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Young companies, big ideas- The 2014 edition of the CNN 10

You wouldn’t know it from the hype around Silicon Valley these days, but the startup world churns out more duds than hits.

Click through the CNN site to get better detail of the companies ;)


Many hastily built apps and social networks aren’t interested in long-term success but an exit strategy -- selling to a larger company for a quick windfall. Others launch with nobler intentions but flame out because their market is oversaturated or they offer a service nobody really needs.

But for every hundred startups that fail, there’s a fledgling company that’s creating an original and useful product or tackling a difficult real-world problem.

For CNN’s annual roundup of promising new startups, we take a look at 10 emerging companies whose products have the potential to transform industries, help the planet’s less fortunate or become a handy part of our lives.

These companies are bringing digital innovation to analog businesses such as shipping and self-storage, or gaining footholds in such new industries as commercial drones or the mapping of the human microbiome.

They're changing health care, shaking up big data, launching satellites into space and bringing better Internet access to developing countries. They’re even making our phones more useful.

They may not all succeed, but they’re worth keeping an eye on. May we present the 2014 edition of the CNN 10: Startups.

1. Airware-


San Francisco-based startup Airware hopes that all these unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, will have something in common: They'll run on the Airware platform.

That’s because Airware is a drone company that doesn't make drones. It designs hardware, software and cloud services for commercial UAVs.

2. Boxbee-


And as an engineer he saw that the self-storage business, essentially unchanged for decades, was ripe for a makeover.

So Matthews founded Boxbee, which aims to streamline the storage process by letting customers manage their extra stuff online without ever leaving home.

“We make it super-convenient,” Matthews says. “We come to you and pick up your stuff.”

The service works like this: Customers order plastic boxes which are delivered to their home. They fill the boxes, catalog their contents on Boxbee’s website and schedule a pickup. Boxbee stores the boxes in a nearby warehouse and delivers them back to the customer upon request.

Boxbee says its standard yellow box, which measures 3.5 cubic feet in size, can hold 25 pairs of shoes, 90 T-shirts or 200 DVDs. Customers pay $7.50 a month per box. Pickup is free, although each time a customer retrieves boxes they are charged $15, plus $2 a box.

3. BRCK-


At first glance, it doesn’t look like much: an unadorned brick about the size of four iPhone 5s stacked together.

But this little box is deceptively powerful. It seamlessly switches between Ethernet, Wi-Fi and cellular networks to provide Web access for up to 20 devices. It works for more than 8 hours without electricity. And it may transform wireless communications in remote corners of the world.

It’s the BRCK (yes, pronounced “brick”), and it was dreamed up not in Silicon Valley, but by a handful of software engineers in Kenya.

4. FiscalNote-


Founded last year in the shadow of Capitol Hill, has developed an analytics platform that uses artificial intelligence to crunch state and federal government data. Their software then forecasts trends and outcomes that can help clients make strategic decisions around, say, whether an anti-fracking bill might pass the Colorado legislature.

“We’re able to forecast with a high level of accuracy whether a bill will pass,” says Tim Hwang, the company’s CEO. How high? More than 90%, he says.

5. Humin


Ankur Jain, the 24-year-old founder,  

“As we’ve moved into an era with cell phones driving our communication, all of our relationships are now stored and based on contacts,” he says.

And yet, he says, the way we access those contacts is similar to the way a 1990s Internet search engine worked: pumping out results in alphabetical order. Some business people today have hundreds of contacts stored in their phone but no easy way to remember who all of them are.

“If you can actually build a search engine that remembers people the way you do, you make context relevant again,” Jain says.

Once you download Humin and grant it access to your social network, the app creates a little database of your contacts, searchable by where people work, where they live, who they know – or how you know them.

Think of Humin as a way to combine your address book with maps, social networks and even your calendar. Traveling to a different city? Humin will tell you friends who live there, or who are visiting at the same time. Meet someone at a party? Humin allows you to put in details of the meeting and determine friends in common through social networks.

The app pulls up your contacts as image tiles – just like the avatars you see on Facebook or Twitter. It’s a more intuitive way to find people you’re looking for, says Jain.

6. Planet Labs-


What if you could take a high-resolution picture of the entire planet, every single day?

Would you monitor melting polar ice caps? Fight wildfires? Offer targeted aid in the aftermath of natural disasters?

Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based startup that has already launched more than 70 satellites into space, wants to find out.

7. Shyp-


Now comes Shyp, a Silicon Valley venture that wants to transform the cumbersome shipping process by taking over the packaging, picking up and dropping off of parcels.

"Shipping is a $300 billion-plus, 220-year-old industry begging for disruption," says Shyp co-founder Kevin Gibbon.

Like Uber, Shyp works via a smartphone app. Snap a picture of what you want to ship -- say, a pair of skis you sold on eBay. You don't have to worry about finding a ski-shaped box or the right packaging materials to keep them from getting damaged, because Shyp will do that for you.

There's also no need to haul them to the nearest post office. Shyp estimates how much it will cost to ship the skis via FedEx, DHL, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service, picks the best deal and then sends an employee to your location to fetch the goods within 20 minutes. These couriers (Shyp calls them "heroes") take your skis to a local warehouse, box them and send them on their way.

Customers pay the estimated shipping cost, plus a $5 pickup fee. Shyp makes money by getting volume discounts from the shipping services and pocketing the difference. Gibbon says shipping companies like it because instead of 15 separate pickups, they can load their trucks at fewer stops.

8. Smart Vision Labs-


According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 200 million people who are visually impaired living in low-income communities -- and roughly 80% of the cases are curable.

The device, called the SVOne, slides onto an iPhone and lets doctors measure refractive errors of the eye. (For those who've had vision tests, refractive errors are typically measured by those bulky machines that require patients to put their chin on a pad and read out numbers or letters).

The portable versions of these machines used to be cumbersome and expensive, which made it tough for doctors like David McPhillips to help people in developing countries. As a leader with the nonprofit Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, McPhillips has led dozens of trips around the world to offer vision care.

One of the biggest hassles, and expenses, in these trips is in transporting equipment. According to McPhillips, most portable auto-refractors are the size of a toaster and cost up to $30,000.

Because they have to be checked with luggage, they are easily damaged and can cost as much as $1,800 to fix. That's nearly half the expense of the SVOne, which will sell for around $4,000.

This August, McPhillips tested the SVOne, which has a 56-hour battery life, on a mission to Haiti, which Albanese and colleague Greg Van Kirk attended.

"The most important thing I observed was its accuracy," McPhillips says. "It meets a need not only from an examination standpoint but from mobility and security [too]."

9. Spring-


For shopaholics who love Instagram, it might be the perfect app.

Spring, which launched in August, lets consumers follow their favorite fashion brands and shop for new looks on a free mobile app that’s heavy on pretty images.

Spring boasts over 300 brands, from big-time designers such as Derek Lam to startups like Bow & Drape and online retailers like Warby Parker and Everlane.

Co-founders David and Alan Tisch – yes, the two are brothers – say they launched the service to spare consumers from retail app overload. Instead of having to download individual apps to browse and shop for new clothes and accessories, Spring’s users can do it all in one place.

10. uBiome-


Jessica Richman's $100,000 crowdfunding effort  actually received $350,000 to help launch her startup, uBiome.

For as little as $89, the San Francisco-based company sends customers a kit to collect a tiny stool sample. Two other options let them upgrade this "Gut Kit" all the way to a $399 version that also lets users gather samples from their mouth, nose, genitals and skin.

The samples, coupled with a detailed questionnaire, let uBiome's lab compare results with a stockpile of other information from a user database that is 15,000 strong and counting. Scientists with uBiome remove bacterial DNA from the samples and identify it all. They then send the user a breakdown of how their microbes compare with other people who have submitted samples.

Microbes actually outnumber cells in the human body and perform important tasks such as helping digest food and synthesize vitamins. Emerging studies have also linked the microbe system to things such as mental health, mood and human development.

So, for example, you might learn that the bacteria in your gut put you in the same group as people who are vegetarians, or of a certain age, or drink too much, or who reported mental health issues ranging from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia.

"It's kind of amazing the connections people have found," says Richman, uBiome’s CEO. She’s quick to note the test doesn't diagnose illnesses but gives users insight into problems worth checking out. Her company currently is developing a more detailed set of test results that will offer additional comparisons and suggest possible lifestyle changes that users may want to make based on their results.

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UBiome went on to raise $4.5 million from a16z and others: