Startups / Awards

These are the 20 most promising startups in DC: realLIST 2018

From health to digital media to new learning approaches, here are the companies worth paying attention to this year.

Winners of the 2017 DC Awards. (Photo by James Cullum)
As startups grow, there are lots of factors that can earn attention: awards, funding, partnerships and even time on TV.

With so much happening, it’s worth taking a step back and remembering that these are early stage companies that are still testing and tweaking in little ways every day. At, it also leads to lots of conversation about who’s “real.” That’s why we launched the realLIST in 2017, and we’re continuing the experiment this year with a new slate of companies.

So, what makes a startup real?

For one, a bold idea. Other factors like the team, traction and execution also make a difference, as well as funding and offices. To narrow it down, we set a few ground rules. To be considered for our realList, companies had to:

  • Have been no more than three years old. That sunset period stems from cofounder Christopher Wink’s 2012 definition of a startup. This sunset period took away lots of real contenders, as well as the companies which have moved out of that early stage. We had to draw the line somewhere.
  • Make the majority of their revenue from a product. That means agencies are not eligible.
  • Have not exited or undergone an acquisition or something close to that nature.

(One important caveat about this list: Not making this list does not mean we deem a startup “unreal.” This is simply a snapshot of the companies we’re most excited about right now.)

So let’s get to it.

Here is DC’s 2018 realList:

10. Entrada ESL

Founder Erin Janklow has a compelling idea to help immigrants learn English, and an equally intriguing business model to partner directly with hotels and other service businesses. After a year of firsts, the startup is entering the Halcyon House incubator in 2018.

9. Barkly Pets

The D.C. dog-walking startup has shown staying power in a crowded space, expanding throughout the Mid-Atlantic to four cities over the last three years. After closing a seed round from New York investors in 2017, the startup is looking to take another step up in scale.

8. RemodelMate

After steady growth in D.C., founder Chad Hall is looking to grow the Maryland-based startup, which aims to ease the process of setting up home renovation jobs, beyond the Beltway in 2018.

7. Veda Data Solutions

Cofounder Meghan Gaffney Buck made the jump from politics to startups, and is tackling a costly problem that leads to inefficiency in the healthcare system. With a win at last year’s Vinetta Project Venture Challenge after her first pitch and a $1 million seed round, the company looks poised for growth.

6. Sou Sou

A fintech startup that’s looking to put more money in the hands of women entrepreneurs, this crowdbanking startup’s mobile app addresses the gap in funding both in terms of investment from venture capitalists and small business loans from banks. In 2018, the startup is coming out of Village Capital’s Pathways DC cohort, which in turn is looking to build wealth among female, Black and Latinx founders.

5. Cybrary

While cybersecurity companies are starting to offer more and more training, the startup from Greenbelt, Md., is already positioned as the place to distribute that content. Along with a $3.5 million Series A in September, it’s looking to grow its content base through open-source methods.

4. Wirewheel

Founded by former Obama administration commerce official Justin Antonipalli, this startup turned heads with a seed round backed by NEA, the venture firm run by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Steve Case. But all eyes are on May 25, 2018, when the EU’s new data protection regulations take effect. The company’s platform is designed to address the changes.

3. Legends of Learning

Combining a culture that keeps things fun with serious education research led by cofounder Vadim Polikov, the startup has a compelling idea to bring gaming to education. Polikov and cofounder Joshua Goldberg have entrepreneurial experience, and raised $9 million last year to grow.

2. Hatch

The Y Combinator–backed startup is building a platform to help companies launch apps, and has shown that values and location are just as important to creating a new company as the product. After picking up the DC award for Tech Startup of the Year, cofounders Amelia Friedman and Param Jaggi are planning D.C. growth through hiring in 2018.

1. ICX media

CEO Michael Avon recently told us that this is the year the video content data platform founded by a team of digital media veterans enters growth mode. A recent $6.6 million Series A and the addition of President/COO Scott Bowen appears to have put those pieces in place. Already showing traction with 1 million users, the company’s model is set to come to full fruition with an enterprise offering.


Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

Companies: Floreo / Legends of Learning / ChurnZero / Kerb / ICX Media / Wirewheel / Veda Data Solutions / Remodelmate / Entrada ESL / The Mentor Method / Barkly / Cybrary / Hatch
Series: RealLIST Startups / RealLIST

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