15 Startups to Watch in 2015:

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15 Startups to Watch in 2015: A View from but not Limited To Silicon Valley @briansolis, www.briansolis.com

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With a valuation of $41 billion at the time of this writing, it’s not the newest startup on the list. However, this company is going (or maybe has gone by the time you read this) public. In a story that ran on CNN at the end of 2014, Uber was listed as the “Alibaba of 2015.” The company is using current investments to expand markets around the world. At the same time, there isn’t enough money in Uber’s bank account nor enough influence to simply walk into new markets without political resistance. But make no mistake, if and when Uber IPOs, the transportation industry will get Uberized and every other market where startups refer to themselves as “the Uber of…” will be further encouraged to disrupt their respective markets. www.uber.com

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www.skullysystems.com As a motorcycle rider, I’m instantly drawn to this company. In fact, I invited Skully CEO and founder Dr. Marcus Weller to share the stage with me at LeWeb in Paris. In 2015, Skully is going to introduce a smart helmet the merges the real and augmented world for drivers. The company’s AR-1 is by far the most advanced motorcycle helmet every developed. At the center of the user experience is a heads up display (HUD) that provides an intuitive Google Glass-like view inside the helmet. Add to that a rear-facing 180-degree camera, bluetooth connectivity, embedded battery and speakers among many other features, and the AR-1 starts to take shape. More so, it's what hasn't been debuted or invented yet that truly holds the promise for the future of riding and transportation in general. Imagine embedded sensors that talk to "smart" cars on the road to prevent drivers from swiping, clipping or intercepting riders or their way path. Essentially, the helmet becomes a platform for innovation on the bike, surrounding cars and also in traffic engineering.

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www.blablacar.com I love the vibe of this little French company. While Uber and AirBnB are the most well known representatives of the so-called sharing economy, BlaBlaCar is solving the underserved market for people looking to carpool to long distance locations. Whereas someone might take the train, bus or fly, there are always others willing to drive. With BlaBlaCar, drivers and passengers can connect to offset expenses and also make new friends all while making the trip a bit more interesting. I expect this service to take off around the world in 2015 while also spawning potential competitors in each country.

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www.andela.co I was so taken by this company, I also invited Andela to join me at LeWeb in Paris. Founder Jeremy Johnson is introducing an incredible new paradigm for education but it does so with a twist. Founder Jeremy Johnson believes that Africa as a nation and economic power is grossly underestimated. He’s willing to back up his belief with his time, money and resources. Andela is a unique program that unites qualified African students (regardless of age or income) with invaluable access to leading developers who teach them to code. More so, Andela pays students to learn so that they do not acquire debt as many students do in the United States for instance. And, once students graduate, they become part of a workforce that serves a thriving roster of companies hiring in-demand developers for important projects.

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The world of virtual reality will finally become a reality in 2015. The Facebook owned startup will ship public beta this year and it will transform the way consumers experience the digital world. You should also be prepared to take motion sickness medication if you’re easily upset. But once you immerse yourself in these new worlds, coming back to reality will be a bit difficult. While initially aimed at the gaming world, the potential for virtual engagement spans exploration, entertainment, education across existing and not-yet-imagined applications. www.oculus.com

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www.magicleap.com Silicon Valley is always in search of its unicorns, those companies destined to join the billion dollar club. One of the companies stoking the imagination is Magic Leap, a mysterious company based in Florida that recently claimed notable science fiction author and game designer Neal Stephenson as its Chief Futurist. Stephensen revealed in a post that he was lured to Magic Leap after seeing a demonstration of the company’s technology. “Magic Leap is mustering an arsenal of techniques…to produce a synthesized light field that falls upon the retina in the same way as light reflected from real objects in your environment,” he shared. Like Oculus, it will cater to gamers as well as “readers, learners, scientists, and artists.”

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Makerbot is the darling of consumer-facing 3D printing. We all can appreciate that 3D printing is going to completely transform every industry and also supporting supply chain.s But at the same time, Makerbot is going to teach consumers, slowly at first but faster over time, how to think differently about products and parts. It’s not unheard of to think about 3D printing something you might need rather than buying it. Or, you might order up a recipe from a particular manufacturer to print upgrades or replacement parts. This capability will only become more advanced. In mid-to-late 2015, MakerBot will new composite filaments and supporting tech for its printers to enable consumers to print prototypes with bronze, maple wood, and iron-like materials. www.makerbot.com

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www.fuel-3d.com On the subject of 3D printing, imagine owning hardware that could clone artifacts simply by rendering a 3D model on the fly. Fuel3D is the developer of SCANIFY, an affordable handled 3D scanner that could do just that. The technology was originally designed for the medical imaging market. But now with SCANIFY, consumers, businesses, and also industry professionals will have the ability to 3D scan objects for a variety of applications. Partnered with Makerbot or other 3D printers, the possibilities are mind-boggling.

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Everyone seems to be talking about Instacart. In December of 2014, the company raised a whopping 100 million at a valuation of $2 billion to allow consumers to order groceries from their phone or desktop and have them delivered to their door in less than an hour. If you lived through Web 1.0 and the dotbomb bust like I did, you might automatically recall Webvan. But the difference here is that Instacart employs a new generation of the on-demand freelance workforce. Watch this space though. Even if Instacart isn’t the clear winner, Google’s Shopping Express and AmazonFresh will collectively build-out an on-demand market for groceries. At the same time, they’ll further condition consumers to expect and get whatever they want when and how they want it. www.instacart.com

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www.electricobjects.com On the subject of 3D printing, imagine owning hardware that could clone artifacts simply by rendering a 3D model on the fly. Fuel3D is the developer of SCANIFY, an affordable handled 3D scanner that could do just that. The technology was originally designed for the medical imaging market. But now with SCANIFY, consumers, businesses, and also industry professionals will have the ability to 3D scan objects for a variety of applications. Partnered with Makerbot or other 3D printers, the possibilities are mind-boggling. ELECTRIC OBJECTS

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Messaging is the new social media. Anonymous posting rooted in geo-location community forums is the new messaging. So says Yik Yak anyway and consumers, mostly college and high school (some elementary schoolers too) are flocking to it in droves. Yik Yak is an app that allows anyone to post anything without a username. In fact, you don't even need a password to log in. The timeline of Yik Yak looks like Twitter, operates like Whisper or Secret and feels a lot like Reddit. The most interesting thing though is that all engagement is done without photos or handles. Since the app is localized, those users within 1.5 miles of the message can read it. www.yikyakapp.com

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www.slack.com www.facebook.com/help/work As of October 2014, Slack was the fastest-growing workplace software ever. It’s a pretty astounding feat considering that the company launched in 2014 and just nine months later, announced $120 million in funding with a valuation of $1.12 billion. It’s been called a fancy chat room. Instead, it brings unbundled conversations strewn across multiple apps back to one place. More so, it is also a powerful repository of all company engagement tied to a powerful search platform. The pitch for Slack is that it makes you more productive by reducing the amount of time you spend on other productivity-related tasks. P.s. Slack is brought to you by Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of the now Yahoo-owned Flickr phot service.   In 2015, you will also see Facebook at Work rollout slowly at first and then at scale as time and the app age a bit. It is designed to help groups of users collaborate, share documents and manage projects in the workplace. My partner at Altimeter Group asked why Facebook should or would venture down this path. Her answer was this, “Easy, they can.” She pointed out that Facebook has been using this tool internally for the last four years, and think it’s robust enough to launch for the general public. “We have a long history of successfully connecting people and connecting businesses,” said Elisabeth Diana, corporate communications director at Facebook. “It’s a worthwhile test to explore.” As Charlene notes, enterprises could potentially have a hard time keeping employees on Chatter, Yammer, or other internal social networks when the Facebook interface is already so familiar and functional.

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It’s not a secret that Silicon Valley and any worthy tech epicenter around the world is burgeoning with new cash aimed at funding new startups. We all know however that most of the new startups, even those that are the most promising, are likely to fail. All hope is not lost. There are several possible exits beyond demise. Aquirehires are most prevalent of course. This is where Company “A” buys Company “B” for a generous sum not because the company’s assets are usable but instead because the team is talented to apply to another more profitable effort. Enter ExitRound. Founded by Jacob Mullins and Greg Dean, ExitRound is a private, anonymous marketplace for buyers and sellers of technology companies. It helps buyers find technology companies that fit squarely within their target. ExitRound also eliminates inbound chaos by automating prospecting. Essentially, buyers only speak to companies that fit their strategic interests. This also optimizes potential exits for startups. In the end, these types of deals come down to human relationships and people. The software, if you will, applies a sophisticated human algorithm that creates unmatched efficiency and desirable outcomes. While this is traditionally done through highly connected personal networks, there appeared to be an opportunity to add marketplace dynamics and algorithmic sophistication to gain a high level of scale in connecting buyers and sellers who may be a perfect match, but otherwise may not have met. www.exitround.com

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www.slack.com www.facebook.com/help/work Brands are always looking for ways to capitalize on the latest trends. PopUp shops continue to cause a stir among connected consumers. We Are Pop Up is basically the AirBnB of temporary retail space, connecting landlords and temporary tenants with commercial grade space. The result is a creative, short-term use of space to engage customers, generate buzz and also test new ideas.

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You caught me. There’s no startup by this name. But, the space as a whole is one to watch this year. Google is of course a big investor in essentially making a version of Google Maps inside of common places such as airports, malls, building, etc. Apple is too. There have been several recent acquisition sin fact, with major brands vying for a top spot. Last September, Baidu invested $10 million in Finnish mapping startup Indoor Atlas. The applications are great. From retail to real estate to general consumer navigation, Indoor mapping is worthy of tracking this year and next. INDOOR MAPPING

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Brian Solis [email protected] briansolis.com Twitter: @briansolis For more information & to buy the books, please visit: http://bit.ly/WTFBook http://bit.ly/EndofBusiness http://bit.ly/engage2