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10 hot startups targeting today’s key IT initiatives

10 hot startups targeting today’s key IT initiatives

Startups remain a key resource for CIO’s seeking an innovative edge in the digital era. CIO.com profiles 10 notable startups tackling key IT concerns, from artificial intelligence to data analytics to cybersecurity.

Enterprise startups have always played a crucial role in IT portfolios. As much as CIOs would love to centralize technology purchasing decisions with a handful of strategic partners, incumbents can't always meet all of their needs, especially when it comes to emerging technologies.

To become better acquainted with startups, many CIOs regularly travel to Silicon Valley to participate in "speed dating," in which venture capitalists invite them to meet the members of their portfolios. Some CIOs host hackathons or Shark Tank-like competitions for external developers to try coding their way into the company's graces. Still others learn of promising new companies from their peers.

Connecting with entrepreneurs is the easy part; the hard part is rolling the dice on a startup that could go bankrupt from a bad business decision. CIOs know there are no guarantees, no matter how strong the pedigree of a startup’s founders, how many successful exits they've enjoyed, or what kind of business technology chops they have. CIO.com is here to help, offering a peek at some hot tech startups that could boost your digital business.


Employees in large organizations face a catch-22. Their employers sit on troves of information, most in disparate repositories, making it difficult to access. Spoke has developed an application corporate employees can use to query HR, IT, sales, marketing and other departments. Employees can log a question about healthcare benefits or IT help via SMS, web app email or a Spoke chatbot residing in Slack. If the app can't answer a query it will alert an assigned domain expert, who will answer within Spoke. Spoke’s machine learning algorithms in turn will "remember" answers, adding a human curation element to the tool.

Spoke CEO Jay Srinivasan said the idea to launch Spoke came from struggling to find internal corporate information at Google, which he joined in 2014 after selling his company Appurify in 2014. "Even at Google, as a new employee on a team of 30 employees, it was hard to figure out how to get basic things done," Srinivasan told CIO.com. Eventually, Srinivasan says, Spoke will work with Amazon.com's Alexa and other tools. Spoke has raised $28 million from Accel, Greylock Partners and other venture capital firms.


CIOs can really nerd out over Confluent, a company LinkedIn spun-off to commercialize Apache Kafka, open-source technology that Confluent founder and CEO Jay Kreps wrote at LinkedIn to wrangle large amounts of data. Kafka is a high-speed messaging service that helps engineers flag events in real-time. Kreps, who discussed Kafka and Confluent at the Forbes Next CIO event in October, likened Kafka to a "central nervous system" for an enterprise.

Confluent adds security, manageability and other traits to make Kafka more enterprise-friendly. Kreps said that many Fortune 500 companies use the software to process and analyze large amounts of data, in particular around large IoT projects or in using AI to automate vehicular operations. In March, Confluent raised a $50 million funding round led by Sequoia Capital and has raised $81 million to date.


Companies worldwide are struggling to find and hire technology talent. Even getting top-notch freelance help is a tall task. Enter Toptal, which places people occupying high-skilled roles, including software engineers, designers and finance professionals. The talent is out there, but it's widely distributed, Toptal CEO and co-founder Taso Du Val said at the Forbes Next CIO event. Toptal can connect, say, a software engineer living in the Midwest, with a Silicon Valley company. "We created a service that does that at scale," Du Val says.

Because client satisfaction is crucial, Toptal employs an arduous screening process. Rather than rely on automated tests, Toptal’s staff vets talent personally. Moreover, Toptal offers clients a two- to four-week trial period; if their freelance help doesn't work out, they don't pay. "It's important that person has good hard and soft skills," Du Val says. Toptal is 100 percent virtual, with 400 full-time employees scattered worldwide. Red-hot positions include engineers proficient in machine learning, as well as any kind of analytics and blockchain technology, Du Val says

Domino Data Lab

Data science is one of the hottest disciplines around. To capitalize on that, former Bridgewater Associates employees Nick Elprin, Chris Yang and Matthew Granade launched Domino Data Lab, a data science platform. CEO Elprin, speaking at the Forbes Next CIO event, says the platform serves as a central repository to accelerate delivery models and add governance and transparency to data projects.

Domino Data Lab brings order to "chaos and pockets of diverse tooling" that exists around data science, Elprin says. Such technology is important as CIOs look to data, analytics and machine learning to drive business predictions and, ultimately, action. "That to me is what [data science] is about: It's marrying up algorithmic technology with data to make predictive models," Elprin says. Domino Data Lab raised $27 million in a round led by one of its hedge fund customers, Coatue Management. Existing investors Sequoia Capital, Zetta Venture Partners, and Bloomberg Beta also contributed to the round, bringing the total amount raised by the startup to $40.5 million.


General Electric has made huge waves with Predix, an analytics platform that analyzes data generated by industrial machines, such as locomotive engines and jet turbines, to predict when they will require service or are in danger of failing, as well as to optimize fuel efficiency and other operations. Uptake is gunning for the same market, offering a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that makes recommendations to customers.

While GE has largely been focused on its own machines, Uptake Chief Product Officer Greg Goff tells CIO.com the startup, which has over 800 employees, looks to analyze data to improve the operations of machines from any manufacturer, including GE, Siemens and others. GE has estimated this market is worth billions. Uptake agrees, which is why it's more than happy to challenge the incumbent in a largely untapped market. Uptake has raised $140 million in funding from the likes of Revolution Growth and GreatPoint Ventures.


Continuous delivery of software remains a huge challenge in the burgeoning devops era. Jyoti Bansal, formerly CEO of AppDynamics, which Cisco Systems acquired for $3.7 billion earlier this year, is taking a crack at that problem with Harness.io. Emerging from stealth mode in October, Harness.io aims to automate the continuous deployment of code — a core ethos of devops. 

Bansal tapped Rishi Singh, former devops platform architect at Apple, for the new venture, though he still needs staff. According to a Bansal LinkedIn post, "We are looking for senior/principal software engineers (backend infrastructure, distributed systems, and machine learning) for my new stealth startup. Send me a LinkedIn message if interested in exploring more." Harness.io launched with $20 million in Series A funding led by Menlo Ventures.

Obsidian Security

Another startup with serious founder cachet, Obsidian Security launched in June with Matt Wolff (Chief Scientist), Glenn Chisholm (CEO), Ben Johnson (CTO) at the helm. Johnson co-founded cyber company Carbon Black, while Chisolm and Wolff occupied senior roles at cyber firm Cylance. Johnson and Wolff also worked at the National Security Agency.

Obsidian has kept its focus under tight wraps but has announced it is tackling the "intersection of security, artificial intelligence and hybrid-cloud technology." On LinkedIn, Johnson noted that cyber defenders need uniform views of and protection for what they are defending, regardless of location. Obsidian has raised $9.5 million in Series A funding led by Greylock Partners.


Machine learning startup Petuum raised $93 million in venture funding from SoftBank in October to develop an operating system and software for training and deploying artificial neural networks. Petuum's goal is to democratize AI for companies that lack the technical and human capital to do it themselves.

Petuum was co-founded by CEO and Chief Scientist Eric Xing, a computer science professor on sabbatical from Carnegie Mellon University. While many AI systems focus on serving a specific niche, Xing told CNBC it is making its technologies available for any industry.

Ayla Networks

Ayla Networks bills itself as an IoT platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider helping manufacturers support connected devices without having to build backend management infrastructure. Ayla previously focused on serving HVAC, large and small appliances, water management and home control, but with growing enterprise interest in IoT, it has expanded to support large retail, industrial, telco, service provider and medical markets.

The company, whose customers include Fujitsu, Hunter and Brinks Home Security, announced in November $60 million in Series D financing led by Run Liang Tai Fund and Sunsea Telecommunications, bringing total investment to more than $120 million. Ayla CEO and co-founder Dave Friedman said the company is seeing 5x to 7x growth, paving the way for the latest funding round.

FogHorn Networks

FogHorn Networks provides data analytics software for companies leveraging IoT systems. Manufacturers, oil and gas companies and other sectors employ thousands of sensors that throw off large amounts of data that is collected by edge networks. FogHorn’s software has been purpose-built to analyze data generated in these edge computing systems.

Founded in 2014, FogHorn in October secured $30 million in funding, co-led by Intel Capital and Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, bringing total investment to $47.5 million.

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