According to members of The Guardian, the world is now home to 147 "unicorns" - companies with private valuations of at least $1 billion. This is a 277% increase, since 2014, that has also been accompanied by talk of a startup bubble. Many prominent venture capitalists have echoed this sentiment, including Benchmark Capital's Bill Gurley and Union Square Venture's Fred Wilson. Regardless of whether or not we're in a startup bubble, it's difficult to deny that access to cheap capital has allowed many startups to flourish; and while some of these firms may ultimately declare bankruptcy, I believe there's tremendous social value behind impactful ideas, regardless of their short-term financial feasibility. That's why I have great respect for startups that are tackling social issues, and attempting to raise universal standards of living.
SoFi (FinTech): At the forefront of student loan consolidation and refinancing, SoFi is an online marketplace built for individuals who have incurred sizable debt. More specifically, SoFi caters to young adults who are at the beginning of their professional careers, but have been hindered by different forms of economic adversity. With over $4 billion in loans originated to date, SoFi looks beyond traditional FICO metrics to determine loan eligibility. Instead, SoFi gauges its members' real world challenges, academic backgrounds, and career ambitions. By acknowledging real world constraints, SoFi has rightfully generated incredible public support. As of September 30th, SoFi had raised $1.77 billion in funding and is valued at $4 billion.
Wealthfront (FinTech): With a main goal of democratizing the investment process, Wealthfront is a leader in the robo-advisory sector. Based on the assumption that wealth management shouldn't only be accessible to rich individuals, Wealthfront combines financial models and technology to help people generate long-term wealth. It does this by assessing your risk-level, which determines how your money is invested, and by continuously rebalancing your portfolio (to reflect your risk-tolerance). As such, Wealthfront's automated system buys and sells diversified market ETFs to maximize gains, minimize losses, and reduce tax payments. Moreover, Wealthfront only requires an initial deposit of $500, and will manage, at the very least, $10,000 for free. As of October 5th, Wealthfront had raised $129.5 million in funding and is valued at more than $700 million.
Kickstarter (Crowdfunding): Focused on bringing creative projects to life, Kickstarter is an unbiased crowdfunding platform that empowers global entrepreneurs. With over 9 million active members, Kickstarter enables people to pursue economic opportunities that might not otherwise come to fruition. With this objective in mind, Kickstarter is actually registered as a benefit corporation, meaning that the company mainly focuses on its social impact, in addition to shareholder concerns. To date, 9.6 million people have pledged over $2 billion to 93,455 campaigns. Hence, Kickstarter continues to fulfill its promise of fighting inequality by supporting ambitious projects.
Coursera (E-Learning): A provider of free online classes to over 15.47 million students, Coursera has partnered with 133 elite universities to create 1,451 specialized courses. While colleges like Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Princeton, and Caltech remain physically inaccessible to most people, Coursera bridges the academic gap by helping users engage with similar curricula. From Physical Science and Engineering, to Business and Personal Development, Coursera makes education accessible to everyone with a wireless connection. To date, Coursera has raised $134.5 million in funding and is valued at $500 million.
While these companies may not have the same glamorous appeal as Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, or Slack, their missions are extremely respectable. Not only are they generating investor returns, but they are also improving the lives of their members: thus proving that technology and humanity can coexist in a highly productive manner.