Everything moves faster in the tech scene, and new startups are a dime a dozen. But every year there are a few new companies that manage to make it out of the early hype phase and transition into legitimate businesses, leaving their mark on the industry. This year we saw a handful of innovative ideas that deserve some serious recognition, running the gamut from programming school solutions to everybody’s favorite filter application.
Lytro inarguably stole the startup spotlight this year. When it debuted in June, it had already managed to accrue $50 million in investments and immediately caught the attention of the entire tech world. Since then, it’s only piqued our interest by releasing its very mysterious camera. So what’s next? We’d love to see Lytro turn out more, varying types of devices uses its plenoptic camera mechanism, or possibly lease the technology to other manufacturers.
This addictive virtual DJ site seriously hurt work productivity for a few days — the DT offices included. Users clamored for invites and then spent their days itching for the coveted DJ spots. Since its debut (which coincided with $7 million in funding), the hype has definitely died off, but its use hasn’t. Turntable.fm is one of the many music apps integrated into the new Facebook Open Graph and will also be part of Spotify’s app platform.
Technically, Square has been around a little longer than a year (launched in May 2010), but 2011 was a big year for the new company. It launched Card Case, an application that made Square an even bigger threat in the mobile payments market, and raised $100 million in fundraising.
Even though Instagram was officially launched in late 2010, we think its blinding success over its 14-month existence justifies including it on this list. The filter app for iOS (which took home iPhone app of the year) has more than ten million registered users and has no intentions of stopping there. An Android app is in the works, a new service is launched to make use of your Instagram photos every day, and there have even been hints that a video element could be included in the future.
Another late 2010 startup, Path launched as the answer to Facebook friend-mongering. The limited social network received ample attention for its focus on quality over quantity, and its recent relaunch proved it might be more than your average app.
GetAround won at the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC startup competition and has since continued its winning streak. The peer-to-peer car sharing service is continuing its expansion into new territories and recently pocketed $1,725,000 in federal grants thanks to funding from a collaboration with the Federal Highway Administration for its upcoming Portland, Ore. launch.
It’s hard to believe that Pinterest is still in open beta. The invite-only digital discovery site has honed in on our love of virtually collecting the Internet’s odds and ends, and it’s become a form of scrapbooking for a new generation. But it’s more than just a platform for digital hoarding — it’s a new wave of Web culture that’s received more than $37 million in funding.
Taking a cue from the DIY tend, Giftly allows users to create and design their own gift cards for any retailer and email it directly to the recipient of their choice. The startup has raised more than $2 million since its launch, and should only get more popular thanks to the increasing use of virtual- and social-shopping platforms, which will get their own boost from the full launch of the Facebook’s Open Graph.