The past year was a strange stretch for everyone. Boston’s startup founders were no exception. But as they figured out how to run their companies remotely, they also benefited from a record flow of venture capital funding — and the fact that many of them were pursuing ideas that didn’t rely on face-to-face interaction. Here are seven startups that you may not have heard about (yet) but that have been building momentum through the pandemic.
First up is the GoodPup app, founded in 2018 by Micah Adler. It connects dog owners with certified dog trainers using a mobile app. A once-weekly training session, conducted over a video chat, costs $29. Adler saysthe company is closing in on 35,000 dogs trained and has more than 100 trainers offering their services through the app. Adler says his goal is to make training “more accessible.” The company has early funding from NextView Ventures and Accomplice, both Boston venture capital firms.
FiVerity is a startup that aims to help banks and credit unions fight a growing problem: something called “synthetic identity fraud.” This involves taking elements of people’s real identities, such as Social Security numbers, names, credit card numbers, and addresses from the so-called dark Web, where such information is freely available. It helps criminals fabricate an identity that banks believe is a real person. Scammers use these synthetic identities to take out as many loans and open as many credit card accounts online as they can, says FiVerity CEO Greg Woolf. “They play a long game,” he explains. For a time, “they look like perfect customers, and while they do that, they increase the balances and exposure as much as they can.” Ultimately, though, when the collections departments start to contact them for unpaid minimum payments, the bank discovers that the person never existed.
The scammers are using automated techniques “to create tens of thousands of these fake identities,” Woolf says. FiVerity’s system combines machine-learning software, which looks for suspicious patterns, with human expertise to try to sniff out the scammers when they open accounts, or before they can cause too much damage. It also helps banks share these suspicious patterns with one another — similar to how police departments might share a criminal’s fingerprint — without divulging sensitive customer information.
Woolf says that 40 percent of the fraud FiVerity detected for its customers in 2020 would otherwise have “slipped through the cracks,” saving banks millions. FiVerity recently raised $2 million in funding from Mendoza Ventures, a Back Bay venture capital firm.
North Shore entrepreneur Ray Ozzie is still best known for creating Lotus Notes, the software that helped kick-start digital collaboration and e-mail messaging within many companies in the 1990s. One of the products his new startup, Blues Wireless, is selling is called Notecard. It’s a $60 device that helps connect equipment to the Internet so that its operation can be monitored remotely. Blues is selling a range of devices that can be programmed easily to make it easier to link anything to the Internet for data relay. The technology, Ozzie says, is primarily being used in products like commercial refrigerators or power generators, “where the manufacturer wants to ‘cloud connect’ the products from birth, without the customer needing to do any configuration or setup.” The company raised $11 million in funding last year.
While working at Microsoft as its chief software architect, Ozzie helped the tech giant launch the Azure cloud-computing business. Later this month, he’s being honored by the Computer History Museum with its Fellow Award, which has also been given to programming pioneer Grace Hopper and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.
Crayon is a Boston startup that aims to answer the question “What are my competitors doing?” CEO Jonah Lopin previously worked at HubSpot. He says Crayon combines data from the Web, a company’s own internal databases, and employee communication to create a digital record of which deals competitors have won and why, how their pricing is changing, and new features they are promoting. Lopin says the company has grown to 83 employees and may seek to raise more venture capital funding later in 2021. (It collected $6 million in its most recent round, in 2019.)
If you think about the last time a company sent you a gift to thank you for your patronage, let’s be honest: Did you love it, or was it a mug or fleece scarf that you immediately put in the Goodwill pile? Boston-based Alyce wants to help make that kind of gift more targeted, by using the recipient’s interests, as posted on social networks like Facebook or Pinterest. Gift recipients get a message with the suggested gift — mine was a framed map of a favorite city — but they can choose something else or donate the value of the gift to a charity. (I chose not to accept the gift, by the way.) Companies like FedEx, Salesforce, and Adobe are already using Alyce. The company is approaching $10 million in annual recurring revenue, and it has added 42 employees over the past year, bringing its headcount to 165.
Two other Boston companies, Circle and Algorand, are benefitting from the increased interest of consumers and financial institutions in cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. Both startups provide infrastructure for moving money around using cryptocurrency. Circle also launched a cryptocurrency called USDC, a so-called stablecoin that pegs its value to the US dollar. It can be issued by regulated financial institutions and can be redeemed on a one-to-one basis with US dollars. Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire says that a year ago, there were 450 million of these USDC stablecoins in circulation, and today there are more than nine billion. Circle also provides the infrastructure underlying NBA Top Shot, which lets individuals purchase and trade video highlights from basketball games, called Moments.
Algorand is creating a company around an open-source technology created by MIT professor Silvio Micali. The company aims to become “an Amazon Web Services of decentralized finance,” in the words of CEO Steven Kokinos. In much the way that Amazon’s cloud-computing platform makes it simpler for companies to manage software and store data, Algorand hopes to make it easier for people to “build new markets and financial products” related to “borrowing and lending, and earning a return on your money” across various blockchain currencies, he says.
These are still the early days for cryptocurrencies, Kokinos explains — which is good news for those of us still trying to wrap our brains around how they work. “If you think about where the Internet was 20 years ago, when we were using dial-up modems, and it took five minutes for a banner ad to load, it would’ve been hard to imagine your kids watching Netflix on their phones in the backseat of your car,” he says. We’re at a similar point with cryptocurrencies today: “This is a fundamental rethinking of how people interact with money,” Kokinos says.
Scott Kirsner can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.