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13 wacky and original start-up ideas raising millions

The CNBC Disruptor honorable mentions
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Each year, CNBC creates its list of "disruptors," private venture-backed companies that are shaking up the status quo, threatening the public giants or otherwise upsetting the apple cart.

This year a new crop of innovative businesses has been chosen from the hundreds of nominees for the 2015 CNBC Disruptor 50 list. Sadly, that means hundreds of noteworthy new businesses with interesting ideas had to be turned away.

It seemed unfair to send them all away without some kind of consolation prize, so for that reason, CNBC presents its list of Disruptor honorable mentions. These companies didn't crack the top 50 in our Disruptor ranking, but they are original concepts that have raised millions of dollars in venture capital. We wouldn't be surprised if a few of them make you ask, "Why didn't somebody think of it before?" and show up on a CNBC Disruptor 50 list in the future.

Read ahead to see 13 interesting ideas that caught our attention.

By Eric Rosenbaum and David Spiegel, CNBC.com
Posted 15 May 2015

DogVacay
DogVacay CEO Aaron Hirschhorn and “Rocky”
Source: DogVacay

A recent episode of HBO's start-up satire "Silicon Valley" opened with a couple of baby-faced engineer boys pitching a dog-sharing app. It was an inspired bit showing the insane levels to which the sharing economy could be taken—until you realize that apps doing exactly this already exist. Making the comedy all the more frightening.

Dogs are big start-up businesses, though, and some models do make a lot of sense. Camp Bow Wow, a high-end version of the venerable kennel, was acquired last year by multibillion-dollar veterinary care company VCA (ticker symbol WOOF).

So don't expect Santa Monica, California-based DogVacay, an online community of more than 20,000 vetted pet sitters in the U.S. and Canada, to roll over. The company is rolling in some serious VC cash—approximately $47 million from backers, including Andreessen Horowitz, Foundation Capital and Benchmark.

DogVacay's vetting process for pet hosts is stringent—only 13 percent of host applicants are approved. The company claims the proof of its success is that pet owners initially think of its service as a backup plan, but after using DogVacay once, it becomes their No. 1 option for pet-sitting.

Doctor on Demand
Source: Doctor on Demand

Providing comfort to millions of anxious Americans watching "Oprah" wasn't the end of Dr. Phil's efforts to soothe the nation. Dr. Phil is now in the start-up game. Who knew!

The legendary TV doc, along with his son Jay McGraw, creator and producer of the syndicated TV show "The Doctors," launched San Francisco-based Doctor on Demand in 2012. It's an app that connects patients with certified M.D.s who can diagnose and prescribe treatment for common ailments, including cold, cough, flu, rashes, allergies, skin conditions and pediatric questions.

The start-up claims that 17 out of the top 20 things patients go to urgent care for can be effectively treated over video, and that's why it's the fastest-growing virtual medical practice in the U.S. Users enter symptoms, allergies and a brief medical history and are instantly connected to a board-certified M.D. licensed in their state. Prescription can be electronically sent to a pharmacy. For a 15-minute medical "visit," patients pay $40 (specialist fees can vary). It's also working on partnerships with the nation's largest insurance carriers.

The company has raised $24 million in venture funding from investors, including Venrock, Shasta Ventures and none other than Sir Richard Branson.

True & Co.
True & Co.
Source: True & Co.

Frederick's of Hollywood filed for bankruptcy last month, which could have meant that Victoria's Secret's conquest of the women's intimate apparel sector was complete, except for the rise of tech-based intimate apparel start-ups like True & Co.

True & Co. is sort of like the bra-building version of the human genome project. Its bras are designed based on millions of pieces of female-focused body data collected from more than 1.5 million women (and counting).

A spokesperson for the San Francisco-based True & Co. said the existing players, like Victoria's Secret, Nordstrom and Macy's, "oversexualize" lingerie to make the conversation about intimates taboo and keep women quiet. So it wants to unfasten the bra industry, playing down the sex appeal and raising the science. The "TrueSpectrum" includes 22 unique bra silhouettes that fit the more than 6,000 different body types it has identified.

It has raised $6 million from investors, including First Round Capital, Cowboy Ventures and Crosslink Capital.

Casper
Source: Casper

Wake up, America! Sleeping is about to be reinvented.

Mattresses are a $13-billion-a-year industry, but is going to the mat with the current duopoly represented by Tempur-Sealy and Serta Simmons (who control more than 70 percent of the market) as well as main retailers Mattress Firm, Sleepy's and Macy's, really what customers want?

New York City-based Casper, the friendly online mattress firm, cuts out all the sales jargon and decision-making over whether to buy a plush top vs. a pillow top by offering only one option: a semifirm mattress in six sizes. Casper then compress-ships the mattress in a box delivered to your door. Its offer comes with a 100-night home trial and a no-questions-asked full refund.

Not sold on the concept yet? The company has posted $20 million in sales in 10 months and has attracted $15 million from investors, including Lerer-Hippeau Ventures, which backs CNBC Disruptor 50 companies Warby Parker, Oscar and Birchbox.

Remember, when Zappos first launched, who would have ever believed that buying a shoe online was a good idea?

Roadie
Roadie app.
Source: Roadie

The U.S. Postal Service may be perennially bankrupt, but what's the long-term answer? Uber or UPS, or Uber meets UPS? Or something like that.

Roadie is an app-based shipping community that takes advantage of "excess capacity" in passenger vehicles. In plain English, your stuff can hitch a ride with someone traveling where you want your stuff to end up. It is a big market: 250 million cars on the road daily carrying 1 billion square feet of excess capacity.

Atlanta-based Roadie ships local and long haul, same day, next day and on weekends. The Roadie app pays drivers for trips they were already taking and offers free roadside assistance, roadside discounts and tax write-offs on miles drivers were already logging.

Uber has its own version of a local courier service, called Uber Rush. But that hasn't stopped Roadie from raising $10 million from investors, including Tomorrow Ventures, Square co-founder Jim McKelvey and even the venture arm of its "bitter rival": the UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund.

Cohealo
Source: Cohealo

Sharing economy, meet the MRI and operating table.

Boston-based Cohealo's platform allows hospital groups to share their equipment, optimizing usage and saving costs. And if there ever were a slow-moving, bureaucratic industry that could use some efficiency, it's hospital operators.

The idea is catching on. Cohealo claims three of the country's five largest health systems are now customers. Doctors can get the latest surgical equipment delivered to them on demand. Patients can have procedures performed at the care facilities most convenient to them, and hospitals can be smarter about purchasing patterns.

Cohealo has raised $10 million from Romulus Capital and Krillion Ventures, though CEO Mark Slaughter said the most important seed capital came from "mom and dad."

Jet
Source: Jet.com

Wal-Mart killed brick-and-mortars, and Amazon in turn is killing all the mom-and-pop shops plus Wal-Mart, so who can crush both of the retail giants, and big-box membership clubs? Maybe Jet.

Montclair, New Jersey-based Jet claims its customers get access to the lowest prices on millions of items—a recent New York Times review claimed that's a pretty accurate claim. How does it beat Amazon? A proprietary pricing algorithm, of course, which adjusts prices in real time in response to a shopper's basket, and guides shoppers to order items that are cheaper to fulfill. CEO Marc Lore knows a thing or two about competing with Amazon: He founded Diapers.com to take on Amazon, before selling out to it.

Jet's annual membership fee of $49.99—its sole profit model—is half Amazon Prime's $99 fee. (Wal-Mart is about to launch its version of Prime at a $50 annual cost.) Jet membership doesn't include free shipping like Prime. For that, customers have to spend at least $35, and shipping times can vary (3-5 days standard/2 days for consumables). Slower shipping lowers pricing.

Maybe the most amazing pricing is Jet itself, which hasn't even begun service but has raised $220 million from investors, including NEA, Google Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures and Accel Partners.

LexShares
Source: LexShares

We live in a litigious society, and based on the crowded courts, you could say that lawsuits are a shared societal investment. Hedge funds and pension funds know that, and among the esoteric stuff in which they invest—royalties from David Bowie records and highway toll plazas—are also legal spats. Now the hedgies have some courtroom competition.

LexShares is an online marketplace that allows individuals to invest in litigation, connecting plaintiffs in commercial legal disputes with investors to fund their cases. It claims to be the only company enabling investment in lawsuits online.

New York City-based LexShares compares its asset class to the early days of the private equity industry in the 1980s. You could also claim its like a Kickstarter campaign meets late-night class-action lawsuit TV advertisement. Currently, it has a whistleblower case against a government contractor, a product liability case against a Fortune 500 manufacturer, and a fraud case against an oil and gas developer listed on its site.

It has raised more than $1 million—though it declined to be more specific—in a previous financing led by Atlas Venture, which invests in early stage tech and life sciences companies.

Goldbely
Source: Goldbely

The food industry is under attack—not just science-based meat and dairy alternatives like CNBC Disruptors' Impossible Foods and Hampton Creek but the whole food chain. Blue Apron, which is a subscription-based meal-kit company, is seeking funds to secure a valuation of $2 billion. Instacart is shopping a multibillion-dollar valuation based on delivering groceries.

Goldbely is a food start-up of a different flavor. Think Omaha Steaks and Harry & David re-invented for the e-commerce era. Its online platform connects local food purveyors like bakeries, restaurants, chocolate makers, cheesemongers and coffee shops directly with consumers so the food makers don't need to fight for shelf space at a Whole Foods or big-box retailer. It's farm to table with a stop on the Internet in between.

Because San Francisco-based Goldbely is online, the company said more than 50 percent of its orders come from people living outside the top 50 U.S. metro markets, giving Goldbely a huge addressable market the supermarket chains aren't targeting. It has more than 300 food partners across 45 states, growing at a 300 percent annual rate.

The specialty food market is estimated by the Specialty Food Association as a $109 billion cart waiting to be filled, and that's resulted in $3 million in seed funding from Intel Capital, Y-Combinator and VC luminary Tim Draper or Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

PillPack
PillPack packet
Source: PillPack

Social Security isn't the only one having a hard time keeping up with the country's aging demographic.

Somerville, Massachusetts-based PillPack, a full-service pharmacy that packages and ships medication in doses for patients, says that right now it can't hire fast enough to meet demand. And that's because it claims that whether it's Walgreens, CVS, Duane Read or Rite Aid, the prescription medication drugstore experience is broken, especially for patients with more than one prescription.

As so many of the VC-backed start-ups show, tech-based delivery of everyday life essentials is one of Silicon Valley's bigger bets. With PillPack, a shipment arrives every two weeks with all of the pills organized in a packet based on date and time, and the packet is refilled automatically by a pharmacist.

It has raised $12.9 million from investors, including Founder Collective, Atlas Venture and Accel Partners.

Adore Me
Source: Adore Me

Sex sells—specifically, in the $24 billion amply sized lingerie market—and True & Co. isn't the only tech-based startup hoping to upend undergarments.

Adore Me is a lingerie company that pitches itself as the Amazon meets Zara meets Victoria's Secret of e-commerce. The company sells all of its designs on the Adore Me website and mobile app. If you haven't heard about it yet, that might soon change. Adore Me has launched a national TV campaign, including spots on Bravo, Lifetime and MTV.

Adore Me also boasts Victoria's Secret former design director Helen Mears, and the secret to that lingerie giant's success is being revealed in ways it might rather cover up. On the 2014 Inc. 5000 list, Adore Me ranked No. 3 among the fastest-growing companies in New York City (out of roughly 200 New York City businesses).

The company also relies on some of the secrets of its shoppers: One of its differentiating factors is an online quiz that asks consumers what they are interested in so Adore Me can plan its inventory and designs accordingly.

It has raised $11.5 million in venture capital from investors, including Upfront Ventures, RedHills Ventures and Mousse Partners.

Classy
Source: Classy

Kickstarter likes to crowdfund gadgets, beach coolers and yes, even potato salad recipes, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in start-up revenue. Classy, on the other hand, is the world's largest fundraising platform for social good organizations. Since 2011, it's enabled 1.3 million people across 300,000 individual campaigns to raise more than $130 million for social good organizations.

Health care, education, poverty, disaster relief and animal welfare are among the areas in which San Diego-based Classy.org has run campaigns.

When it comes to tech investors, Kickstarter was all over the Pebble smartwatch. Classy, meanwhile, has attracted the attention of Salesforce.com—the tech giant is among investors who have given $8 million in total funding to the site. The Salesforce Ventures investment and partnership with the Salesforce Foundation has helped Classy to bring another 200 organizations onto its platform in the past year.

Now Classy says it's also beginning to work with some of the world's largest intergovernmental organizations.

Jibo
Jibo robot
Source: Indiegogo

DogVacay has just scratched the surface of the tech-based future of the family pet. Forget Fido. How long before the beloved family robot is also being placed in the care of a trusted A.I. au pair?

Meet Jibo, the world's first family robot, with wit, heart (maybe not) and general helpfulness around the increasingly connected home. Jibo does it all: attentive companion (unlike a spouse), family helper (no background check necessary) and family communications (whereas family members typically speak over one and other, now they can speak through Jibo). The TV and gaming console, for their part, simply allow us to ignore everyone else.

During a two-month crowdfunding campaign last year, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Jibo raised $2.3 million. Jibo is also a YouTube celebrity, amassing more than 9 million views. It has since raised $25.3 million from investors, including RRE Ventures, CRV, Flybridge Capital Partners, Two Sigma Ventures, Formation 8 and Samsung Ventures.

Founded by Cynthia Breazeal, director of the Personal Robots Group at MIT, Jibo's human handlers also include CEO Steven Chambers, formerly president of voice-recognition company Nuance Communications (you've heard of Siri, right?); Andy Atkins, former director of engineering at Netflix; and Todd Pack, former principal engineer at iRobot.