Rad Power Bikes
Designs and markets electric bikes, with the goal of making sustainable transportation more accessible. Products are sold worldwide.
When Mike Radenbaugh was 15, living in the steep hills of Humboldt County, California, he started going to a regional high school 17 miles away from his house. The bus was unreliable in his rural town and the terrain was too intense to bike. Radenbaugh decided to build an electrically powered bicycle, and he bought a motorcycle lead-acid battery and a brushless motor and got to work. With his makeshift prototype, he could go 35 miles an hour and ride to school without breaking a sweat. His town newspaper wrote a story about him and his invention. Paying customers then came knocking, which later helped him save up for college. Radenbaugh and his childhood best friend, Ty Collins, dreamed of building Rad Power Bikes into a real company one day. After getting his master's degree in electric-vehicle manufacturing, Radenbaugh, along with Collins and college friend Marimar White-Espin, launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $40,000. The campaign went viral and the three made $320,650 in electric-bike presales. They decided to go for it and moved to Seattle to launch their company. After finding the right manufacturer in China and raising $180,000 from angel investors, Rad Power started delivering on its presales. The company, which sells its bikes directly to customers online in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, brought in $45 million in 2018. With more than 100 employees and 30,000 square feet of retail space in Seattle, the company is firing on all cylinders. --Will Yakowicz
Why your hands are this startup's gold mine
Thalmic Labs introduced its futuristic gesture-control device, the Myo armband, in 2013. The wearable device allows its user to control electronics (as advanced as that found in drones) with a simple hand gesture. Co-founders Stephen Lake, Aaron Grant, and Matthew Bailey thought of the idea at a pub, musing over how humans interact with technology and pondering what could make these transactions more seamless. "We use our hands to interact with everything in the world around us," says Lake, the CEO, and he's not wrong. Think about how many times you’ve used your hands today: turning a doorknob, switching a light on, or pressing a button on your computer, among countless other examples. The three engineers sought to create what Lake refers to as a "natural interface" between the user and the Myo armband--so that the device readily integrates with people's way of life, without imposing new behaviors or distracting you from paying attention to your surroundings. So how does it work? Myo's technology picks up the tiny electric impulses between your muscles and your brain. The wearable is then able to recognize when you're making a fist or waving your hand, and with that, you can program each gesture to control a different feature of your electronic device. "If you do wearables right, they actually help us be more present in the world around us and have access to digital information and communications," says Lake. "That is the vision we are pursuing [at Thalmic Labs]." --Guadalupe Gonzalez
Meet the all-natural condom company taking on Trojan and Karex
"When I was younger, I didn’t understand the depth of the shame and stigma around sexual health,” says Meika Hollender, 29, co-founder and co-CEO of Sustain Natural. She always felt comfortable talking about sexual health with her parents, though recognized that this wasn't the case for everyone. "It's one of those subjects where the more you talk about it, the healthier and safer you are," she adds. So in 2014, she launched a sustainable condom brand with her father, Jeffrey Hollender, a veteran of the consumer products industry. (In the late eighties, he acquired the company that would become Seventh Generation; he would later be let go by the company's board of directors.)
Unlike traditional condoms--which often contain harmful chemicals such as nitrosamines--Sustain condoms are made from organic, fair-trade latex, which the company sells to retailers and on its own e-commerce store. The cost to produce these, Hollender says, is only around half a cent extra than the standard, around six cents.
Today, the Burlington, Vermont-based startup has expanded to more than 4,500 stores, including Whole Foods, and is preparing to launch a line of non-toxic pads and tampons. “The taboos around sex were a big obstacle,” Hollender admits. Still, she persisted, and last year the startup saw $1.2 million in sales, up from $650,000 the year before. To date, Sustain has raised $5.5 million in funding. --Zoe Henry
This handbag startup wants to help working women organize their lives
Dagne Dover's handbags target professional women who routinely tote with them a day's worth of supplies, from laptops to gym clothes. Its products balance California Closets-like storage efficiency with the fashion sense that co-founder and creative director Jessy Dover honed while interning at companies like Coach and Dennis Basso. She was recruited as a co-founder of Dagne by Melissa Mash, CEO, and Deepa Gandhi, COO, who conceived the idea while students at Wharton. The three launched Dagne Dover with $200,000 from friends and family and have since raised more than $3 million from people like Warby Parker investor David Bell and Nicolas Topiol, CEO of luxury brand Christian Lacroix. Dagne Dover debuts this year on Nordstrom.com, Revolve, Equinox, Bandier, and Stitch Fix. Still, “we are a digitally native brand,” says Dover. Many decisions, such as an early move into leather, were driven by customer suggestions. That engagement guides the business as it chooses among opportunities for expansion. "There are so many ways we can interpret our mission of how to bring life to this," says Dover. --Leigh Buchanan
The $100 million startup Harley-Davidson hired to build its mobile app
Andrew Gazdecki used to run an online job board. It was back in 2009, when Gazdecki was a marketing student at California State University, Chico. At the time, mobile apps were still new--and all the rage--so the job board focused on connecting local companies with mobile app developers. While skimming listings in his dorm room, Gazdecki noticed a pattern: A lot of companies, primarily restaurants, were requesting near-identical products with near-identical functionalities. “If this could work for one restaurant, this could work for every restaurant in the United States,” Gazdecki recalls thinking. He sold the job board for a six-figure sum, enough to launch Bizness Apps, a mobile-app developer, in June 2010. In the seven years since, that company has grown to more than 100 employees and a valuation over $120 million. It’s expanded well beyond restaurants; Bizness Apps has developed apps for everyone from auto companies Michelin and Harley-Davidson to rappers Soulja Boy and Fetty Wap. Bizness Apps wasn’t Gazdecki’s first company, but it very well may be his last--even if it gets acquired. “The way I view this industry is that it’s one in a lifetime,” he says. “I just can’t see myself getting away from this.” --Cameron Albert-Deitch