Sure, the latest initiatives from the Teslas, Apples and Googles of the industry tend to dominate the tech news space — and with good reason. Still, the big guns aren’t the only ones bringing innovation to the sector.
In an effort to highlight up-and-coming startups, Built In is launching The Future 5 across 11 major U.S. tech hubs. Each quarter, we will feature five tech startups, nonprofits or entrepreneurs in each of these hubs who just might be working on the next big thing. Read our round-up of rising startups from last year here.
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Large tech companies from a variety of industries call the DMV home, including Capital One, Gannett and Boeing. In addition to the brands we’re all familiar with, the D.C. area is home to a bustling tech scene with new talent graduating every semester from local universities.
The metro area might not be as big of a tech hub as San Francisco or Seattle, but it’s growing fast with countless startups launching every month. These promising young companies are doing big things in their respective fields, each getting creative to solve problems or offer interesting new products to its customers. You may not have heard of them yet, but these startups are pioneers in their own right.
BUILT IN’S FUTURE 5 UP-AND-COMING D.C. STARTUPS, Q1 2022
- Agrology (Agritech)
- hotglue (SaaS)
- Hydrosat (Data and Analytics)
- IndyGeneUs (Healthtech)
- SudShare (Laundry Service)
Precision agriculture (PA) is a farm management system that utilizes data to optimize the growth and yield of farms. It allows farmers to better understand their land, increase crop yields and prepare for natural disasters when they strike.
As useful as PA systems can be, they also tend to be expensive. Sensors that gather PA data can be as costly as the software it runs on. While it is a good investment, the upfront cost is often out of reach for many small farms. For those in search of an affordable PA solution, there’s Agrology — a subscription-based PA company that hopes to make its technology accessible to farms big and small.
Agrology, a certified B-corporation, was founded after Adam Koeppel showed colleague Tyler Locke his prototypes for a low-cost PA system based on machine learning. With a shared passion for building clean technology, the two decided to work together and applied for the highly selective National Science Foundation SBIR Award. After winning the award, Koeppel and Locke quit their corporate day jobs and have since realized their dream of making PA technology accessible.
Agrology uses a streamlined system of sensors, machine learning technology, data processing and data delivery to give farmers insights on how to help their farms thrive, especially in the face of climate change. By placing sensors in key areas of a farmer’s land, the Agrology system gathers data on multiple touchpoints such as weather, air quality and ground truth data.
Utilizing machine learning, Agrology’s platform is able to turn that data into actionable insights it calls “predictive agriculture,” which the company believes is the future of the industry. Predictive agriculture can help farmers respond to current issues and plan for future ones before they arise.
In addition to real-time reporting, Agrology customers receive a customized report specific to their fields and nano-climates summarizing the previous year. This allows farmers to compare and contrast results over time, which Agrology says its customers find highly valuable.
The Alexandria-based startup has big plans for 2022, including securing additional funding to help the company scale and grow its platform. It has new features planned, too, that will focus on disease, irrigation and soil moisture prediction as well as carbon sequestration tracking.
Custom data integration is a common headache in the developer community. Trying to automatically input data from outside applications, like Salesforce and QuickBooks, into new platforms can be tedious when there isn’t a spot for it in existing pipelines. When custom data gums up the works, developers often find themselves wasting valuable time updating the pipeline for individual clients.
Hassan Syyid was tired of losing time redoing work so he created a data integration solution to handle custom data. With the help of fellow University of Maryland classmate David Molot, hotglue was born. After a lot of hard work, the company was accepted into Y Combinator last year and the two founders dropped out of college to devote their time to hotglue.
“We’re focused on expanding our integration library and bringing the integrations that customers are asking for while improving the ones that we already have.”
Gaithersburg-based hotglue is an embeddable, cloud-based product that allows developers to easily connect customer data from third-party applications. While using connectors to handle outside data isn’t new, hotglue’s focus on serving the developer community sets the company apart and has helped it grow.
When Built In last spoke with hotglue in October of 2021, the company had just 15 customers. After raising a $1.5 million seed funding round, the company now has four times the customer base it once did. Syyid and Molot also hired five full-time engineers to expand the integrations hotglue can handle.
“We’re focused on expanding our integration library and bringing the integrations that customers are asking for while improving the ones that we already have,” Syyid, hotglue co-founder and CEO, told Built In. “One of the big pushes has been to support larger volumes of data through our platform and being able to do that reliably.”
The two founders said they’ve learned a lot in recent months as they expand the business. At just 20 years old, the young founders have learned to navigate the enterprise sales environment as well as build their skills as first-time managers. Armed with new expertise, Molot said he’s excited to continue to grow hotglue.
“The goal for 2022 is to get to our next milestone of $100k recurring monthly revenue,” Molot said, adding that he thinks that goal is within reach in the not too distant future.
Hydrosat (Data and Analytics)
Several wildfires, floods, hurricanes and droughts have already been attributed to increased global temperatures, and as the effects of climate change impact communities worldwide, understanding the planet’s surface temperature is important to adequately respond to natural disasters.
Hydrosat is empowering governments and agricultural organizations to prepare and respond to climate change-related weather patterns. The geospatial data and analytics company uses satellite infrared imagery to monitor the moisture levels of specific areas on the Earth’s surface. By tracking and analyzing areas over time, Hydrosat is able to predict agricultural problems and natural disasters like droughts, wildfires and low crop yields. This can give governments and communities a heads up to better understand and prepare for natural disasters before they happen.
“Thermal infrared data analysis is at the frontlines of climate change,” Pieter Fossel, Hydrosat co-founder and CEO, told Built In during an interview in November. “When we think about how climate change is impacting communities — our food resources, for instance — it’s through big events like droughts and wildfires that are having an immediate impact. We’re looking to provide data to better help prepare for those events.”
That kind of data has a lot of uses beyond avoiding natural disasters, too. Recently, Hydrosat worked with The European Space Agency gathering data to make irrigation management recommendations to help farmers avoid costly drought and address food insecurity. The startup has also worked with the U.S. Air Force to determine safe areas for helicopter landings based on ground conditions.
“When we think about how climate change is impacting communities — our food resources, for instance — it’s through big events like droughts and wildfires that are having an immediate impact. We’re looking to provide data to better help prepare for those events.”
Last year, Hydrosat received a game-changing investment to expand its data collecting capabilities. Armed with $10 million in seed funding, the startup plans to build and launch its first company-owned satellite constellation later this year.
Currently, Hydrosat is using existing thermal infrared datasets from sources like NASA. While these are powerful pieces of information, they’re not high resolution and can’t give insight into specific areas. With its own satellites, Hydrosat will be able to gather specific, real-time temperature data about the surface of the Earth. This will give the company the ability to offer customized insights about precise areas of land.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the racial disparities in healthcare quickly became exacerbated as Black Americans were among those hit hardest. Medical racism goes further back than the pandemic though, due in part to the lack of diversity in clinical trials. According to IndyGeneUS (pronounced indigenous), Black genetic data only makes up 3 percent of clinical trials globally, despite people with African ancestry making up 20 percent of the world’s population.
Of those BIPOC individuals whose genetic information does make it into clinical trials, most aren’t compensated for their contributions. Such was the case of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose DNA was taken without her knowledge or consent. Those cells — named HeLa, which multiply and grow rapidly — were given to thousands of scientists worldwide and used in countless breakthrough medical studies. While more than 100 companies have profited off the HeLa cell line, none of Lacks’ descendants have been compensated for their ancestor’s contribution.
IndyGeneUS hopes to diversify the data in clinical trials and create more equitable compensation practices. The D.C.-based startup is creating an equitable repository of Indigenous and African diasporic genomes for use in clinical trials. The repository is encrypted and uses blockchain technology not only to protect donors’ privacy but to ensure equitable compensation whenever a sample is used in a clinical trial.
“Every time a person’s biological information is part of a pooled dataset that’s provided for research, they will get compensated through the blockchain.”
“Every time a person’s biological information is part of a pooled dataset that’s provided for research, they will get compensated through the blockchain,” Yusuf Henriques, founder and CEO of IndyGeneUS, told Built In.
While the company hasn’t ironed out the details yet of what kind of cryptocurrency will be used to compensate donors, Henriques says even a small amount of compensation can mean a lot for members from certain parts of the world because of the currency exchange rate.
IndyGeneUS’ model is more than just monetary compensation, it’s also about ethical practices that build trust between the medical industry and BIPOC communities. Due to instances like Henrietta Lacks and the medical racism that continues today, many BIPOC people are hesitant when it comes to seeking medical care.
“The fear didn’t just come out of nowhere,” Henriques said, remembering his time as a clinical trials recruitment officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “One of the things I started to notice was that I was able to increase enrollment by 300 percent just because of what I look like.”
Black veterans were more likely to enroll in the clinical trials Henriques was recruiting for because they trusted him as a Black man. Henriques said that trust is a pinnacle to the work IndyGeneUS does.
IndyGeneUS also offers DNA testing for ancestry and predictive healthcare purposes. Unlike other DNA testing which only looks at certain areas of someone’s DNA, the startup’s genome sequencing offers a comprehensive view with more diverse datasets to compare the data. According to IndyGeneUS, its full sequencing approach gives customers more accurate results than mainstream DNA testing.
SudShare (Laundry Service)
Between homeschooling seven children and day-to-day parenting chores, Ari Fertel was drowning in laundry. Taking notice of his wife’s juggling act, Mort Fertel and his son Nachshon Fertel, a 17-year-old computer science whiz, decided to launch a business that would help. In one year, Nachshon developed the app that would become SudShare.
SudShare is essentially Uber for laundry. Users simply open the app, schedule a pickup, leave their clothes on the porch and have their items washed, dried and folded. If users want clothes washed or dried in a specific way, they make a note of it in the app and put those items in a separate bag. Items are picked up by “Sudsters” — the startup’s employees — are returned freshly cleaned the next day.
The Baltimore-based startup stands out from traditional laundry services due to its next-day drop-off, easy-to-use app and low fee. SudShare only charges $1 per pound of laundry.
“We’ve created such an affordable option that anybody, not just the super rich or busy, can use it. I can get a whole week’s worth of laundry done for $20, which I think is worth it for the time you get back. I would rather be spending that time with my family or doing something I love,” Nachshon, SudShare’s CTO and co-founder, told Built In.
SudShare takes the quality of its offerings seriously. Sudsters go through a training process on how to properly wash, dry and fold their clients’ items. To incentivize a job well done, Sudsters can earn points to spend on company swag and other rewards in addition to their base pay, which is $.75 per pound of laundry or roughly $20 an hour.
While SudShare is a family business, it’s no mom-and-pop shop. The app services over 400 cities nationwide. Nachshon says the company’s goal in 2022 is further expansion with more Sudsters in more cities. SudShare also has plans to raise its first outside source of funding, according to Nachshon.