This could be a watershed year for New York startups.

Around 54 companies in the metro area are poised to go public this year, according to CB Insights data. Meanwhile, investors are increasingly willing to put their dollars behind more "creative" business models, as valuations come down. That's according to Charlie O'Donnell, the venture capitalist and founder of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, who tells Inc. that he's particularly bullish on New York food, hardware, and logistics companies in the new year. Analysts add that we're likely to see more mergers and acquisitions in 2017, especially in the financial technology industry.

Still, the Trump administration presents a question mark for young businesses, especially those operating in the tech and health care sectors. Many companies rely on the H-1B visa program to hire skilled foreign labor, even as the president has vowed to limit immigration and bar certain ethnic groups from entering the country.

Here's a look at the top New York companies to watch in 2017:

1. Oscar Health

Oscar Health, the tech startup launched by co-founders Joshua Kushner and Mario Schlosser in 2012, sells health insurance to individuals online. It's built on the back of Obamacare's health exchanges, serving patients in parts of New York, California, and Texas.

Oscar has seen considerable success. In February of last year, the company raised $400 million from Fidelity, and was valued at a staggering $2.7 billion. It serves some 135,000 members, but is reportedly bleeding money; the co-founders have learned the hard way that the Millennial-oriented, consumer-first approach isn't immune to the high costs of medical care. This year will be something of a reckoning for Oscar, as President Trump has threatened to do away with the ACA altogether. Writing in a blog post last week, however, the company insisted that their ACA coverage will remain intact--and that it will "be in touch" if and when the situation changes.

Still, amid mounting losses, the company is looking to retool. Starting in the first quarter of 2017, Oscar plans to start selling to small companies, in addition to individuals, and it recently announced that it would pull out of Dallas and all of New Jersey.

2. Casper

Casper set out in April of 2014 to disrupt a more than $14 billion industry by selling mattresses at a clip of the standard cost. (The company, co-founded by Neil Parikh, Luke Sherwin, Jeff Chapin, Gabe Flateman, and Philip Krim, uses a memory foam and latex design, which it compresses and ships via a mini-fridge sized box.) The model caught on, as Casper generated some $1 million in sales in its first month. Last year, it was on track to do $200 million in sales, the company told Inc. in November.

The startup appears well positioned for a public offering in 2017. Among other reasons, Casper is bolstered by nearly $70 million in venture capital, allowing it to spend aggressively without slowing down. It recently expanded to international locations last year, including an office in Berlin.

Of course, the competition is stiff, as traditional retailers like Tempur-Sealy and Mattress Firm launch their own "bed-in-a-box" offerings. It remains to be seen how Casper will continue to stack up, but Parikh insists that his company has the technical advantage:

"We consider ourselves a tech company first," Parikh told Inc. in a previous interview. "We've created software that lets us know exactly where our raw materials and mattress components are and how to forecast what and when to build."

3. Birchbox

The subscription beauty retailer, launched by co-founders Hayley Barna and CEO Katia Beauchamp in 2010, faced several setbacks last year. It was forced to cut more than 15 percent of its staff in January and another 12 percent in June. The company also reportedly failed to find an acquirer, and halted plans for additional brick-and-mortar stores.

"2016 was a really challenging year for the company. There's no way around that," Beauchamp told Inc. earlier this month. In the coming year, she says she'll focus on developing a better relationship with existing customers. Barna stepped down from the company in 2015.

Birchbox was most recently valued at $485 million, and has raised more than $86 million in venture capital funding to date.

4. Thrive Global

Last year, Arianna Huffington--the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post--announced that she would be leaving the publisher to start her own corporate wellness business.

"Running both companies would have involved working around the clock, which would be a betrayal of the very principles of Thrive I've been writing and speaking about," Huffington said in a statement last year of her decision to exit the company she built.

Thrive Global, which launched officially in November, helps set up wellness programs--seminars, workshops, and Web courses--for companies in industries such as banking and consulting. Thrive also sells some physical products through an e-commerce store, ranging from scented candles to pajamas and pillow cases.

The company, which is co-led by president Abby Levy, is well positioned to disrupt a more than $10 billion industry. It has raised more than $7 million in Series A funding from investors including Blue Plue capital--Jack Ma's Hong Kong-based investment fund--and Greycroft Partners. Thrive also counts Kenneth Lerer, managing partner at Lerer Hippeau Ventures and a HuffPost co-founder, among its board of directors.

5. Transfix

Drew McElroy, the co-founder and CEO of Transfix, is betting on the $600 billion trucking market. His tech startup pairs freight haulers with retailers, helping to move truckloads of inventory across the country. For matching shipments with drivers via app, Transfix takes a 5 to 7 percent cut in transactions. The three-year old company has raised more than $37 million in funding to date from investors including New Enterprise Associates, and says it works with more than 18,000 truck drivers and 200 customers.

"Compared to a traditional truck broker, we are less expensive," McElroy explained, as the system automatically sends messages to drivers when a shipment becomes available.

A growing number of companies are trying to tackle the freight hauling business, including tech startups Freightos and CargoMatic. But McElroy may have an edge, having helped to grow his father's truck brokerage to more than $12 million in annual revenues before launching the startup.

6. Blue Apron

The meal-kit company is widely expected to go public this year, targeting an aggressive $3 billion valuation. (Blue Apron began interviewing banks in September, according to a Bloomberg report, though it later put those plans on hold as it refocused on improving its metrics.) The company reportedly booked $800 million in 2016 revenue, but has struggled more recently to improve its profit margins. It was launched by co-founders Ilia Papas, Matt Salzberg and Matthew Wadiak in 2012.

Adding to its headwinds, in October, an investigation by BuzzFeed revealed a violent and unsafe working environment in Blue Apron's Richmond, California packing facility.

7. WeWork

The co-working business, which provides shared office space for freelancers and entrepreneurs at a subscription fee, has grown beyond its humble New York City origins. Late last year, WeWork raised an impressive $690 million, at a valuation of nearly $17 billion. It now counts 98 co-working spaces across 32 cities, and more than 74,000 paying members worldwide.

"The world is at a tipping point right now, and we have to make a decision: Are we part of the solution or are we part of the problem?" said WeWork's co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann, speaking at an event in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood last year, just days after the area was bombed. Of his business in trying times, Neumann continued, "we believe in love, in passion, and most of all in generation we."

The company could be among the first to go public in 2017, as Nasdaq recently speculated.

8. Warby Parker

The e-commerce eyeglass retailer implemented a new strategy in 2013--opening up new retail locations--which saw it "growing like a weed, firmly establishing it as a standout" in 2016, says Brooklyn Bridge Venture's Charlie O'Donnell.

This year could be a tipping point for the seven-year-old startup, as it continues establishing a brick-and-mortar presence to supplement its online sales: The business expects to open 25 stores this year alone, co-CEO Neil Blumenthal told the Wall Street Journal this week.

The company is among the tech startups likely to go public in the New Year, according to CB Insights. Most recently, Warby Parker raised $100 million--from investors including T. Rowe Price, Tiger Global, and General Catalyst--at a $1.2 billion valuation.

9. Betterment

This automated investment manager, or "robo-adviser," aims to provide a simpler, more efficient platform for customers looking to increase their wealth. The company, which charges a lower-than-average management fee of between 25 and 35 basis points, has grown its assets under management to an impressive $7 billion in eight years, launching related offerings like Betterment Institutional (a platform for human financial advisers) as well as Betterment for Business, a tool that helps companies set up and manage a 401(k) program.

Still, the future of fintech startups like Betterment is unclear in 2017, as many have called for increased regulation across the industry. Also, a 2016 scandal engulfing Lending Club--the online lender was found to be peddling faulty loans--has left a pock on the industry. Investment in financial technology overall has declined over the past few quarters, according to KPMG, and investors are similarly wary of the Fed's recent decision to hike interest rates.

"Once we see 1.5 or 2 percent [interest rates], you'll see people taking money off of risky assets. That's going to take some oxygen out of the room," said Dan Egan, the director of behavioral finance at Betterment, speaking at an event in New York City last week.

10. Cadre

This tech startup, armed by a team of former Square, Google, and Facebook executives, is well on its way to disrupting the real estate business. The company's platform lets wealthy individuals buy into commercial properties, including stores, offices, and apartment buildings. The idea is that customers can purchase small portions of a building, similar to how you would buy company stock. Cadre then  charges investors a small, usually 2 percent, annual fee, and then 20 percent of additional profits. This is somewhat lower than a traditional REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) model, where companies charge up-front fees of around 10 percent, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Cadre also claims that its platform offers investors more transparency than a REIT, and a more flexible commitment structure.

Based in Manhattan's NoLita neighborhood, the business has a slew of high-profile investors, including Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, Goldman Sachs, and Alibaba's Jack Ma. The company was launched back 2014 by CEO Ryan Williams, along with co-founders Jared Kushner and Joshua Kushner, the latter of whom runs Oscar and the investment firm Thrive Capital. The former Kushner, who married Ivanka Trump, counts the U.S. president as his father-in-law, which could have interesting implications for Cadre in 2017.

Published on: Jan 25, 2017