15 wacky and original ideas raising millions

Krista Gmelich and Riley de Leon, special to CNBC.com

The CNBC Disruptor honorable mentions

Radek Mica | AFP | Getty Images

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.

A new crop of innovative businesses has been chosen for the 2016 CNBC Disruptor 50 list. This year included the most nominees ever, 750 companies, and 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 15 interesting ideas that caught our attention, and the attention of some notable investors including GV (Google Ventures).

By Krista Gmelich and Riley de Leon, special to CNBC.com

Posted 10 June, 2016.


Brrr! co-founders, Tosha Hays (left) and Mary-Cathryn Kolb, wearing Brrr! scarves.
Source: Jenni Girtman | Brrr! Inc.

The women and girls' fashion sector is a tough one to break into, which is why one entrepreneur duo decided to take a non-traditional approach, and the results are chilling.

Tosha Hays and Mary-Cathryn Kolb (pictured left to right) leveraged their careers at Spanx — which has made the girdle cool again — to found Brrr!, a textile tech start-up selling fabric that is permanently cool to the touch.

With mounting requests for all kinds of cool-to-the-touch products (think pillowcases, underwear and more), Brrr! decided to narrow its focus to the unique cooling technology itself, which can be licensed.

The company's patent-pending BrrrX technology makes fabric not only cool, but also soft and moisture-wicking (quick-drying) with UV protection. Unlike other similar products, Brrr!'s technology is not triggered by wetting or freezing, but by air — letting air flow through the fabric regenerates it to its coldest state.

Farmer's Business Network

Farmer’s Business Network COO Larry Trebesch (far left) with farmers at the Farmer2Farmer conference
Source: Farmer’s Business Network

This budding startup has reaped $28 million dollars from investors including GV (Google Ventures) and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, according to PitchBook, with a very old concept, but a new approach to it. Farmers have always shared information about crops, pricing and more for years, maybe on the porch or at the state fair. The Farmer's Business Network is now enhancing that conversation through technology.

Co-founder Charles Baron said Farmer's Business Network gives farmers exactly what they want: information that is "free from bias from a seed or input company." What memory of recent mergers and acquisitions events might this business pitch crop up? Agri-chemical giant Monsanto purchased The Climate Corporation, another farming data company, for close to $900 million dollars a few years ago.

FBN's goal is to produce more information on seed and input performance than has ever been possible. Farmers can access a national supplier base to compete for their farm's input business, generating savings for farmers. The company said its network has helped farmers save as much as 40 percent on chemical costs.

Image: Farmer's Business Network COO Larry Trebesch (far left) with farmers at the Farmer2Farmer conference


Konrad Billetz having a brainstorm session with Frameri's graphic designers, Brittney Darfus and Suzy King of Handzy.
Source: Frameri

The age-old advice to "keep your eyes on the prize" takes on new meaning when it comes to the start-up Frameri. Almost blinded by a BB gun at 11 years-old, Frameri co-founder Konrad Billetz (pictured center) has since worn glasses. And after meeting Kevin Habich online, the two decided to set their sights on creating a company that would provide inexpensive, stylish eyewear.

For those who follow the start-up world, you might think Frameri has its eye on Warby Parker's billion-dollar-plus valuation.

The basic Frameri premise: People change their clothes, mix up their accessories and switch their shoes day-to-day. Why shouldn't the same be done with glasses? Frameri's founders saw the opportunity to allow customers to buy interchangeable frames and lenses for prescription glasses and sunglasses.

Frameri has a long way to go before matching Warby: It has raised $1 million in a seed round, according to PitchBook. Warby Parker raised more than $100 million in one round of financing last year.

Freight Farms

Source: Freight Farm | Facebook

With a changing climate, feeding the growing urban population certainly won't be easy. But one company is thinking inside of a 40' x 8' x 9.5' box to solve the problem. It's called Freight Farms, and it's reinventing what it means to be locally grown.

The company's technology allows food to grow inside a shipping container, called the Leafy Green Machine, in virtually any location. Outside climate doesn't matter as special interior sensors control and track temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels and water quality. LED lights simulate sunlight. And even better, there's an app for all of that. Conditions can be monitored remotely via smartphone.

Freight Farm containers are already growing commercial quantities of vegetables, herbs and more around the United States and Canada for hundreds of people without any background in farming or agriculture. The company grew out of the desire to eliminate the negative effects of food production and distribution.


A HopSkipDrive “CareDriver” transporting kids.
Source: HopSkipDrive

Sometimes dropping kids off at school or at other activities is more than a hop, skip and a jump away. That's why three moms came together to create HopSkipDrive —okay, "Uber for kids."

But ridesharing services like Uber don't allow drivers to transport passengers under the age of 18, and so that's where HopSkipDrive comes in. Parents are able to book rides for their children while they're still at work, meetings or elsewhere. And their children don't have to miss out on sports, music lessons and more.

HopSkipDrive's three working-mom founders have a total of eight children ages four to 11. They understand the stress of transporting children to all of their activities.

The company has picked up $14 million in venture capital, according to PitchBook.


Home automation company June's Intelligent Oven.
Source: June

They say if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. But for the digital age and era of smart devices, this truism may need to be updated: If you can't understand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

June is the creator of the June Intelligent Oven. It may look like a toaster over, but it's a computer-based, Wi-Fi enabled, app-connected countertop oven that's the first-ever to employ machine learning and computer vision technologies to cook and identify food.

The oven is programmable and sensor-driven, and uses a built-in scale and core-temperature thermometer and internal camera to suggest cooking time and temperature. The internal high-definition camera is fitted with a fisheye lens that is designed to recognize commonly cooked foods. It has a connected iOS app that allows users to control the oven remotely and that displays a live-stream video of the inside of the oven and sends notifications once the food is done. It also contains "smart recipes," created and shot in-house that illustrate cooking steps with video and GIFs and can communicate with the oven to create custom, automated cook plans.

The oven also speaks in the voice of Julia Child ... just kidding.

June has raised $29 million from investors, according to PitchBook.


Knightscope’s CEO and Chairman, William Santana Li (left), and VP Software Engineering, Mercedes Soria posing next to the K5 Autonomous Data Machine.
Source: Knightscope

"Robocop" is no longer just a movie.

Knightscope's robotic officers use sensors, code and lasers to autonomously guard a geo-fenced area, be it a campus, shopping mall or warehouse.

"I was born in NYC and someone hit my town on 9/11," said chairman and CEO William Santana Li. "I am dedicating my life to better securing our country." He added, "Crime has a $1+ trillion negative economic impact on the U.S. Knightscope is on a long-term mission to cut it in half."

The bots are currently paid less than minimum wage as a rental for places like shopping malls, according to a TechCrunch report.

Knighscope has raised $11 million from investors. Apparently, investors don't fear the robot apocalypse and likely did not see the 1980's movie "Chopping Mall" about mall security bots that go (violently) nuts, but probably wise that they went with the "Star Wars" bot image nonetheless.


A close-up of a Light camera's multiple lenses.
Source: Light

It's easy to conclude the world has made the move to smartphone cameras and the rest of photo development may as well stay in the dark, but Light CEO and co-founder Dave Grannan thinks creating a professional camera the size of an iPhone is going to click with consumers.

Light makes the L16 camera, the world's first multi-aperture computational camera (it has 16 lenses). It's also a new approach to the professional camera. The L16 brings DSLR quality (high resolution, optical zoom, depth of field control, great low-light performance) to a camera that fits in your pocket.

"There's a huge desire for something better than a smartphone camera but so many people have settled for their phone camera, since they're on us at all times," Grannan said.

Grannan and co-founder and CTO Rajiv Laroia didn't have a business background in photography or with camera companies, but both are techies and amateur shutterbugs. Laroiav spent a year at home and taught himself optics from book. "As two people who had always been passionate about photography, we both found a very real pain point in wanting an accessible photography solution without sacrificing quality as we realized that our bulky DSLR cameras were just collecting dust," Grannan said.

The start-up has raised $35 million from investors, according to PitchBook, and sold out its pre-order allotment of the camera.

"We anticipate that companies like Nikon and Cannon — the leading producers of DSLR cameras — are curious about our progress. ... We suspect the way they make those cameras will be rendered obsolete," Grannan said.


Co-founders Jordana Kier (left) and Alex Friedman throwing LOLA tampons.
Source: Erik Tanner

Consumer product giants and their long-established domination of core store-shelf categories are the target of many start-ups, and LOLA fits into this disruptive theme. It is a new feminine care brand by women, for women. No more stale brands, ugly packaging, or mystery ingredients, LOLA states.

It sells 100 percent hypoallergenic natural cotton (certified by Cotton, Inc.) tampons with no additives, chemicals, or dyes with BPA-free plastic applicators and provides full ingredient transparency. The FDA doesn't require feminine care brands to list ingredients.

There are also on-demand and health care personalization hooks: the tampons are delivered right to a customer's door and can be tailored to an absorbency level and for frequency of delivery. The LOLA premise: If we care about everything else we put in and on our bodies (food, beauty products, clothing), tampons should be no different.

Image: LOLA co-founders Jordana Kier (left) and Alex Friedman throwing LOLA tampons.

Managed by Q

A Managed by Q employee cleans an office in New York City
Source: Managed by Q

You've got 99 problems, but changing an office lightbulb or refilling the toner cartridge in the office printer isn't one. Managed by Q, also known as just Q, makes it easy to run your office with a team of professionals equipped to keep your space neat and your business thriving. The company is built around the fact that operational aspects of maintaining an office is half the battle.

It also is leveraging the shift in on-demand start-ups from the direct-to-consumer model to a business-to-business focus.

"Managing a business is extremely complex and office management services platforms need to dynamically address a company's constantly changing and evolving needs," said CEO and co-founder Dan Teran.

Q offers technology-powered office cleaning, maintenance and a supplies replenishment services. It is currently available in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Q has raised $42 million from investors, including, among many others, actress Jessica Alba, according to PitchBook.

Ministry of Supply

Ministry of Supply founders (from left to right) Aman Advani, Kit Hickey, and Gihan Amarasiriwardena.
Source: Ministry of Supply

Consumer start-ups are focusing more on male shoppers — consider Dollar Shave Club's success and its attack on Gillette's razor.

Ministry of Supply is a clothing company that claims it is scientifically designed and specifically geared to the contemporary man.

In Ministry of Supply's case, the idea may be seen as remaking the huge sports apparel success of Under Armour for the office.

Performance clothing for the gym or out on the trail is now common, but the same functionality isn't considered for a work commute, desk or during a big meeting. Ministry of Supply engineers apparel so that it can flex with the demands of the modern man's busy and active lifestyle, including NASA heat-regulating technology, four-way stretch, coffee-infused fabric and moisture-wicking fibers.

It has raised $6 million from investors, according to PitchBook.

Image: Ministry of Supply founders (from left to right) Aman Advani, Kit Hickey, and Gihan Amarasiriwardena.

MOD Pizza

MOD Pizza's offerings
MOD Pizza | Facebook

Chipotle meet pizza.

Seattle-based MOD Pizza is among the pioneers of the emerging fast casual made-to-order pizza segment, and was founded in 2008. MOD's individual artisan-style pizzas are made on-demand, allowing customers to create their own pizzas and salads; pizzas are one price, for unlimited toppings. Pizzas are hand-cooked and served within 6-8 minutes of ordering and salads are individually hand-tossed in front of the customer.

A breakthrough in pizza oven technology has led to many similar fast-casual pizza chains in recent years.

MOD is expanding quickly with 125 locations in 16 states. The company plans to grow to 200 locations and nearly 3,000 MOD employees by the end of 2016, and plans to open 100 stores per year for the foreseeable future. MOD is a predominantly company-owned but does have a small number of multi-unit franchise partners.

It has been backed by $105 million from Perella Weinberg Partners, according to PitchBook.


Robinhood’s co-founders Vladimir Tenev (left) and Baiju Bhatt.
Source: Robinhood

You don't have to work on Wall Street to understand the stock market, or know you can be fleeced by it.

Robinhood is a brokerage app offering zero-commission trading born from the idea that traditional electronic trading firms pay nothing to place your trades even though you're paying a small fee for them to do so.

"We were working in New York selling software to hedge funds and large banks when we sort of had a come-to-Jesus moment and were inspired by Occupy Wall Street to do something different," said co-founder Vladimir Tenev. "Robinhood is an embodiment of that movement's message, both in product and in the name of the company." It also seems well-suited to the Bernie Sanders' demographic.

Robinhood has won both an Apple and Google design award and claims to be the fastest-growing brokerage ever.

Investors including Aaron Levie of Box, Andreesen Horowitz, GV (Google Ventures) and actor Jared Leto. It has raised $66 at a $250 million valuation, according to PitchBook.

Image: Robinhood's co-founders Vladimir Tenev (left) and Baiju Bhatt.


Source: Seegrid

Wal-Mart and Amazon are experimenting with drones in warehouses, and self-driving cars are predicted to reduce traffic accidents.

Seegrid comes in somewhere among these autonomous developments, and let's throw in the robotic mix that it's somewhat like Knightscope for the factory and warehouse floor. It manufactures vision guided vehicles (VGVs) that navigate without wires, lasers, magnets, or tape. Designed for fleets of pallet trucks and tow tractors, the technology allows companies to manage, monitor, and control a fleet of vehicles.

The goal is to improve workflow processes, increase productivity and throughput, and reduce labor and operating costs, while also improving workplace safety and reducing equipment and product damage.

The privately held company went through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2014 but emerged in January 2015 and is currently generating revenue growth, according to PitchBook. The company says it had over 100 percent revenue growth from 2014 to 2015.


Thread COO, Lee Kimball (left), and founder/CEO, Ian Rosenberger.
Source: Thread

Taking out the trash is a tough chore for most people, but transforming trash into something that can be comfortable to wear?

Thread takes plastic trash from some of the world's most impoverished countries, while also cleaning up the neighborhoods in those communities, and turns the trash into what it claims is the most responsible fabric on the planet.

Making products from recycled material has been a hot commodity in the past decade, but the Thread purchasing pitch is centered on empathy directly. "Telling people there are 6 bottles in a shirt is easy," said CEO Ian Rosenberger. "Making people care enough to buy the shirt because of it is our secret sauce."

"A yard of fabric isn't just a yard of fabric," Rosenberger said. "People made it and there is a cost to how they're treated. There is a cost to what the material itself is made from and how it affects the environment. That stuff doesn't currently get factored into a spreadsheet because brands don't yet understand that 30 percent of their long-term value is tied up in those decisions."

It has raised $3.55 million, according to PitchBook, but the company's CEO has a bigger economic goal.

"It is 100 percent possible to end poverty by the time I'm playing with my grandkids," Rosenberger said.

Image: Thread COO, Lee Kimball (left), and founder/CEO, Ian Rosenberger.