This startup wants to be your one-stop dorm-room shop
Every college student knows that the first day moving into the dorm is exciting, but kind of a pain in the neck. The sheets don't fit. The concept of a shower caddy is completely new. And suddenly, a laundry hamper seems like a necessity. Unlike most college students, cousins Shanil Wazirali and Sagar Hemani think they've got a fix. Their company, Roomify, consolidates student shopping needs in one big box of stuff, all color-coordinated, all delivered to their dorm. Its best-selling box is the $299 "Doin' It Big," which includes 42 items ranging from bedding to a bulletin board. The five-person company designs and manufactures everything itself, which allows it to keep prices low. Starting out, the founders had a leg up: Their fathers ran a family business that sourced white-label hardware and school supplies. "They guided us and told us which factories to work with," says Wazirali. "We were able to find out exactly where companies like Target were manufacturing." In March, Roomify closed on $1.1 million in financing. "Every year we sell out," says Wazirali. "And every year we're like, man, we're on to something." --Kimberly Weisul
This company is putting hair extensions in the limelight
A few days before Halloween on 2012, armed with less than $1,000 and a site built using a free website builder, Alexandra Cristin White, then 23 years old, officially launched her online business, Glam Seamless. White's company sells tape-in natural hair extensions for women. Sales have grown from $55,000 in 2014 to over $2.5 million two years later. "I think the reason why the company has been so successful is because I never focused on the numbers," White says. "I never focused on 'Oh, I need to hit this goal.' I mean, numbers are important, for sure, but I think what is more important is surveying your customers and really listening to what they want." Another factor that helped? She didn't need to pay office space. White and her team worked remotely on the business during the first three years of the company. They would meet on coffee shops or co-working spaces when needed. Now Glam Seamless has its offices and a "hair room" in Hoboken, New Jersey. White explains that she chose to enter the tape-in extensions market because it wasn’t as saturated as the clip-on alternative. A few lessons on SEO and a YouTube channel later, Glam Seamless became one of the top players in the space. "In the day of internet and e-commerce, anything is really possible," says White, now 28. "You don't need an investor to start, you don't need a big office, you don't need anything. You just need the grit, the determination and passion for whatever you're doing."
Your employees want to do good. This company's here to help
Businesses are increasingly recognizing that charitable giving and volunteer opportunities are an important way to attract and engage employees. But few resources exist to easily organize and track those activities in one place. Envested, a New York City-based startup, wants to change that. The software company makes it easy for employees to get involved in charity projects and launch their own, as well as reducing the time businesses need to spend on attendant administrative tasks. Isa Watson, a former chemist at Pfizer and executive at JPMorganChase--and an accomplished classical pianist on the side--founded Envested in 2015. The five-person company began generating revenue through software subscriptions at the end of last year, and projects revenue to rise to more than $700,000 in 2017. It has raised $760,000 in funding from investors including Newark Venture Partners, which also recently accepted the startup into its accelerator program. Envested currently has about 100 local nonprofit groups on its roster. So far, its software is proving to be a hit: An average of 50-65 percent of customers' employees use it, four to six times the adoption rate for products from Envested's competitors. --Doug Cantor
This startup wants to help you power driverless cars
Machines can learn, but not without a little help. The deep-learning algorithms that enable cars to drive themselves and smartphones to render speech as text need massive amounts of so-called training data to make sense of all the variations they encounter--for instance, what a car looks like from different angles, what a word sounds like in different accents. To the founders of CrowdAI, the solution to this deep learning problem was more deep learning. While other companies generate training data by paying armies of workers to tag images, CrowdAI’s software is able to categorize 70 percent to 99 percent of what it sees, bringing in humans only to assist with the hard stuff.
CEO Devaki Raj was working at Google on the energy team when she and her two co-founders realized a lot of other companies that lack Google’s resources are nonetheless going to need their own computer vision capabilities. They started CrowdAI to cater to those needs, with an initial focus on autonomous vehicles and satellite imagery. (* The 2016 revenue figure cited here reflects the company's first two sales closed during Y Combinator, not its full-year sales.) “For us, the marriage of the two is where we think we can find a very large place,” says Raj. --Jeff Bercovici
This $48 million luggage startup has big plans for your next trip
Steph Korey and Jen Rubio are a match made in airport heaven. After cutting their teeth at the direct-to-consumer juggernaut Warby Parker, the two young entrepreneurs turned their attention to the much-maligned travel business and launched Away. Founded in 2015, the direct-to-consumer luggage company aims to make getting out of town both stylish and cost effective. "The idea sprang from a broken suitcase," says Rubio, whose baggage malfunction turned a typical trek through an airport in Zurich into a nightmare travel story. "I did what a bunch of people our age do. I went on Facebook and asked: 'I need new luggage. Have any recommendations?'" The responses were tepid. That's when she realized the opportunity for Away and attempted to sell Korey on the idea, who at the time was at Columbia University elbow-deep in a dissertation about the potential for the direct-to-consumer business model. "There was definitely a need in the market for something that was well designed and well priced and had a thoughtful brand around it," says Rubio. The company, which has sold more than 100,000 suitcases, booked $12 million in sales in its first year and expects to quadruple that figure in 2017. --Diana Ransom