Business development / Funding / Hiring / Startups / Awards

Meet DC’s 20 most promising tech companies: RealLIST Startups 2020

This year's list features the startups to watch in the region, from sectors including real estate, procurement and more.

Pie Insurance. (Photo via Pie Insurance's LinkedIn page)
After rummaging through’s archive of coverage, taking suggestions from the community and overthinking how to organize this list (even in my dreams), it’s that time of year again to introduce the next group of RealLIST Startups.

This is my second time publishing this list and might I say, I’m honored to do so again. Not only did our 2019 D.C. RealLIST nab the top spot for DC’s most-read story of 2019, it is currently our most-read story ever, beating out the 2018 RealLIST. No pressure on me to get this right, right?

Let’s recap a bit and see how I did the first time around.

Virginia-based HUNGRY took the #1 spot on last year’s list, and I’m confident to say the company definitely earned it. The startup connects independent chefs with office and event catering gigs. At the end of 2018, HUNGRY said it planned to move into more markets after expanding to Philly with an acquisition. After closing an $8 million Series A funding round last April, HUNGRY made good on its promise by expanding into Atlanta, and has since added Boston and New York to its service areas.

Our #2 RealLIST startup from last year, alternative lodging service WhyHotel, also showed major progress with expansions and a big funding raise. The company temporarily turns brand-new luxury apartment building units into pop-up hotel suites and first came to NoMa mid-2018. Last year alone, WhyHotel expanded to Houston and San Francisco with an office and a new strategic business unit dedicated to building high-rise urban developments. The company also closed a $20 million Series B funding round in December and plans to expand further.

A few months after publishing the list last year, edtech startup Equiday was acquired by Baltimore-based edfintech startup Allovue. And we can’t forget about TwentyTable’s SXSW pitch appearance or the organization expanding its dining partnership with George Washington University.

These are just a few success stories from last year’s companies and we are eager to write more this year.

As I’m putting the list together, I consider lots of factors, from funding to hiring to office space to founder strengths. But there are a few common ground rules we follow around the newsroom: Startups on the list can’t be more than three years old (see CEO Chris Wink‘s 2012 definition of a startup for more explanation), and they can’t have exited or IPO’d. They also have to make most of their revenue from a product.

Side note: If you don’t see your startup on this list, relax — that doesn’t mean the work you are doing is “unreal.” This annual list is just a peek into some startups we think will make some major strides, though we will be following as many as possible throughout the year.

Without further ado, here is DC’s 2020 RealLIST:

10. Localized

Launched in 2017 by founder and CEO Ronit Avni, Localized uses technology to bring career guidance to college students in emerging markets. The multilingual platform helps students connect with mentors and associations as they seek employment after college is complete. Localized is live in the Middle East and North Africa in more than 65 career centers, universities and student organizations in Arabic and English languages.

Since its founding, the company closed a $1.2 million funding round last September. This came after Avni was a finalist for the 2018 Vinetta Project DC Venture Challenge.

9. OxiWear

In spring 2018, software engineer Shavini Fernando began designing the OxiWear device under an independent study at Georgetown University, where she was a graduate student. Officially founded in October 2018, the startup is building wearable vital monitoring and emergency alert devices, to be placed in the user’s ear, that warn people when their vitals are out of normal range and contacts 911 to receive help. She finished a prototype of the device during her studies and now has plans to release versions of the OxiWear product in 2021.

This year, OxiWear is focused on raising an angel funding round led by Ted Leonsis, according to a post on the startup’s LinkedIn page. So far, OxiWear has raised $40,000 from two local pitch competitions.

8. KnoNap

Founded in 2017 by Danya Sherman, this startup created a one-of-a-kind discreet napkin that tests for the presence of date rape drugs in beverages. Sherman competed at a Vinetta Project pitch competition in 2018, winning $5,000 and the “young social innovators award” presented by Booz Allen Hamilton. Sherman went on to win $25,000 at HERImpact DC’s first Social Enterprise Pitch Competition in March 2019. The George Washington University student entrepreneur also pitched at the eMerge Americas annual conference in Miami Beach last year, winning $100,000 in Google Cloud credit and other prizes.

KnoNap is currently patent pending.

7. Happied

Founded by April Johnson in 2017, Happied is the company behind an app featuring an interactive database of more than 450 D.C. happy hours. Johnson upgraded Happied to an app after receiving good feedback from a blog she started that featured local reviews of happy hours. Last April, the Happied app hit the market, and in less than a year, the company has gained more than 6,000 D.C.-area app users. Being bootstrapped, Happied worked with Georgetown University MBA students through the InSITE Fellowship last year to prepare to raise a seed round of funding in the second quarter of this year.

Johnson told that this quarter the startup is focused on firming up its advisory board and building investor relationships ahead of closing its seed round in Q2. Johnson also hopes to grow the company to 50,000 app users this year in the DMV, and to expand to Baltimore in Q3.

6. Please Assist Me

Launched in 2018, Please Assist Me manages a tech platform that connects people with reliable assistants to help them manage day-to-day chores and tasks. The startup originally launched in Nashville before relocating to the District in January. Please Assist Me CEO and cofounder Stephanie Cummings told that the company has raised $175,000, not including its pitch competition wins; Cummings won $25,000 from the second HERImpact pitch event last September, followed by another win the next day at Vinetta Project’s 2019 final venture challenge event, winning $20,000.

Cummings, along with her husband and cofounder, Rashad Cummings, are currently participating in Georgetown-based Halcyon Incubator’s new Opportunity Intensive fellowship program.

5. Lynk

Falls Church, Virginia-based Lynk, a satellite startup providing mobile connectivity from space, secured a $5.2 million in a second seed round of funding from D.C. venture firm Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Alexandria’s Blazar Ventures. Launched in 2017 and formerly named UbiquitiLink, the company’s patented space tech is designed to allow cellphone users to stay connected virtually anywhere on the globe using low-earth-orbit nanosatellites, even for people in isolated areas.

This year, the company plans to launch fully operational satellites to begin its commercial service. This decision follows Lynk’s three rounds of testing cell towers in space last year.

4. Procurated

Launched last year, the tech company manages a digital platform that allows public sector organizations to incorporate peer reviews into their supplier selection process. Procurated’s platform aims to help state and local government, educational and nonprofit purchasers connect with the most qualified suppliers for their needs. The statup’s CEO, David Yarkin, previously served as the chief procurement officer for the State of Pennsylvania, where he recognized a lack of tool for reviewing suppliers in the procurement sector. Procurated spun out of his other venture where he is president, Government Sourcing Solutions, a public procurement consulting firm.

Since its launch, the startup closed a $2.5 million seed round of funding and made some key hires, with plans to expand its team and operations further this year.

3. Socially Determined

The Wharf-based healthcare analytics startup recently closed a $11.1 million Series A funding round, following a first-place win with a $50,000 prize at the LifeBridge Health/CareFirst Innovation Challenge last June. Launched in January 2017, Socially Determined offers a platform focused on the science and measurement of the social determinants of health. Outside of its D.C. office, Socially Determined also operates a second office in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The startup plans to use its Series A to further develop its flagship product, SocialScape, a cloud-based platform that uses advanced analytics and algorithms to quantify and visualize social risks for healthcare organizations.

2. Curbio

After closing a $7 million Series A funding round last June, the Potomac, Maryland-based real estate tech company moved into two new markets, Chicago and South Florida. Founded in 2017, Curbio curates a platform to help realtors manage renovation projects while also helping homeowners flip their homes to make a better profit. The startup has a mission to maximize listing prices and shorten days on market to benefit agents and sellers via accelerated proposal and project completion.

The startup is now being used across 13 markets, with plans to complete more than 1,000 renovation projects this year and double its U.S. footprint by 2021.

1. Pie Insurance

Launched in 2017, the insurance tech startup provides workers’ compensation insurance to small and medium-sized businesses via its online site. Pie Insurance closed an $11 million Series A funding round in August 2018, which helped the company expand to more states, before closing a $45 million Series B funding round last March. Pie Insurance didn’t sell its first insurance policy until March 2018, so the company has shown much growth and promise for more this year.

The startup currently offers its workers’ compensation insurance to businesses in more than 30 states.


Honorable mentions (in no particular order):

Companies: Lynk / Pie Insurance
Series: RealLIST Startups / RealLIST

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