When you think of the biggest disruptors, SpaceX, Uber, Airbnb and 23andMe probably come to mind. But even the most popular unicorns started as a small idea before becoming global household names and attracting billions in venture funding.
Every year, up-and-coming young companies from around the globe head to Miami Beach to compete in a pitch-a-thon at the eMerge Americas conference — a two-day technology summit in Miami Beach focusing on connecting North America, Latin America and Europe. Hundreds of companies submit their business plan to the conference organizers and an advisory council that narrows the field down and invites the top entrepreneurs to 'Silicon Beach' for the chance to pitch to Mr. 305 himself, Pitbull.
"[The Startup Showcase] is the heart and soul of the conference," said Melissa Medina, executive vice president of eMerge Americas. "We're providing start-ups from around the world this platform that they can connect with investors, pitch onstage in front of thousands of attendees and share their stories."
Here's a small group of the 120 Startup Showcase contenders gaining investor attention and scaling globally with the hopes of becoming the hottest names of the future across the largest industries, including travel, agriculture, health care and more.
Founders: Mike Bachman (CEO), Bridget Webb
Year founded: 2017
Headquarters: Tampa Bay, Florida
Looking for a "side hustle" that can help you make as much as $4,000 per month? If you know some talented friends and colleagues looking for a new job, you may be in luck.
According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 48 percent of companies offered a monetary employee-referral bonus as part of their 2017 benefit package. These rewards are generally only for internal employees who refer external candidates. But what if anyone, regardless of their employer, could tap into this benefit?
Preferhired wants to open the referral bonus gates to anyone by offering its members cash for every referral who submits an application, is selected for an interview and is ultimately hired. On average, the total potential reward is about $1,000. But if you know a systems engineer in Chantilly, Virginia, you could be looking at upward of $3,000.
Founders: Valerie Lopez (CEO), Camilo Rojas
Year founded: 2012
Traveling is magical. Hop on a plane and in a matter of hours be transported into a completely different culture on the other side of the world. There's an abundance of culture and natural beauty, unbelievable landscapes and stunning architecture. You're the envy of your friends and family. But in the age of social media, if it's not on Instagram, did it ever really happen?
Shoot My Travel has connected more than 1,000 travelers with photographers in more than 250 destinations, spanning six continents, to capture the most memorable moments of their life.
Looking to drop down on one knee in front of the Eiffel Tower? Shoot My Travel photographer Meiry has you covered. For $294, capture the proposal of a lifetime! What's even better: You'll receive the edited photos from your 45-minute shoot delivered straight to your smartphone so you can share with all of your followers instantly.
Founders: Kristen Wiley (CEO), Matt Dupree, Theresa Joseph
Year founded: 2016
Headquarters: Orlando, Florida
Do you ever scroll through social media and wonder how some people can afford to live such lavish lives? The top fitness classes, the nicest cars, the most expensive restaurants and the hottest new fashion trends. Who are these people? They're called influencers, and they're the driving force behind native social media marketing.
Statusphere founder and CEO Kristen Wiley spent three years running influencer marketing, working on brands including Hershey's and Coca-Cola before she took things into her own hands. Since starting the company, they have grown a network of more than 3,000 influencers, marketing products for 33 paying brands.
The company's biggest client to date is Misfit, a wearable tech company owned by Fossil. Statusphere worked with more than 100 influencers to build brand awareness and generate buzz around the launch of the new Misfit Vapor, a GPS smartwatch powered by Google.
Founders: Lizia Santos (CEO), Lis Sommerville, J. B. Santos, Anna Mestrinho
Year founded: 2017
Headquarters: Orlando, Florida
Does it ever seem like no matter how many travel books and blog posts you read, you still leave for a trip feeling stressed about planning the perfect itinerary? With so much to see and do and the time restraints of traveling, seeing all of a city's highlights is next to impossible.
City Catt aims to serve travelers of all ages and profiles by taking into account your lifestyle, interests and desires and matching them with "Catts" in cities around the world to serve as local ambassadors and guides. All Catts are required to undergo a thorough background check and training, and must adhere to a strict set of safety measures.
Catts have taken visitors around some of the largest cities, like Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago, but they're not limited to tourist epicenters. "I personally think that the less likely place to hire a Catt are the coolest ones," said co-founder and CEO Lizia Santos. "There was once an outing in a country town in Kentucky called Campbellsville, where you'd never think people would travel for fun, but you'd be surprised with the hidden gems you can find anywhere if you're with the right person."
Founders: Andrew Parker (CEO)
Year founded: 2016
Your parents have been by your side through thick and thin, sacrificing a great deal of their lives to raise you and get you ready to take on the world. What happens when you graduate and decide to move on and move out of your childhood home, establishing a life in another city? Who will be there to stand by their side when they're lonely and in need of a little TLC?
Papa provides 'grandkids on demand' to lonely and aging adults that don't have family or friends living nearby. Whether they want someone to play games or dine out with or simply just sit around and chat over a drink, Papa Pals are there to make sure your aging folks are never alone. The fee is as low as $15 per hour.
Papa has raised $600,000 in capital and is only in the South Florida and Tampa markets, but Papa founder and CEO Andrew Parker has plans for a major expansion into all major U.S. markets by 2020.
Founders: Andrea Lisbona (CEO)
Year founded: 2016
Headquarters: Miami, founded in Barcelona
Almost everything in life is controlled by smart technology these days, but did you ever think your hand sanitizer would hop on the smart bandwagon?
touchland is working to create a more sustainable, efficient and convenient solution to traditional hand washing and sanitization. The product comes in two sizes: a smart dispenser made for offices and public places, and a pocket size designed for the on-the-go lifestyle. It is available in several fragrances, including watermelon, vanilla cinnamon, mint and lavender. Don't like the scent? No problem, an unscented option is offered. The dispensers are WiFi-connected to monitor consumption and count your water savings.
To date, touchland's smart hand sanitizers have saved nearly 2 million liters of water, which is almost as much as an Olympic swimming pool. The company is headquartered in Miami but distributes in more than 10 countries, including Spain, China, Russia, Denmark and Kuwait, with an even wider global expansion planned.
Founders: Alexander Olesen (CEO)
Year founded: 2017
Headquarters: Charlottesville, Virginia
Nine of the eMerge Americas Startup Showcase companies are university-level, and one from the University of Virginia dubs itself as being the next generation of home appliances.
Babylon Micro-Farms hopes to disrupt the way food is produced, which founder Alexander Olesen calls "incredibly unsustainable." The system uses proprietary environmental control technology to ensure plants grow in optimal conditions, allowing anyone to grow fresh, sustainable and organic food inside their home.
The micro-farms come packed with more than just fruits, veggies and salad greens — smart technology allows you to be wirelessly connected to your crops. If you're out of town, no need to leave a key with the neighbors to water your plans. An integrated computer system automatically regulates the energy-efficient LED lights to maintain optimal growing conditions so you come back with a crop that's ready to harvest.
Founders: Nikhil Pooviah, M.D. (CEO), Raghav Murali-Ganesh, M.D.
Year founded: 2015
A company that's no stranger to eMerge Americas' Startup Showcase is CancerAid. Since its previous appearance on the conference's Launchpad stage in 2016, the start-up has gained international attention after securing a massive $500,000 investment on Australia's version of Shark Tank.
CancerAid was developed to help cancer patients manage the anxiety and stress that comes throughout their battle with the disease. The app keeps patients, doctors and caregivers in mind to provide a personalized cancer treatment and create a community that connects others going through similar experiences. The company claims evidence has proved that patients who track symptoms and report them back to their physicians and nurses can potentially live longer.
The app has raised nearly $2 million from seed investments and is being used by patients at 80 of the top 200 U.S. hospital systems. In 2017, Sir Richard Branson called it the best global start-up.
Founders: Andres Alarcon (CEO), Diego Giraldo, Mauricio Giraldo, Daniel De Narvaez
About 75 percent of American waste is recyclable, but we're only recycling about 30 percent of it. There are several reasons for this, but in most cases it boils down to two things: proximity to reliable recycling containers or just plain old laziness.
Ecobox allows consumers to use their smartphone to easily collect the monetary rewards often associated with recycling in a matter of seconds. The company currently has recycling containers deployed in four countries — Colombia, Argentina, Panama and the United States — and plans to further expand its presence in the United States in 2018.
In 2015, Ecobox joined forces with Unilever in the company's crusade against recycled packages ending up in landfills or the ocean. The company installed Ecobox smart devices that would give people incentives when they returned their used metal deodorant-spray containers. After three years of monetary rewards, Unilever decided to see what would happen if they stopped giving rewards to people. The result: The recycling rates continued to grow as more people were exposed to the environmental benefits of their newfound good deeds.
Founders: Steven Nerayoff
Year founded: 2013
Headquarters: New York
Driving on the busy streets of an urban city can be one of the biggest headaches. First, you drive around in circles wasting precious time and gas in search of a place to squeeze your vehicle into. Then, once you find that spot, you have to dig for change to pay the meter that may or may not work. A couple hours pass and you race out to beat the meter, only to find the meter maid writing you a parking ticket.
CloudParc was founded out of frustration toward the existing parking infrastructure. Founder Steven Nerayoff hopes to use artificial intelligence, cloud computing and smartphone technology to provide innovative traffic management and data analytics that not only detect the availability of parking spots but provide new revenue opportunities for both public and private entities.
Currently operating five pilot programs — two in California and one each in Maryland, Texas and the U.K. — the company has proposals pending in several markets and is in ongoing negotiations to obtain more international licenses.
Founders: Jose Infante (CEO), Christian Infante
Year founded: 2016
Work Frog is a platform that helps employers connect with motivated, side-hustle-seeking workers hoping to open an extra line of wages to supplement their take-home pay. Once candidates undergo a Work Frog background and drug test, they're eligible to apply and secure jobs instantly, right in the app, without any drawn-out interview process.
The company is currently limited to placing licensed security guards, housekeepers, janitors and banquet staff but has plans to expand into new industries. Workers are limited to 40 hours per week of Work Frog jobs that can pay up to an extra $2,720 per month.