Startup Grind
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Startup Grind

9 Startups Changing the World for the Better

These startups are protecting our planet, safeguarding our data, and improving the way we live and work.

Each month we feature inspiring startups from our Startup Membership community. This time around, we’re highlighting companies focused on making our world better— whether by improving our food systems or the way we protect personal information from hackers. Keep reading to learn more about these incredible startups and give us a shout if you’d like to get an intro!

1. Bioo

Pablo Vidarte, Founder & CEO
Spain
Biotechnology
biootech.com

Merging nature and technology through innovative solutions that improve quality of life.

How Bioo Got Started

“Bioo is literally a dream come true. I was studying engineering and had worked on quite a few hardware and software projects within the energy sector. One night I had a crazy dream about using a plant leaf as a solar panel. I woke up determined to see if I could create a sustainable energy source using natural, sustainable resources. I built a team of students, teachers and biotech industry experts, and we conducted a one-year independent study to unearth the potential of this concept. We discovered that we could produce electricity from soil and plant photosynthesis, and even use plants as biological switches. From there, Bioo was born.”

On Overcoming a Challenge

“To-date, the Bioo research and development team has created 11 different sustainable batteries, all nourished from a natural environment. However, it wasn’t easy. The first batteries we created didn’t produce much energy, so we had to keep pushing to get the results we wanted. In the early stages of development, we actually pushed so hard we created an explosion in our lab! This glorious disaster was a true breakthrough, as it proved that with just soil and water you could literally create an explosion. It taught us to think of our batteries as not just a product but a live microorganism; a sustainable entity that needs to breathe. We now make different energy sources all with different focuses, including energy generation, improved terrain resilience and cost efficiency, but regardless of the batteries’ characteristics, we make sure to keep all of our energy sources as organic as possible, keeping this lesson in mind.”

How to Support Bioo

“Through our startup, we aim to lead the shift towards a greener future, where sustainability is the central axis and technology the main tool to achieve it. We’re working to bridge the gap between cities and how we interact with nature, creating sustainable electricity but also nourishing our cities by embedding plant life into city environments. Right now, we are actively commercializing our first market product, Bioo Installations (biological switches), preparing to launch an Agritech solution, Bioo Sensor, and are raising a Series-A investment round of 2.5M€.”

Want to connect with Bioo? Email us to request an intro.

2. BetterYou

Sean Higgins, CEO
USA
AI
betteryou.ai

A digital coach that allows individuals to maximize their time and stay focused on goals that matter.

How BetterYou Got Started

“If you’ve ever looked up from your phone and wondered where the last hour went you know how we started our company. I was sitting on the couch refreshing Gmail, scrolling through emails when it hit me. I had no reason to be spending time there right now. Even knowing that, I still found myself going through the motions. This got me interested in how other people spend their time. Are we intentional with where it goes or do we end up down the rabbit hole?”

On Overcoming a Challenge

“One of our early customers needed the product 3 months from our first meeting. Our first meeting was showing this customer wireframes (we were pre-product). We had to build an MVP, test the MVP, and deploy to hundreds of users in a matter of months. We plugged in 7 days a week to create the first version of the app, gathering feedback from users along the way. When you are moving fast, sometimes you find yourself playing with live ammo.”

How to Support BetterYou

Follow our journey on Linkedin and Instagram.

Want to connect with BetterYou? Email us to request an intro.

3. Umbrella

Nancy Roberts, CEO & Founder
UK
HR & Employee Engagement
umbrellaanalytics.net

Helping companies use data to build a more welcoming, diverse, and representative workplace.

How Umbrella Got Started

“Frustrated by companies launching diversity initiatives with no clear outcomes, and relying on training and education to change behaviour, I realized that technology can provide better solutions. We look at the issues that matter (such as pay gaps and progression gaps) and use data analytics and AI to provide actionable insights and measurable results.”

On Overcoming a Challenge

“The biggest challenge has been being a social tech business; this limits the types of investment money we can accept as we don’t want to work with companies who are part of the problem, not the solution. We have bootstrapped and are choosing to grow and fund ourselves through sales — it’s not always easy but it’s the right thing for us to do!”

How to Support Umbrella

I’d love to hear from companies (big and small) who are serious about making positive changes in diversity and inclusion in their business. We know we can deliver meaningful support and help you to drive change. Get in touch to have a chat with us about how!

Want to connect with Umbrella? Email us to request an intro.

4. Nettoken

Simonetta d’Ottaviano , Co-founder & CEO
UK
Cyber Security
nettoken.io

The identity management platform for everyday internet users to raise awareness and control of their ever-expanding digital footprint.

How Nettoken Got Started

“Nettoken’s journey began as a college team project at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art whilst doing a master in Innovation Design Engineering (IDE). We were reflecting on the little control we have over our data. We spend most of our days surfing the web and subscribing to new services for all sorts of reasons, yet we lack a clear overview of our digital presence. What have we signed up to over the years and how do we start making sense of all this chaos? That’s when we had the idea to build a control panel for our digital identity that would combine convenience with security, making personal cybersecurity less intimidating and more accessible to everyday internet users.”

On Overcoming a Challenge

“Funding has been a tough one for us. On one hand, most investors feared that a consumer cybersecurity product wouldn’t have a chance. On the other hand, perhaps being a team of all-female founders in this space was quite unusual. Whatever the reason, we managed to get validation by experts in the industry and from investors that understood as internet users that what we wanted to solve was big, and addressing a huge gap in the market. We also got the support of great institutions such as the Royal College of Art, always a supporter of design-led innovation, CyLon (Cyber London) as well as the National Cyber Security Center (a part of GCHQ) and Wayra through their cyber accelerators.”

How to Support Nettoken

We are looking for investors to complete our current round and looking to connect with potential partners. :)

Want to connect with Nettoken? Email us to request an intro.

5. Hippy Feet

Sam Harper, Co-Founder
USA
Retail
hippyfeet.com

Eco-friendly socks with each purchase providing employment to homeless youth.

How Hippy Feet Got Started

“My co-founder, Michael, suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling off of his skateboard. As part of the recovery process, we realized the value of a support system, and how not everyone has one available. We wanted to create a company that served as this support system for others.”

On Overcoming a Challenge

“We originally launched as buy-one, give-one sock company, donating socks to the homeless. We went out on the streets of Minneapolis, week after week, and donated over 20,000 pairs of socks. People were grateful, but we were left with a feeling of guilt. We weren’t making the deep impact that we had originally set out to create. Giving socks to the people experiencing homelessness was just a band-aid fix. We weren’t actually helping change their situation in life. This caused us to pivot. We changed our mission to focus on providing jobs to homeless youth. This way, we can help transition young people out of homelessness before it becomes a cycle. To date, we’ve been able to provide transitional jobs to over 120 young people affected by homelessness.”

How to Support Hippy Feet

We’re excited to expand our programs to new US cities as our company grows. The biggest way we’re able to do this is by creating custom socks for companies to use as gifts and promotional products. If your company is interested in creating branded products with Hippy Feet, please reach out through our website.

Want to connect with Hippy Feet? Email us to request an intro.

6. Presentr

Tim Wikstrom, Co-Founder
USA
Education
presentr.me

AI-driven system proven to help you become a better, more engaging presenter.

How Presentr Got Started

“Presentr was created to fill the gap that has ALWAYS existed in training people to feel more confident when they are speaking. Given only 10% or less of the workforce is allowed to participate in live training it is an ineffective solution for the greater working population. Live training only provides a point in time solution. But the ability to speak confidently must be developed over time. Presentr was designed to take the best part of live training and create a scalable solution to reach the masses. I started Presentr because everyone deserves to be heard and to feel confident sharing their message.”

On Overcoming a Challenge

“Sales sales sales! Initially, we focused on sharing features and benefits of the product to sell the product. Why not, we were solving a huge problem, right? What we didn’t know or understand fully was the buyer journey. You must know your buyer inside and out. We learned the hard way, hiring a handful of “expert” sales people. That was very costly to our business. We solved this by partnering with the right people to help educate us on the sales motion as well as the importance of developing ICPs (Individual Customer Profiles). This has helped us prospect, identify alignment and recommend solutions for our customers.”

Advice from Presentr’s Founder

“Become very comfortable living outside your comfort zone. As a non-technical founder, this is not a nice to have, it is a must have characteristic.”

Want to connect with Presentr? Email us to request an intro.

7. Spira

Elliot Roth, CEO
USA
Biotechnology
spirainc.com

Algae-based ingredients that replace animal- and petroleum-derived compounds.

How Spira Got Started

“In 2016, our founder Elliot Roth was running out of funds and decided to couch surf. At the time, the only remaining cost for him was food. After a brief investigation into vertical farming and hydroponics, Elliot decided to focus on the fastest-growing, least resource-intensive and most nutritionally-dense organism: spirulina. He had come across spirulina in a NASA article that claimed astronauts were using spirulina when doing research and writing about synthetic biology. However, apparently dried powdered spirulina tasted terrible. To survive, Elliot grew and lived on a diet of spirulina for a period of 2.5 months in his garage laboratory and discovered that fresh spirulina had no taste. Sometime during the processing the spirulina started tasting bad. By extracting the pigments from spirulina, the overall flavor improved immensely, and in addition as a byproduct, a beautiful natural blue colorant was produced. Thus the idea for Spira was born: using algae ingredients to replace petroleum and animal compounds in the supply chain for food, cosmetics and textile companies.”

On Overcoming a Challenge

“I’m less concerned about failure than I am about small success. Failure teaches me something. I initially started my company Spira by selling home protein production systems where you could press a button and get a shot of protein daily. We were seeing some early sales but it wasn’t enough to sustain the team. We wasted months attempting to scale that business without much traction. With the help of mentors from the National Science Foundation, we started exploring other opportunities. After interviewing 100s of food product developers we discovered a way of using our novel CRISPR-editing technology and extraction process to produce ingredients. This pivot happened right before we went completely bankrupt and completely saved us thanks to the help and advice of our mentors.”

How to Support Spira

“Spira is raising $2,000,000 to deliver our algae-based ingredients to waiting customers. Spira has generated over $65,000 in sales and 55 letters of intent, which corresponds to a projected $33 million in potential billable revenue. We’ve successfully piloted our ingredients with beverage, alcohol, cosmetic, textile, candy and confectionery brands and have interest from clients like Clorox and Kellogg. We’ve filed 6 patents, applied for dozens of grants, and expanded our farming network to 12 global partners producing over 20 metric tons of ingredients monthly. We raised over $435,000 to bring us to this point and presented at conferences like SXSW, Synbiobeta and partnered with organizations like the World Food Programme and the National Science Foundation.”

Want to connect with Spira? Email us to request an intro.

8. Zobi

Scott, Lever, Founder
UK
Cyber Security
zobi.ai

Home Intelligence bringing cybersecurity to the Smart Home, covering all IoT devices and endpoints.

How Zobi Got Started

“As a victim of cybercrime and as a cyber security consultant across multiple sectors, I wanted to find a better way of protecting homeworkers and connected householders from hackers and scammers.”

On Overcoming a Challenge

“Our biggest challenge is educating users about the dangers of cybercrime without the usual fear and confusion. To do this, we build a consumer friendly brand called Hedgehog which is smart, simple and trustworthy. It talks about cybercrime is non-tech, non-threatening language and helps users to better protect themselves.”

How to Support Zobi

“We already have 16,000 users pre-registered for our launch. We are a hardware enabled software company with an initial consumer product.”

Want to connect with Zobi? Email us to request an intro.

9. Numly™, Inc.

Madhukar Govindaraju, Founder & CEO
USA
HR & Employee Engagement
numly.io

AI-Enhanced coaching platform that improves employee engagement, performance, and productivity.

How Numly Got Started

“Numly™’s mission is to measurably improve employee performance and employee engagement through coaching and skills development. NumlyEngage™ is an AI-enhanced platform that enables coaching as an extension of eLearning, making it possible for organizations to tap into employees’ hard and soft skills and empower them to coach each other in a structured manner, while leveraging third-party learning content, expert coaches and built-in programs tailored for all corporate functional groups such as Sales, Customer Success, R&D/Engineering, etc. As a result, NumlyEngage™ helps organizations accelerate revenue, increase performance, and improve employee engagement, especially in the post COVID-19 era of working from home (WFH).”

On Overcoming a Challenge

“At the beginning of 2020, we were working with several large customers in improving their Annual Engagement scores which revolved around complaints from several employees — women and Millennials included — around work-life balance and lack of support for career growth. When the world was hit with COVID-19, the world just transformed overnight to working from home.

This was not just a challenge for us in terms of doing day-2-day business but also connecting several key stakeholders together to see the value of our products. We spoke to all of our pilot customers and immediately started developing programs for teams to Work-from-Home (WFH). Our quick innovation was received extremely well. We were able to convert a business challenge into a huge driver of business growth for us. All of our customers … CEO’s, CHRO’s and CxO’s now are focused on employee productivity and employee engagement when working-from-home. Numly was recently awarded a Hot Vendor in Employee Engagement for 2020 by Aragon Research.”

How to Support Numly

“Numly™’s mission is to measurably improve employee performance and employee engagement through coaching and skills development, enabled by AI. If you are looking for a next-gen LinkedIn platform for engagement and coaching within your company, please do send a note to mailto:ceo@numly.io. We would love to chat with you and see how we can partner in your business growth and success.”

Want to connect with Numly? Email us to request an intro.

Join Other Top Startups

Are you a startup that’s also changing the world? Join our Startup Grind Membership and get exclusive resources and network with world-class experts and peers.

And if you’re interested in seeing other great startups in our membership, check-out our previously published “Top Startup” lists:

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