For sealing the deal with its users. Yelp had always excelled at only half of the retail experience: browsing. The online service offers user-generated opinions on local restaurants, doctors, and sundry other services for its 117 million monthly users, with 47 million reviews and counting. But last summer, it launched the Yelp Platform, which lets users read reviews and then order from restaurants in 35 metro areas (so far). Appointment bookings for places such as hair salons, dentist offices, and yoga studios are coming later this year. Read more >>
For creating the next-generation meat market. Small sustainable ranchers face two big problems when bringing their meat to market: Many chefs want only the premium cuts, like steaks and fillets, and it costs too much to deliver small orders to multiple customers around town. This three-year-old Kansas City, Missouri–based online meat market efficiently solves both problems by matching local ranchers with local chefs. Farmers earn more money because they sell every bit of the animal, and chefs get a better price because AgLocal's platform creates an economy of scale. Read more >>
For pedal-powering urban transportation networks. The private Portland, Oregon–based company designs and operates bike-sharing systems, which are helping cities of all sizes ease traffic, improve commuting options, and promote convenient exercise. Bike sharing seems self-governing, but behind the scenes, Alta uses vans to shuttle bikes among stations to ensure availability. Using this and other clever techniques, it manages systems in New York, Boston, and Chicago, as well as in Columbus, Ohio, and Chattanooga, Tennessee—two of its newest installations. Plans for 2014 include adding four new programs and expanding the two largest, in New York and Chicago. Read more >>
For solving the property puzzle. In Detroit, at what is likely the world's largest property auction, Loveland stepped in for cash-strapped local government and tracked 9,143 land parcels that sold for $32.5 million at last year's Wayne County tax foreclosure auction, 6,703 parcels that went unsold, and $182 million in uncollected property taxes. With its mobile app Blexting (that's blight + texting), the Detroit-based company is powering Motor City Mapping, the first attempt to catalog the condition of every piece of property in the city. The goal is to remove abandoned houses and salvaging lots, a highly visible step toward a broader recovery. This year, Loveland is extending its data-rich mapping tools to other municipalities.
For delivering rapid solutions for local problems. Since launching RapidSMS, its text-based data-collection program, in Nigeria, in 2011, UNICEF has enabled local health workers to register more than 13 million births with the national government through text messages, making it one of the world's largest mobile health projects. Previously, only about half of Nigerian babies were registered. Without an official identity, children have limited access to health services and education, and are vulnerable to trafficking. In Zambia, health workers adapted RapidSMS, developed in UNICEF's innovation unit, to text HIV test results, facilitating life-altering interventions. A newer mobile app, RapidFTR, helps reunite family members in developing countries who are separated in refugee camps or by natural disasters.
For mapping the interior world. ByteLight's positioning software reveals obvious, but previously unmapped, territory: the great indoors. By adding a microchip to LED lightbulbs, the Boston-based startup turns a building's existing lighting infrastructure into a tracking system that pinpoints the location of smartphone users. Instead of simply knowing that someone is at the mall, ByteLight indicates which store, and even which display counter he or she is in front of. This allows for incredibly precise marketing—product information or discounts sent to shoppers' smartphones—that retailers have only imagined until now. A number of big-box retailers are conducting trials with the system.
For fostering local storytellers. StoriesFrom, this not-for-profit's platform for video storytelling, sends volunteer journalists to equip and train students living in at-risk regions around the world. So far, 120 new citizen journalists in Kosovo, Kurdistan, Palestine, and elsewhere have produced 250 stories, which can easily be shared on StoriesFrom. The videos, which are often moving first-person accounts, document an untold narrative: everyday life disrupted by conflict and poverty.
For curating must-see maps for the curious traveler. Citymaps has mastered custom mobile and social mapmaking. The latest version of its app allows anyone (or any brand) to create and share its personal views of the world: the best shoe stores in Chicago, the most-visited (or most-overrated) dive bars in New York, or the tastiest food carts in Portland. The social tools on this Google Maps rival set it apart: You can follow maps made by friends, celebs, or favorite brands, collaborate on a group map, view information about a place (Instagram photos, menus, reviews), and sign up for suggested maps based on your interests.
For nailing down a way to fight crime in the digital age. The New York–based startup gives local law enforcement cutting-edge tools to access new data wherever they are. Its software analyzes data on gang members and maps the hierarchy of the members so officers can strategize for high-impact arrests in a community. It also gives officers on the street more real-time information about suspects, tipping them off to potential danger during a routine traffic stop. Mark43, which launched last year, grew out of an engineering class at Harvard and promptly raised $2 million in venture capital. Currently, its tools are used by antigang law-enforcement agencies in Los Angeles and by the Massachusetts State Police.
For creating a smart street sign. Breakfast, based in Brooklyn, New York, is known for bringing digital wizardry to physical objects. Its most recent creation is Points, a street sign for the 21st century. It stands 9 feet tall, with LED web-connected arms that display preprogrammed or real-time news and social media updates, and even rotate to point in the appropriate direction. The sign answers instant queries, including the source of a popular hashtag or the number of bikes at nearby bike-sharing stations. Already counting Google, TBS, and Livestrong as clients, Breakfast is now working with major cities, conventions, amusement parks, and hotels to install Points this year.
[Image: Flickr user Robert S. Donovan]