Business Insider’s 100 top startups of 2020, according to VCs
To build a company from scratch and scale it into a solid business is a Herculean feat in the best of times. By most measures, 2020 has not been the best of times.
But all year long, startup founders still raised capital in Zoom meetings, hired workers they’d never met, and created useful products and services — in the middle of a pandemic, an election, and a budding civil-rights movement. They showed real grit, from the seed-stage startups to the aging unicorns.
Over the year, Business Insider published lists of rising startups that collectively featured more than 350 companies in areas like tech, healthcare, retail, and finance, based on recommendations from venture-capital investors.
Now we’ve gone back and selected the top 100 most promising from that crop.
For each startup, we asked the venture capitalist to tell us why they liked it. We noted whether the person had a financial interest in the business and included the company’s total funding as reported on PitchBook, a database that tracks such records.
PlayVS: a sports league for video games
What it does: PlayVS is a software startup that organizes high-school and collegiate gaming competitions across the country.
Total funding raised: $97 million, according to PitchBook
Recommended by: Rick Yang, NEA
Why it’s on the list: PlayVS supports esports competitions for more than 13,000 schools and has worked with the National Federation of State High School Associations to establish varsity programs in 18 states. But this year, the coronavirus outbreak has given PlayVS some unusual visibility.
“With schools closed and traditional sports unable to run, esports is one of the few extracurricular activities that can be done remotely,” Yang, a general partner at NEA, said. “It keeps teammates connected and also provides another touch point between students and coaches/teachers in an extracurricular setting.”
Cue Health: faster diagnostic testing
What it does: Cue Health builds rapid diagnostic tests that can be used at home or in the doctor’s office, including one that’s been authorized for COVID-19 for use in doctors’ offices. The firm wants to get the test approved for use in workplaces, schools, and homes, as well.
Total funding raised: $154 million, according to PitchBook
Recommended by: Dr. Jim Tananbaum, Foresite Capital
Why it’s on the list: Of the healthcare startups going after COVID-19, Tananbaum says diagnostics startups like Cue will have the biggest impact in the next year.
“In a world where vaccination is not universal, understanding whether someone has the virus is critical,” Tananbaum said.
In June, Cue raised $100 million in new funding to scale its manufacturing operations.
Players’ Lounge: online wagering for video-game players
What it does: Players’ Lounge allows video-game players to compete with each other for money. People are matched up and place bets against each other in console or PC games.
Total funding raised: $3 million, according to PitchBook
Recommended by: Fatima Husain, Comcast Ventures
Why it’s on the list: Husain, a principal at Comcast Ventures, said the esports market was poised to take off as people spend more time at home during lockdowns.
“It’s been able to engage individuals in a manner that has really kept the consumer growth going well,” she said.
Encantos: a kids-focused media company
What it does: Encantos is a 4-year-old education and entertainment company for kids.
Total funding raised: $2 million, according to PitchBook
Recommended by: Monique Woodard, Cake Ventures, and Heather Hartnett, Human Ventures
Why it’s on the list: Demand for edtech has exploded in the past few months amid stay-at-home orders and schools shifting to remote learning, Woodard said.
Against this backdrop, Encantos introduced in June a new app for its Canticos media brand, which teaches preschool-age kids bilingual, Spanish, and English skills through nursery rhymes and videos. It also has brands to teach kids about food and cultures around the world.
Encantos hits on two trends: an “increased need for at-home education and multicultural inclusive storytelling for children,” Hartnett, a partner at Human Ventures, said.