With new technology companies seeming to appear every day, it can sometimes be hard to tell which ones are actually worth paying attention to. So we decided to put together a list of some of our favourite tech startups, those that we think are genuinely changing the world around us.
- Brigade – Democratizing politics with tech
When you hear the name Sean Parker it’s easy to imagine the arrogant schemer portrayed by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. But the reality of the now thirty-six year old entrepreneur is very different from his on screen interpretation. The former founder of Napster is now turning his attention to politics and has teamed up with Matt Mahan to create the new app Brigade that aims to get more people involved in democracy and debate.
Brigade presents itself in the form of a stack of cards, each one holding a political statement that can be either agreed or disagreed with. When you choose a position, you see a polling chart that shows the percentage of fellow Brigade users who either agree or disagree with your opinion.
With one of the strangest election races the country has ever seen currently taking place, perhaps this is perfect timing for this ambitious project to kick-start wider political engagement. We caught up with CEO Matt Mahan and asked what Brigade’s intentions were – “We have to find a model for meaningful civic participation that not only renews faith in our political system but makes the system itself more accessible, transparent and accountable to ordinary citizens….We’re only scratching the surface of what’s needed to transform the political system. To that end, we’re releasing a series of additional tools this year especially targeting citizen influence within the electoral process.”
Here’s our full interview with Matt Mahan of Brigade.
2. Magic Leap – Revolutionary 3-D tech
This 2010 startup, described by Forbes as “Google Glass meets Oculus Rift” is the result of the failed Magic Leap Studios. The company had been working on a graphic novel and feature film series, until perhaps realising they had something far greater on their hands. These days Magic Leap is focused on augmented reality, (essentially superimposing 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects) an effect that is achieved by projecting a digital light field directly into the user’s eye.
In October last year Magic Leap finally released a first glimpse of the product. Filmed though one of their head-mounted virtual retinal displays, this footage of a 3D planetary system hanging in mid-air is a tantalizing indication of what we can expect to see from Magic Leap in the near future.
Magic leap now appears to be locked in an augmented reality race with the likes of Microsoft HoloLens who are working on a similar technology. But with an eclectic team that includes Richard Taylor, founder of special-effects company Weta Workshop, and sci-fi novelist Neal Stephenson, plus funding from Google and many other big hitters, our bet is on Magic Leap to emerge on top in this exciting new domain.
3. Modern Electron – Changing electricity forever
Recently admitted to the prestigious Forbes 30 under 30 list, co-founder of Modern Electron, Max Mankin has ambitious plans. These include turning 100 years of electricity generating history on its head.Together with his lab partner Tony Pan and a world-class team of 11 engineers and scientists, Mankin has developed a bold new idea that revolves around downsizing electric generators to the scale of small modular devices that can fit in your own house, meaning affordable cleaner energy for everyone.
There’s a whole lot of hard science in what they’re doing but trust us they are on their way to changing your life. Get the full low down on our feature here.
4. Global Thermostat – Ingenious environmental tech
This carbon-capture technology startup began back in 2010 with an aim of shrinking atmospheric concentrations of CO2.
Founded by renowned professor Peter Eisenberger and Dr. Graciela Chichilnisky an original co-creator of the Kyoto Protocol. Global Thermostat is working to create a future in which CO2 will be literally harvested from the sky and converted, using renewable energy, into carbon neutral fuels and carbon based building materials using carbon fibers produced from CO2 from the air. Those materials can sequester the CO2 removed from the air enabling one to achieve the CO2 target set by the Paris accord to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
Although these types of technologies have been around since the time of submarines, their general use has been limited by the high costs largely due to the cost of energy required to put them into effect.Global Thermostat sets itself apart in this regard by utilizing readily available low-cost process or waste heat in a novel CO2 capture process. It is also unique in that it can remove CO2 both from the air and from power plants, refineries and other industrial operations which can then be sold for use in multiple industrial processes.
Global Thermostat have come a long way in the last few years, with two fully operational pilot plants, one removing CO2 from the air and the other from a natural gas power plant at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California. They are also working with a firm in Israel to treat desalinated water with CO2 to mineralize it , a firm in Australia to supply CO2 for greenhouses, a firm in Germany to use the CO2 to produce hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals , and a firm in the US that feeds the CO2 to an algae based fertilizer. Other applications to make concrete and carbon fibers are being explored. Here’s our full interview with Peter Eisenberger.
5. Palantir – Big on big data
Palantir was founded way back in 2004, and currently valued at $20 billion, is now the third-largest startup in the US, just behind Uber and Airbnb. But while the business models of these two mega-companies are easy enough to understand (cheap rides/accommodation with minimal effort) Palantir remains a shadowy organisation.
In essence Palantir is all about national security. More specifically it collects and analyses data with the aim of preventing security threats before they’ve scarcely been conceived. And Palantir has in fact boasted some major successes, including the blocking of a global web of cyber intrusion by the Chinese government, and accurately predicting the locations of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.
The technology behind this remarkable organisation seems to still be something of a mystery, though it is claimed that their data analysis is largely human driven rather than in the control of artificial intelligence. As the bold statement on their website asserts, “we believe in augmenting human intelligence, not replacing it.”
6. Wellinks – Health, wearables and apps
At less than a year old, this wearable health tech company is one of the newest startups featured on our list. Founded by Yale students Ellen Su, Levi DeLuke and Sebastian Monzon, Wellinks is concerned with improving the health of people with chronic illnesses through wearable technology that collates data and therefore helps patients find the best possible treatments.
At the moment the company is focusing on scoliosis patients with a patent-pending brace-monitoring device and related app. The device uses sensors to track the wear-time and tightness of braces in order to help doctors understand how effective the treatment is and how best to proceed. The startup is now pursuing expansion into knee braces, walking boots and more, and has recently raised $265,000 in funding.
7. Jelly – Ask Anything, no really.
Founded by former Twitter and Medium founder Biz Stone and Ben Finkel (Twitter), Jelly is built on a simple premise: ask a question and you will get answers. This is all about crowd sourced wisdom. It’s still in beta but attracting a lot of hype right now. Al Gore, Bono and Jack Dorsey are just some of the names behind this one, and their office in based where the magic of Star Wars is created. On their site it states – “Jelly is a way to get answers from real people when you don’t have the time or inclination to sift through search results and you don’t feel comfortable posting to your social media contacts and friends.” I’ve tried the private beta and I can tell you it’s well worth a look when Jelly finally sees the light of day.