Succeeding as a startup is a feat alone, with high failure rates peppering the innovation scene no matter the industry. But in a year that has challenged every business across the nation like no other, businesses wins are their own category of accomplishment. Despite the turbulence 2020 brought, including layoffs, downsizing and closures, our growing Tampa Bay companies also had wins. Over the past year, we’ve tracked large funding rounds, noteworthy partnerships, national awards, new product launches and expansions beyond Tampa Bay. We believe the startups behind these are on the precipice of even larger victories as we enter the new year.
Here are the 21 startups to watch in 2021.
What they do: Leaning on the gig economy, the company has users photograph sites or buildings using drones and Raven Spatial software to capture images.
Why to watch them: Like many of the startups you’ll see on this list, Raven Spatial’s digital-first approach paid off especially in a time when remote services were needed most. Founder Bobby Quinn previously told the Business Journal he is looking to raise a $1.8 million seed round, most recently making a dent in it by signing a partner’s letter of intent valued at $3.1 million annually.
What they do: Tao provides an online suite of behavioral health tools, including some 400 videos and hundreds of interactive exercises powered by artificial intelligence.
Why to watch them: While it is difficult to quantify the amount of increased use among universities, founder Dr. Sherry Benton said at one point early in the pandemic, the company received five calls from different universities within 15 minutes. The startup has partnerships with 180 educational institutions across the nation. In September, the company announced the launch of its new platform and AI chat bot, TAO Assistant, which further tailors the user’s experience.
What they do: The company is an online notarization platform that allows users anywhere in the world to notarize forms, which are all HIPAA compliant.
Why to watch them: Even before launching, the company snagged notable businessmen Howard Jenkins, former CEO of Publix, Steve Raymund, former CEO of Tech Data and Dan Bisaillon, a former COO of America II Electronics, to sit on its board. After launching officially early this year, the company has seen an extreme growth. Its initial plan of an outbound sales process has reversed to entirely inbound with a high demand of notarization across almost every sector, from car sales to real estate to health care.
What they do: A platform that connects buyers with top-rated brokers across the nation. Ideal Agent is in all 50 states, with 450 agents and thousands of customers using the platform.
Why to watch them: The company raised a $2.7M seed round and in August 2020, founder Steve Johnston told Tampa Bay Inno the company would be structuring a “large” Series A round. He later told the Business Journal the company is on track to raise $25 million.
What they do: It is a Tampa-based IT company that provides interactive voice and chat-bot technology to help customers manage data, workflow and other systems using a predictive conversational “agent.”
Why to watch them: The company raised $6.6 million in June while it was still in stealth mode, from a lofty 89 investors. Another $250,000 investment from one participant followed in August. This is not the first funding round for the company: In 2017, the company raised $1.5 million in March, $2.5 million in September and$3 million in October. In 2018, the company raised an additional $335,000.
What they do: A marketing technology company using the gig economy. Contractors are paid to drive vehicles adorned with advertisements on high-exposure roads. The startup can then track where the advertisements are being seen and the number of people who see them.
Why to watch them: The company was in the Tampa Bay Wave’s 2019 fall cohort and was accepted into the prestigious Techstars’ Smart Mobility cohort starting Jan. 2020. While that program was moved online during the height of the pandemic, Nickelytics has already struck a deal with Italy-based Winelivery, as well as WeTaxi, a European company that has a fleet of 4,500 vehicles. The company was also among one of 100 semifinalists for the national Startup of the Year award. It is currently raising funding on crowdfunding site Republic and hit $120,000 in its first week.
What they do: A mix of multiple wedding-focused websites, Wedzee's platform allows new, used and custom wedding-related items to be sold and shipped through the site with hyper-specific searches, including by color.
Why to watch them: The founders, Jennifer Burns and her husband Michael, originally launched a startup in 2018 that was then acquired by India-based Empirical Partners. Now, they’ve taken those funds and created Wedzee, which is set to officially launch next year. The company’s already getting backing from local entities: its included in innovation hub Embarc Collective’s portfolio, and is part of the inaugural TechWomen Rising Accelerator, which focuses on tech-enabled, female-founded startups.
What they do: It is a managed cybersecurity and compliance provider.
Why to watch them: The company kicked off 2020 with a $4.8 million Series A investment from Ballast Point Ventures, which said it will use the funds to scale its marketing efforts, sales, security operations center, project execution teams and further service offerings. The company has also teamed up with Tech Data, to further help Tech Data’s clients with compliance.
What they do: Script helps convert paper-based documents digitally, building out a digital automation process for districts to better navigate the reams of paperwork seen in the education sector.
Why to watch them: Like other education technology startups in the nation, Script has seen massive growth in the last eight months. In 2019, the company had a presence in less than 10 states — now it’s up to 23. Script added $500,000 in fresh capital to its $1.5 million raise initiated in April 2019, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. While CEO Aaron White said the K-12 space is currently Script’s “home,” he said there is potential to grow in the higher education sector or expand beyond the education field.
COI Energy Services
What they do: It provides software that helps businesses and utilities decrease energy spending, increase operational efficiency, reduce grid constraints and improve capacity utilization.
Why to watch them: The company has been building momentum for some time: it was a member of the University of South Florida’s Tampa Bay Technology Incubator, which still houses its operations side. In May 2019, AOL co-founder Steve Case brought the Rise of the Rest tour to Tampa Bay seeking to identify talent beyond Boston and Silicon Valley. Founder SaLisa Berrien was one of eight finalists chosen to pitch for the judges, including Case. Most recently, she was a winning finalist in the 76West Clean Energy Business Competition, a clean energy competition headed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But Berrien is no stranger to New York businesses: She is a member of SAP.iO Foundry New York, a no-equity startup accelerator.
What they do: This is a digital marketplace that allows users to sell or share verified professional credentials.
Why to watch them: The company launched in 2018 and had spent the last year working on gaining funding. But when coronavirus hit, it revealed the need for the quick procurement of credentials, especially in the health care industry. It was a need investors across the nation also took note of. In late March, 23 investors contributed $3.5 million in a seed round, led by Michigan-based Spectrum Health Ventures, with participation from Florida Funders. The company previously told the Business Journal it was eyeing a Series A that would be between $3 million to $5 million and close at the end of 2021.
What they do: It is a provider of cloud-based device management in the communications industry.
Why to watch them: CEO Steve Lazaridis said in the last year, the company has grown 200 percent, with its growth spanning revenue, team and customer base. The Covid-19 pandemic played a factor in the company’s major growth, he said. One of its biggest wins was partnering with Ribbon Communications (NASDAQ: RBBN) in September, in a deal for an undisclosed amount. Lazaridis is also well-regarded among the local startup scene: The company is a current member of Embarc Collective and was formerly a member of the Tampa Bay Wave.
What they do: A drone analytics company which take drone collected data and reconstruct virtual models called “virtual twins.”
Why to watch them: It has been on a funding upswing at a time when raising money is no guarantee. In September it raised $3 million, led by Boston-based Safar Partners Fund. It will be part of a larger, $6 million Series B round. The St. Pete company previously raised $4.3 million in 2018. Founded in 2016, it has clients in the U.S., and is expanding into Europe and the Middle East.
What they do: This is a home repair on-demand app that is currently in 35 states and over 100 metros.
Why to watch them: The company’s most recent funding was for $4.5 million in July, bringing the total to $34.5 million. Homee has a long history of financing: in 2018, Activate Capital Partners invested $11 million to the company, with participation from The Home Depot. That followed 2017’s $1.25 million investment from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.
What they do: The company provides an AI-powered, conversational job application platform specifically for the real estate industry.
Why to watch them: The company is trademarked by Tampa-based Hire Humanly LLC, putting it under the company’s umbrella, and is inching its way up to success. It was chosen as presenting company for Venture Atlanta and raised $200,000 in September. It is in Florida Funders’ portfolio.
What they do: The startup’s aim is to partner with schools and universities that can leverage esports as a way to increase community engagement.
Why to watch them: The company is coming fresh off a rebrand, from esports gaming platform ProjectMQ to MetArena. The new focus on increasing access and educational opportunities within the esports world has already begun bearing fruit. MetArena recently closed a deal with the University of Kentucky, which will launch its platform this spring, with more partnerships on the horizon, CEO Marcus Howard said.
What they do: It is a B2B tech company that developed blockchain integration platform BlockSpaces Connect
Why to watch them: The re-focused organization shifted from being a blockchain incubator and meetup group to soon offering an enterprise software platform. The platform, which co-founder Rosa Shores told Tampa Bay Inno they have been working on since December 2019, will help connect blockchains to existing business applications and could help roughly 200,000 midmarket companies.
What they do: It creates and sells patented cartridge and water bottle systems, which allow users to change the amount of flavor dispensed with a twist of the lid.
Why to watch them: The company recently raised a $6.6 million Series A round, which will be used for product development and hiring. The company is cash-flow positive and has roughly 100 employees, based in Tampa and Boston. Cirkul was also largely unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic. While other local companies had to slow or halt production due to manufacturing or supply chain issues overseas, Cirkul is self-operational. CEO Garret Waggoner said the company’s next step is getting into major retailers versus solely relying on online sales.
Better Choice Co. Inc.
What they do: Pet food manufacturer
Why to watch them: A large manufacturer of pet food, headquartered in Oldsmar, may not seem like an obvious choice for our lineup. But the company has raised over $42 million this year alone, according to SEC filings. That alone makes this company one to watch.
What they do: The startup is a mobile platform for enterprise restaurants and retailers.
Why to watch them: Innovation is sorely needed for those looking to stay afloat during and after the coronavirus pandemic and Mad Mobile may be able to capitalize on that this coming year. It already has a head start: In August, the company announced it acquired CAKE, a restaurant tech company owned by Sysco Corp. Mad Mobile said it will use CAKE’s technology to expand its point-of-sale-system for a variety of restaurants.
What they do: A mashup of the words (“Pangea” and “together”), Panther works as a middleman to help U.S. companies find and hire talent across the world without the hassle of setting up foreign entities.
Why to watch them: Founder Matt Redler previously dropped out of college to pursue his startup, Chefit, which he then had to shutter during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Four months later, he founded Panther. He’s now raised more than $1.7 million across two pre-seed rounds from Silicon Valley executives including from Shutterstock, SpaceX, Instacart and more.
Article on Tampa Bay Business Journal