SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Everybody knows Uber and Airbnb. The two startups are so big that their names have become not just noun, but verb. The riding-hailing service and the house-sharing service are two of today's best-known unicorn companies, privately held startups valued at more than $1 billion.
There was a time when the notion of a $1 billion tech startup seemed like a far-fetched, mythical creation. Today, though, there are loads of these companies out there.
We asked experts around the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business to tell us about some of the ones they like best.
Instacart. When we think of unicorns, we usually think of the tech industry, but there are some entrepreneurs out there who are disrupting retail. One of my favorites – and a company I use on a weekly basis – is Instacart. Founder Apoorva Mehta, who's only 30, had over 20 failed startups before he launched Instacart. I’m glad he succeeded, because the app helps me manage my busy life and still get healthy food on the table almost every night. -Nicole M. Coomber, lecturer of management and organization
The Honest Company. There’s some debate as to whether celebrity Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company, is really worth $1 billion, but as far as bringing together style and function, it’s a winner with a lot of moms I know. The Honest Company is a "wellness" brand, but its core business is a subscription service for chemical-free diapers and wipes. Cloth diapering has gotten a lot cooler with parents over the past several years, for both the cuteness and the environmental factors, but it’s not realistic for many working moms to wash the 18 diapers a day a newborn can go through. Enter the Honest Company - they have a commitment to the environment, and their diapers have the cutest patterns ever to grace a baby’s bum. The subscription service means that diapers show up at your door without you having to think about it. The big drawback is the price – the diapers are definitely at a higher price point. For many affluent parents, it’s worth it to have your diaper be both chemical free and a status symbol. –Nicole Coomber
WeWork. In a few short years, this shared workspace company has grown from one location in NYC to 200 locations in almost 50 cities. Starting as tech-focused work spaces known for unique designs in underutilized spaces (think D.C.'s abandoned Wonder Bread factory), WeWork has expanded to both physical and virtual communities for startups, small businesses, nonprofits and freelancers. The company has even redefined the office environment for large corporations who now consider WeWork space as an alternative to leasing office space. –Elana Fine, Executive Director of the Smith School's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
Square. Its easy-to-use (and free) credit card reader enables small businesses to act like larger ones by saying "Yes, we take credit cards." Local artists, farmers and "mom & pop" stores can significantly increase revenue without expensive credit card payment or frustrating paperwork. Beyond the payment hardware, Square provides a suite of sophisticated sales and tracking tools that had been out of reach to small businesses. –Elana Fine
Palantir. I like Palantir, a software company in Palo Alto with a $20 billion valuation. The company has products and consulting services that help clients deal with big data, building models that find intelligence in the data. Palantir has applications that work in capital markets, crisis response, cybersecurity, healthcare and law enforcement to name a few. –Henry Lucas, Robert H. Smith Professor of Information Systems
Nutanix is a hardware company that offers a way to leverage an organization's infrastructure as a private cloud for its "mission critical" applications. Then one can employ the public cloud for other applications, especially those with unpredictable workloads. –Henry Lucas
Houzz provides great ideas for redesigning and redecorating your house or apartment from all the photos posted on the site. I just redid my kitchen and found 1,989,867 kitchen photos posted. Whew. You can also shop for the related items and get connected to a decorator pro – personally, I prefer that route over wading through all those photos. I like the look of their $4 billion valuation. –Liz Sara, chair of the Board of Advisors for the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Smith School
Credit Karma provides free credit scores. I love this one because the TV commercials are funny. Period. It's all about showing millennials who are suffering through life in their parent's home unnecessarily because they don't know their credit score. OK, it's a stretch to make the point, but the TV spots are clever. They score a $3.5 billion valuation. –Liz Sara
DocuSign provides an easy way to digitally sign legal documents. If you're not in the business world or if you've never bought a home, you may have never heard of this one. I use it all the time with my clients and vendors. It's simple. In fact, 40,000 new business users every day agree. That's a lot of legal contracts, which is why stacks up at a $3 billion valuation. –Liz Sara
GET SMITH BRAIN TRUST DELIVERED
TO YOUR INBOX EVERY WEEK