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Five start-ups to watch in 2014

Carol Baker, brand strategist
Friday, 17 Jan 2014 | 12:00 AM ET

Virgin CEO and resident nonconformist Richard Branson calls 2014 "The Year of the Entrepreneur."

Like Branson, my late father, Dexter Baker, former CEO of Air Products and Chemicals and founder of the Baker Institute for entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation at Lehigh University, believed that the wealth and well-being of our nation isn't created on Wall Street nor does it come from the government. Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are intrinsically interconnected. The truest form of entrepreneurship is a process that begins with creativity to solve a market problem or answer a need, which leads to innovation, which in turn leads to enterprise creation.


fstop Images - Larry Washburn | Brand X Pictures | Getty Images

I've come to believe that it's more important than ever to nurture start-ups in the economic environment of today, where millennials who are just starting their careers are looking to create their own success by recasting the job market and striking out on their own. No traditional office drudgery for them, members of this generation want to redefine what work is — and see their dreams pay off in freedom from the 9-to-5, the ability to choose their own projects … and quite possibly strike it rich.

(Read more: Windows for drones? One start-up is dreaming big)

AOL co-founder Steve Case has said it is entrepreneurs who will rebuild our economy — and I agree. In fact, early-stage entrepreneurship is now at its highest level of popularity in the U.S. since Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) began tracking it in 1999.

Here are five millennial start-ups I'm watching in 2014:

1. Circa. With traditional media perpetually in decline, there is a hunger for new developments in this arena. This app more than fills the bill; it's already made waves, both for its utility and its staffing (Reuters former social media editor has been tapped as editor-in-chief).

(Read more: Nest CEO: Why we sold to Google)

2. Clinkle. Mobile-payments options have been bubbling up for a long time; this one stands out from the crowd, setting a Silicon Valley record on its seed-round funding, with $25 million raised. Already, more than 100,000 people are on the wait list to use the app.

3. Level Money. All those millennials who are aiming to create their own fortune need a hip, new way to manage it. This personal-finance app, geared toward younger users, has serious Wall Street cred with a former Visa exec as co-founder. It raised $5 million in its Series A round.

4. Lyft. Leveraging the growing popularity of the "share economy," this service also targets the ever-important younger crowd. Allowing users to arrange ride-sharing directly from an app, the company has facilitated more than one million rides since its summer 2012 launch. And it raised $83 million in 2013.

5. Rap Genius. This lyrics-and-more site had made great strides in its first year of operation — until it was banned from Google for some shady traffic tactics. But now it's reached a rapprochement with the search giant and has plans to launch an app so that it's not so dependent on Google for traffic.

(Read more: Has Google unseated Apple as the king of innovation?)

I continue to be excited to witness the amazing things that spring from the minds of so many young entrepreneurs.

— By Carol Baker

Carol Baker is a brand strategist and trustee of the Dexter F. and Dorothy H. Baker Foundation, which supports education in the arts and entrepreneurship. She is also a member of the Baker Institute Advisory Council and the Lehigh Silicon Valley Advisory Panel. Follow the Baker Institute on Twitter @BakerLehigh.

Disclosure: Carol Baker, the Baker family and the foundation have no connection or investments in the companies mentioned above.

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