As 2012 comes to a close, Toronto Standard takes a look back at the year that was (inventive urban patents, anyone?). Today, we take a look at some local–and not-so-local–startups set to have a successful year in 2013. To build this list, I consulted with two experts in the field: Sunil Sharma and Ben Zlotnick of Extreme Startups and Incubes, respectively. The following is combination of their picks and insight, as well some of my own observations.
Last week, hovr.it launched its beta program, allowing early-adopters to try out the company’s comparative shopping tool. In brief, hovr.it is a Google Chrome extension that allows users to click on a piece of clothing pictured on Pinterest and find out where it’s sold online; if the extension doesn’t find an exact match, it will suggest several comparables.
Although only in beta, the company already has a great product, which is set to become better with additional features, including a database of men’s fashion, local suggestions on where to purchase an item, and for support for additional image-based sites like Tumblr.
Once those features and a layer of polish are the added to the extension, hovr.it is sure to develop a strong fanbase.
When the service has its complete launch in 2013, Tunezy will be one part marketplace with a twist–artists can use the company’s website to sell experiences, not just music and merchandise–and another part social playground where listeners can earn a virtual currency that is transferable to any musician also on the service. Those musicians lucky enough to receive Tunezy’s virtual currency can put it towards acquiring the services that will help them further their craft, such as studio time, mixing, licensing, and promotion.
Of course, attracting marquee artists to the service will be a challenge, but if the company can leverage a couple of respected names, or, even better, a whole scene–Toronto’s vibrant and much-loved independent music scene would be a good start–then Tunezy will have a chance to become the next big thing when it comes to how recording artists interact with their fans and how they go about earning a living pursuing their art.
When it comes to mobile applications, one of the most crowded segments on any platform’s app market is the healthy living section, but, a combination of ease of use and a beautiful user-interface, is set to make Venio stand above the rest.
Instead of helping its users count carbs or nutrients, the company’s recently released iPhone app (and soon to be Android app as well) uses an easy-to-follow and intuitive ranking system to recommend recipes based on a user’s health and weight-loss goals. Each recipe the program recommends to a user is ranked on a scale of 1 to 10–10 being the most healthy choice and one being the least–thus simplifying the process of making an informed decision about what to eat. Moreover, the company hopes to expand the service to include rankings of local restaurants and the food they serve.
Again, the market that Venio is trying to challenge is a difficult one to break into, but the concept and execution is such that, with a bit of luck, users will gravitate to the service.
SlingRide is a ride-sharing company based out of the the MaRS Discovery District’s Jolt Accelerator. Unlike other platforms of its type, the start-up has its users pick up and drop each other off at the nearest Tim Hortons to their intended destination (a very Canadian approach, I must say). The company’s site is clean, beautiful, and easy to use. It also includes some thoughtful features: users can search for drivers and passengers based on gender, allowing, for example, women, concerned about getting into a car with a stranger, to ride only with other women.
So, if there’s a company with the right combination of concept and execution to take on the transportation market, this is it.
However, as the company continues to operate, legal factors could become a significant burden. In September, I wrote about the potential legal issues Uber faced as it attempted to bring its app-based taxicab service to Toronto; three months later, the San Francisco start-up was charged with 25 municipal licensing offences. Like Uber, SlingRide is an upstart entering a space with deeply-entrenched parties, most of whom are not afraid to use their lawyers to protect their interests. In 2008, for example, PickupPal, an earlier ride-sharing service launched by two entrepreneurs from Ontario, was dealt a significant blow when Trentway-Wagar Inc, a Peterborough-based bus firm, successfully argued that the company needed a provincial public transportation licence to operate in Ontario.
But if SlingRide can carefully navigate the legal obstacles that look to impede them, then its elegant platform should attract customers, and, most of all, help at least somewhat with the congestion this city faces.
Almost all start-ups hope to in some way to disrupt the current order–whether it be technological or otherwise–but few can claim that they intend to radically change how humans perceive their planet. In the first-half of 2013, a Vancouver-based start-up, UrtheCast (pronounced “earth cast”), will do just that.
UrtheCast has partnered with McDonald, Dettweiler and Associates, the firm responsible for the design and construction of the Canadarm 1 and 2, the Russian Federal Space Agency, and Rutherford Appleton Labs to install two high-definition cameras on the International Space Station. Once the cameras are installed, the company will begin streaming continuous high-definition video of the Earth as the ISS circles it. The company says the experience will be a mix of Youtube and Google Earth, with users being able to pause, rewind, and tag any segment of video. In addition, while it may not always be possible, the hope is that the cameras will capture important events as they happen, giving, as it were, a big picture view of history as it unfolds.
Given the ambition and scope of the project, UrtheCast is likely to attract countless people curious to check out the novelty of seeing the ISS fly house their house in real-time, which should help in developing a healthy userbase.
Igor Bonifacic is a writer working for the Toronto Standard. You can follow him on twitter @igorbonifacic.