Meet the wildly popular subscription service for the perfect smile
SmileDirectClub co-founders Alex Fenkell and Jordan Katzman met at a summer camp as teenagers--teenagers with metal mouths full of braces, to be exact. More than a decade later, serial entrepreneurs Fenkell and Katzman are using a subscription-service approach to give people a more affordable--and less cumbersome--way to straighten their teeth. Customers have the option of receiving an at-home kit through which they take an impression of their teeth and send it to SmileDirectClub's technicians, or having their teeth scanned in person at one of the startup's 12 U.S. SmileShops. SmileDirectClub then uses 3-D imaging to create a custom treatment plan for the customer (which the company says typically lasts about five months). That's helped SmileDirectClub pare the cost of invisible aligners--which can cost north of $3,000--down to a $250 initial fee, followed by a $99 per-month fee for as long as the treatment continues. Fenkell and Katzman say that they want to do for teeth alignment what Crest Whitestrips did for teeth whitening. That's now a $10 billion industry. --Anna Hensel
Taxi companies that want to beat Uber all call this little software startup
Uber is the undisputed elephant in the room. But rather than run scared, smaller taxi fleets and car services are realizing that the secret to competing with said giant pachyderm isn't by beating it with lawsuits. Rather, more than 400 fleets have discovered Dashride, a 10-person team based in New York City that's equipping car services with the digital tools that allow them to, well, Uberize their services. "They’ve been working with the same system for 50 years," says co-founder Nadav Ullman of his company's taxi clients. "There's been a lot of complacency in the industry for a long time. But now they're calling us and saying 'Tell me what I have to do to compete.'" Dashride's cloud-based system gives car service operators the ability to accept customers, dispatch drivers, track vehicles via GPS, and bill customers all in one place. Previously, this required pens, paper, radios, and paper receipts. Dashride now operates across the U.S. and in Australia and England. Going forward, Ullman says, the company plans to continue its push into Europe, with Ireland and France in its sights. --Graham Rapier
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