the 1950s. But as the sequencing and printing of DNA have gotten radically cheaper, "synbio" is making its way into industries from fashion to food to cannabis. Investors and customers are taking note. To date, Ginkgo has raised more than $400 million. "Customers are coming up to us, saying, 'Program me a GMO to do something,' " says Kelly. Ginkgo is doing just that with Bayer, in a $100 million joint venture that will develop microbes that eliminate the need to use nitrogen fertilizer on corn crops. --J.B.

Gliding Into the Future by Playing Well With Others

E-scooter wars have been raging from Atlanta to Nashville to Salt Lake City, ever since Bird, Lime, and Spin released their fleets onto the sidewalks of San Francisco last March--unannounced. That got noticed. And led to some light chaos that ticked off local authorities.

So meet Skip, the San Francisco e-scooter startup that seeks to revolutionize personal transit by trying something new and daring: following the rules. Skip's approach--move deliberately and ask for permission--is working. The company was one of two startups to earn a one-year operating permit from the city of San Francisco in August. In other cities, like Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon, it's operating fleets of several hundred scooters in conjunction with city boards. "We said, from the start, we would resist the temptation to just go ahead and launch--though there are a lot of good reasons to do so from a business perspective," says co-founder and CEO Sanjay Dastoor. Like those of its many competitors, Skip's scooters are dockless, so they're often left clogging the sidewalks--but soon the company will roll out handlebars with retractable cable locks, allowing the scooters to be fastened to poles or bike racks. "You don't want to design a service that makes most people angry and they just eventually accept," Dastoor says. "Your business is stronger in the long run if you've got broad support." --Kevin J. Ryan

$31 million: Total funding raised by Skip.
$1.02 billion: Combined funding raised by competitors Bird, Lime, and Spin.
Sources: Crunchbase, Axios

Estimated total U.S. e-scooter rides, as of October: 20 million.
Source: Axios, Inc.

$22 billion: Projected size of the e-scooter and e-motorcycle market in 2022.
Source: Global Market Insight

There Wasn't a Big-Data Source for All the Nation's Biggest Pastimes. Until These Guys Came Along

Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympic medalist for the U.S. national hockey team, adored the heart-rate monitors she used during her strength and conditioning practices. They helped her fall in love with data and analytics as well, which led her to get an MBA at Harvard when her hockey days ended. Afterward, while at a coffee shop in Boston in late 2016, she lamented to serial entrepreneur Josh Walker that the sports industry rarely used data to justify or inform huge decisions. Walker, in turn, was astounded that no central platform for such data existed--after all, practically every other industry had one. That December, they founded Sports Innovation Lab, seeking to be that data aggregator--and quickly built an enviable list of clients that includes the NBA, the NFL Players Association, Google, Verizon, Intel, Gatorade, and the Canadian Olympic Committee.

One league came to Ruggiero and Walker seeking info on the best tech wearables that could monitor strength and conditioning, mental training, and post-workout recovery, and help with injury prevention. After intensive analysis, the company told the league: Wearables can't yet provide the advanced bio­metrics you want, but we'll update you when someone has a viable option. (One well-known company, interested in tracking the energy levels, mental performance, and heart rates of its employees, received the same response.) By the end of 2019, Ruggiero and Walker expect that an automated system will provide the company's platform clients with such personalized insights and updates directly. "This is the exciting part," says Ruggiero. "To help the leaders in sports envision the future of sports." --Cameron Albert-Deitch

 

San Antonio, Tech Hotspot

Austin gets the glory. But just an hour south, San Antonio, Texas, quietly dominates cybersecurity. Its sector bona fides date back to 1985, when the Air Force consolidated its electronic security mission there. Defense contractors followed, and then a former chip-manufacturing plant was converted into a sprawling National Security Agency outpost.

That planted the seeds, and dozens of cybersecurity startups thrive there today. But key com­panies--ThreatGuard, SecureLogix, Silotech, Innové--aren't household names; they generally work in the shadows. "What you see on the news in a breach story is just the tip of the iceberg," intones John Dickson, a former Air Force intelligence officer and principal of Denim Group, which helps banks and insurance companies build "more resilient" software. Local education programs help: University of Texas at San Antonio has three separate cybersecurity centers, including the nation's top-ranked program--and the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, essentially the national championship for student cyberwarriors. Meanwhile, cyberattacks increase in frequency and severity, and global cybersecurity spending is growing by double-digits each year; it should top $1 trillion by 2021. All that demand will continue to work in San Antonio's favor--and the fact that it may boast the nation's highest rate of taco shops per capita doesn't hurt either. --Tom Foster

From the November 2018 issue of Inc. Magazine