Abram Olmstead  | March 7, 2014

4 San Francisco Startups You Need to Know About

The San Francisco Bay Area has long been a magnet for the socially conscious, eager to “disrupt” society in pursuit of perceived societal voids and ills.

Disruption these days is coming increasingly not from tactics for which the city is well known—counterculture-driven street protests, sit-ins, and petition drives—but, rather, from startups that are creating free market solutions to challenges in education, health care, energy, and city living.

More than a dozen of these entrepreneurs recently pitched their products at the Challenge Cup’s San Francisco stop. Here are the four best, as determined by a panel of expert judges:


This crowdsourcing platform developed for teachers by teachers enables K-12 educators to tap into Common Core-aligned curriculums developed by their peers in the same school district. Users can search for lesson plans by grade level, subject, category, strand, and Common Core standard. UClass, which is piloting in 10 school districts, has hired 50 teachers to provide curriculums.

Teachers can distribute content directly to their students on the UClass platform. Students can complete assignments, check messages from their teachers, receive grades, and participate in discussions with their classmates as well as students across the globe.

UClass is essentially free for teachers; school districts are the main source of company revenue. For content-producing educators, UClass is a potential source of income. Teachers are paid a $1 every time another teacher downloads one of their lesson plans.


Through HandUp, Good Samaritan San Franciscans can assist with the food, clothing, and medical needs of individual homeless people right from their desktop computers.

It works like this: The homeless create a profile, including a list of their specific needs, on HandUp’s website and carry a HandUp “business card” with them. Donors who visit the site can review and donate directly to any member they choose.

HandUp has 100 members in San Francisco, with plans to scale nationwide. A pilot program that ran from last August through December raised $20,000, helping seven HandUp members afford permanent housing.

enACT Systems

What is one of California’s most valuable resources? The sun! California is home to half of the nation’s solar energy market, estimated to be worth $5.2 billion today and $19.6 billion in 2018. enACT provides an online marketplace where residential consumers shop for solar panel installers and mortgage companies that finance solar installation projects. Think Zillow or Esurance for the solar market. Consumers can also use the platform to track their energy use and savings on a daily and hourly basis.

The platform is free for consumers; installers and banks pay up to $1,000. To better market itself, enACT is partnering with mortgage companies and home management companies. Wells Fargo, for example, is white labeling the platform.


For years, John Govette witnessed his mother get transferred back and forth among specialty care providers. So he started referralMD as a solution to the frequent breakdown in communication among providers that resulted in his mother’s avoidable pain and suffering.

Govette’s web portal enables providers to receive and send referrals and exchange X-rays, MRIs, and PDFs in real time. Say goodbye to fax machines, spreadsheets, and lost paper referrals.

referralMD says its product can save an average individual practitioner up to $42,000 a year—and a larger facility even more—by streamlining communications, reducing time needed to process information, and lowering employee overhead and paper-related costs.

And patients benefit as well. With referralMD, patients can be seen by a provider up to 60% faster than under the traditional referral process, according to Govette.

How does this 100% bootstrapped startup make money? Each participant in a transaction—the referring provider, the insurance company, and the provider receiving the referral —is charged between $5 and $10 per transaction.