Cool small businesses pop up every day across the US. We put together a list of some of the most innovative — from a startup that helps students with the financial-aid process to a consignment bridal boutique.
Across the US, new small businesses are popping up every day. And they're rapidly revolutionizing areas like transportation, food, fashion and beauty, and gaming.
We scoured the web and asked our readers to identify some of their favorite small businesses (which the US government defines as employing 500 people or fewer). Below, we've listed 15 of the most innovative.
Since we're largely highlighting reader-nominated businesses, the companies on the list below aren't definitively the coolest small businesses in the country, but they are some of the coolest. Our criteria for inclusion, aside from having fewer than 500 employees, was that the companies had to improve society at large, meaning they make people healthier, wealthier, smarter, or happier. The businesses are not ranked.
Read on to learn about the small businesses that are making the world a better place to live.
What it does: Helps students navigate the college financial-aid process. Trained college students provide assistance to college applicants via text message.
Why it's cool: The graduating class of 2016 owed an average of $17,126 in student debt (in New Hampshire, that figure shot up to $27,167). But many students aren't necessarily aware of the financial burden they're taking on when they apply. NextGenVest is a way to get timely and accurate information in their hands.
What it does: Offers passengers free rides to some beaches in the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore, Santa Monica, and San Diego. How? Electric cars eliminate the cost of fuel and the service is sponsored by advertisers (like JetBlue, seen in the photo).
Why it's cool: Beach-goers no longer have to drive themselves crazy looking for (and paying for) a few hours of parking. Plus, electric cars mean the service is environmentally friendly.
What it does: This mother-daughter-run business sells high-quality shea-butter products while supporting fair wages for the female workers in Ghana who make those products.
Why it's cool: Eu'Genia Shea donates 15% of its profits back to their female workers in Ghana, either in the form of a retirement fund or an education fund for their children. Each product comes with a personal touch — Akuete and her mother package them themselves in her Brooklyn apartment.
What it does: Helps teachers personalize math instruction through an artificial intelligence-enabled math education platform. The program provides interactive exercises for students and then delivers feedback to the teachers based on the students' performance.
Why it's cool: One-on-one education can be more effective than conventional classroom education, but that's not always realistic. HappyNumbers makes it possible. Plus, it helps smart, high-potential students who are nonetheless struggling (like Milyutin, a physics PhD who had a hard time with math in elementary school).
What it does: Hosts free, live trivia events twice daily for people all over the world. Winners receive cash prizes.
Why it's cool: HQ Trivia has quickly become one of the most popular gaming apps on the market. It brings groups of friends together over something other than eating and drinking — while giving them a crash course in areas like history, pop culture, and literature.
What it does: This independent bookstore in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn is run by novelist Emma Straub and her husband, graphic designer Michael Fusco-Straub. The store hosts literary events and a wide selection of both fiction and non-fiction.
Why it's cool: There's no getting around it: New York City is running out of bookstores. Straub and Fusco-Straub are among a growing group of entrepreneurs trying to change that, to the delight of bibliophiles in all five boroughs.
What it does: Allows users to create apps based on different interests and launch them through the Amino platform. Apps that are popular enough become stand-alone apps in the App store.
Why it's cool: Amino users can find people just like them all over the world, whether their passion is anime or veganism. The website encourages users to "go deep, geek out," bonding with these new friends and creating a product that other people can enjoy and learn from.
What it does: Lets customers order from local pizzerias (that aren't necessarily on services like Seamless) through a mobile app.
Why it's cool: CEO Ilir Sela's family has been in the pizza-making business for generations. His goal with Slice is to help local pizzerias making delicious pizza stand their ground against big chains making less delicious food, and against online ordering companies that favor those big chains.
What it does: Creates functional, affordable luggage for modern travelers.
Why it's cool: Away was founded by two Warby Parker alums and the brands are similar: Both offer high-quality, fashionable products at reasonable price points because they're marketed direct to consumer.
What it does: Helps connect freelance clinicians to work in healthcare systems.
Why it's cool: The US is expected to see a shortage of 90,000 physicians by the year 2025. Nomad Health allows doctors to find hospitals that really need their help. The company's CEO is a doctor himself, who saw firsthand how hard it was to get freelance work and aimed to find a solution.
What it does: Puts out a daily finance newsletter geared toward millennials.
Why it's cool: The founders, former analysts at New York banks, recently made Forbes' "30 Under 30" list. Their goal is to make financial news concise and, most importantly, "digestible." Having started the company as a side job, they know how hard entrepreneurship can be, and so they make it a point to get on the phone every week with entrepreneurs seeking advice and share their wisdom.
What it does: The pastries in this New York City bakery are handmade by groups of at-risk youth learning professional skills.
Why it's cool: Sweet Generation is all about giving back to the local community. The bakery partners with schools and nonprofit organizations to offer paid jobs or internships for school credit. Plus, the company uses mostly whole, natural ingredients in their pastries.
What it does: Sells affordable, ethically sourced, high-quality gold jewelry.
Why it's cool: AUrate was initially self-funded through the founders' savings and through family and friends; the founders wanted to have revenue first, and then raise money based on that proof of concept. Today, the company has expanded its mission: For every purchase a customer makes, the company donates a book to a child in need.
What it does: Provides customers with DNA and other kinds of testing so they can learn more about their specific nutritional needs. Customers also receive personalized recipes from Habit.
Why it's cool: Habit was born out of founder Neil Grimmer's own struggles with health and weight loss. He teamed up with researchers across the globe to help people with similar issues find science-backed solutions that will work for them.
What it does: New York City's only bridal consignment boutique sells designer wedding dresses at steep discounts.
Why it's cool: The founders launched the company based on their own struggles to sell their worn wedding dresses — and to help brides who want to look stunning on their wedding day but don't want to spend their life savings. Designers include Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier, and Carolina Herrera, and discounts on dresses are up to 80%.