While much of Silicon Valley has been consumed by the drama at Uber, tech’s most valuable startup, a whole new class of companies launched in the first half of 2017 hoping to change the world, become the next unicorn — or just build a successful business.
Business Insider spoke to founders and venture capitalists and took a look at funding data to identify some of the startups that had the biggest starts in 2017. Some names on the list are officially launching out of stealth, while others are still in their early stages.
From a VR arcade company to a recycling startup with mysterious ties to Tesla, here are 16 of the top startups to launch this year:
What it is: A consumer gadget company founded by Andy Rubin that's designed a new smartphone to challenge Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy devices. It calls that gadget, simply, the Essential Phone.
Rubin is best known as the guy who created Android, sold it to Google, and nurtured it into the most popular smartphone operating system on the planet. He left Google back in 2014, founded a startup incubator, and then helped launch Essential under its umbrella.
After working on Essential's phone in stealth for years, Rubin unveiled it in May. The device is just the start of the startup's ambitions. The company also has a smart home hub in the works that's intended to control everything from smart light bulbs to connected toasters.
Funding: $US330 million from Redpoint Ventures and others, according to Bloomberg.
What it is: A consumer packaged goods company that offers everything from dish soap to olive oil to kitchen knives. The company offers all of its products for a single low price of $US3 each through its website.
Officially launched in early July, Brandless is making a bet that you don't care as much about the brands you consume as you think. None of its products are from name brands; instead they all carry its 'brandless' private label. Rather than having a big logo emblazoned on them with a bunch of marketing hype, the packages Brandless' products come in just say what the products are and list their attributes.
Funding: $US50 million from investors including Cowboy Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, and Google Ventures.
What it is: A futuristic medical practice designed by Google and Uber alums that's been described as a doctor's office from 'Westworld.'
Launched in January, Forward offers a futuristic take on the popular concierge medical practice model, complete with state-of-the-art diagnostics tools, an artificial-intelligence system that listens and takes notes for physicians, and a pricey $US149 monthly membership.
What it is: A creator of virtual reality arcades. Customers can strap on VR headsets and PC backpacks and roam around rooms in virtual reality.
NomadicVR emerged from stealth in March. It's got good timing -- many investors are betting that VR will be a big part of entertainment's future. The early reviews of NomadicVR's arcade experience is that it's 'mind-blowing' and will convert even the sceptics.
Funding: $US6 million from Horizons Ventures, Maveron, Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital, among others.
What it is: A startup that's developing one of the first breathalyzers for weed. Its device, dubbed the Hound marijuana breathalyzer, detects and measures THC — a chemical compound responsible for marijuana's psychoactive effects.
When users blow into the Hound marijuana breathalyzer's mouthpiece, their breath passes into a single-use, disposable cartridge. A chemical reaction separates the THC molecules from the rest of their breath, allowing an automated mechanism to calculate the amount of THC present. The company just started its first clinical trial of the Hound marijuana breathalyzer, and it expects to release the gadget by the end of the year.
Hound Labs is initially planning to market its product to law enforcement agencies. The startup's work has gained the backing of Benchmark, a Silicon Valley venture firm that was also and early investor in Facebook, Snapchat, and Uber.
Funding: $US8.1 million from Benchmark.
What it is: A startup that's building maps for autonomous vehicles.
One of the hardest parts of developing self-driving cars is making sure they have the data they need to be able to 'see' the roads. That's where DeepMap comes in. Founded by a team of ex-Googlers, it plans to licence its maps to large-scale automakers.
DeepMap isn't the only company trying to tackle maps for the cars of the future. But because it's a small startup, it doesn't have the same conflicts a lot of automakers have and can licence its technology to anyone.
Funding: $US32 million from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Accel.
What it is: An online medical company focused on creating individualized diabetes treatments.
The latest venture from Sami Inkinen, who founded Trulia and Zillow, was inspired by his personal life. Virta Health hopes to tackle Type 2 diabetes, which Inkinen himself was diagnosed with in 2004.
Aided by physicians, coaches and algorithms, each regimen Virta designs for its clients 'addresses the underlying biochemistry of diabetes and shifts the paradigm from management to reversal,' Virta says. The aim is to do all that without medications or surgery.
Funding: $US37 million from Venrock, Allen & Company, Obvious Ventures, and others.
Atrium LTS wants to revolutionise the legal industry with software -- and it's backed by almost 100 investors.
What it is: A software company that wants to help automate legal workflows.
Justin.TV cofounder Justin Kan is back with his next act, Atrium. The company has offered a somewhat vague vision of 'revolutionising' legal services.
'We believe the technology we build can provide a better experience for legal clients than they have thought possible, increasing communication and speed of service,' an Atrium job description reads.
Nearly 100 investors have backed the company in what TechCrunch said was one of the largest 'party rounds' ever seen in the Valley.
Funding: $US10.5 million from nearly 100 investors.
Cover wants to bring small, pre-fabricated living spaces into the backyards of the country's hottest real estate markets.
What it is: An architecture-meets-tech company that is planning, designing and manufacturing living spaces using machine learning and methods borrowed from the aerospace and automotive industries.
Cover unveiled its first pre-fab home this spring. The company can make a range of spaces, including backyard studios, in-law units, home offices, and guest rooms, all collectively known as accessory dwelling units. These units, which range in size from 300 to 1,200 square feet, are meant to increase the housing supply in cities where the cost of living is increasingly prohibitive.
Funding: $US1.6 million from General Catalyst and Khosla Ventures.
What it is: A media company that wants to build a retail business similar to QVC's, but around unboxing videos.
Started by the former CTO of Hulu, Packagd streams live video of its stars unboxing and talking about new products. Consumers can watch the videos through Packagd's apps. And they can buy touted products by just tapping on an 'add to cart' button as the videos play.
The company's first app, Unboxed, focuses only on tech products. The company has already struck deals with big names like Microsoft and Best Buy to help sponsor it.
Funding: $US7.5 million from Kleiner Perkins, Forerunner Ventures, and GV.
What it is: A self-driving car startup that plans to build a fleet of self-driving taxis using retrofitted mass-production automobiles.
The company hopes that by using already existing cars it will be able to get autonomous vehicles on the road sooner than developing them from the ground up.
Voyage is doing more than just developing self-driving car technology. It's working on ways for passengers to interact with its vehicles -- telling them when to stop or what music to play -- using just their voices.
The company was spun out of Udacity, an online education startup that has an entire program to educate self-driving engineers.
Funding Unknown seed round from Khosla Ventures, Initialized Capital, and Charles River Ventures among others.
What it is: A startup that tracks assembly line production and uses machine learning technology to spot defective units early.
Founded by two former Apple engineers, Instrumental hopes to make it a lot easier to catch manufacturing problems before they start costing companies big money. They have designed a box that takes pictures of every device as it's assembled so engineers working remotely can see what's happening along the line.
But the real key is in the company's software: Instrumental is using machine learning to be able to spot defective units even before humans can.
Funding: $US10 million from Eclipse Ventures, First Round, and Root Ventures, among others.
What it is: A company that's working on home and office robots.
Misty is a spin-off of Sphero, the company that built the Star Wars BB-8 droid and showed the world how fun a toy robot can be. Instead of toys, Misty is developing practical robots.
'These robots will be seen and treated as our friends, our teammates, and a part of our families -- performing helpful tasks, providing safety, and interacting with humans in entertaining and friendly ways that have only been seen before in science fiction,' the company said at its launch.
Funding: $US11.5 million from Venrock, Foundry Group, and others.
What it is: A security startup that's focused on making enterprise customers' data more secure.
Obsidian excited investors by assembling an all-star team of security experts from Cylance and Carbon Black. The team is specifically trying to help protect hybrid computing systems, which join companies' internal data centres to cloud services on the internet. And it's planning to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help customise its security solutions for individual customers.
Funding: $US9.5 million from Greylock.
What it is: An education startup that's helping teachers build and grow tutoring businesses.
Clark's developed a smart assistant that helps tutors manage their businesses. Its app was getting buzz even before it was featured on Apple's new show, 'Planet of the Apps.' But the mention on the show helped the company secure a $US2 million check from Snapchat's original investors.
Funding: $US3.5 million from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Human Ventures, and Winklevoss Capital among others.
What it is: A startup whose software can analyse sales calls.
VoiceOps wants to listen to your sales team's calls and help your team figure out how to improve. The company focuses on analysing large numbers of calls to see what's working and what isn't. That makes it distinct from its well-funded challenger, Chorus.Ai, which analyses individual calls.
Funding: $US1.975 million from Accel, Y Combinator, Founder's Fund, and Lowercase Capital, according to TechCrunch