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Ten Cool Companies of 2012

1. Newsbound
When I was recently researching the Fiscal Cliff (and what financial writer wasn’t at the end of 2012), I stumbled on an interesting article at Huff Po called the Fiscal What-Cha-Ma-Callit in a cool, new format.

Newsbound.com tackles it and other complex hot-potato political subjects by not dumbing down, but making hard concepts easier, with clever visuals and clean, concise writing. You will find yourself engrossed in topics you never thought you could stomach—or fathom—otherwise. Slow down the news, stay up to speed—indeed.

If only they had been around to take on synthetic collateralized debt obligations. Their latest undertaking: The Curious Case of the Silent Filibuster.

2. Kahnoodle
Online dating just got a new face: now, couples can “date” and keep their relationships interesting and satisfying–online. Love koupons and kudos keep the good feelings coming. Private chat makes things a little spicier. CEO and Founder of Kahnoodle Zuhairah (Scott) Washington is the brainchild of this “date-your-mate” game (on the App Store, coming to Android soon).

Ah, love. For the uncoupled, note this fun online matchmaker site (still in beta): Coffee Meets Bagel. Valentine’s Day is literally right around the corner. Just sayin’.

3. Eventup
Got a hot property you want to rent out? Eventup brings together potential renters with one-of-a-kind venues that would otherwise be difficult to find, providing you—the property owner–the opportunity to generate revenue on your vacant or unused properties. From intimate dinner parties and weddings to corporate events, Eventup has more than 5,000 commercial and residential properties listed with rates ranging from $500 to $100,000 a night. Noteworthy venues include Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Al Capone’s former residence and Marilyn Monroe’s former Los Angeles home.

Since its February launch, the company has quickly grown to seven major metropolitan cities nationwide, including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta.

4. StrikeDebt
If you thought the Occupy Movement has rolled over and played dead, think again. Camping out in abandoned and foreclosed properties was one offshoot of the movement. Here’s another brilliant continuation: StrikeDebt.org. The concept is simple (and it turns out, time-honored and spiritually acceptable): The non-profit buys up bad debt, right at the same point in the loan cycle as a collection agency, and uses the donations to forgive the debt.

Be sure to check out its sister site: Rollingjubilee.org. It has an easier donation mechanism, I think. The launch was held last November at The People’s Bailout, a variety show and telethon in NYC. This jubilee not only rolls, it rocks.

5. Chop Chop Go
Founded in August of 2012, and just chosen as one of six food firms to pitch the Food Network, Chop Chop Go promises to go places. Or at least, your groceries will. An online grocery delivery site, you log in, plan your meals, order, and sit back—all in about five minutes. Which is usually the amount of time I spend peering into an empty refrigerator and whining about having nothing to eat.

All beta users get $5.00 of their order and delivery is free for Safeway.com users.

6. SOSH
As a finance writer in a major metropolitan area, I am literally bombarded by deals and coupon ads, event press releases, and new sites every year that promise to give an insider’s view to my beloved city. SOSH stands apart with “draw you in”-style visuals, and distinctive email copy. I actually look forward to their emails. And that says a lot.

It took seconds to create a profile, customize it, and follow cool places and people. I am interested in Concerts, Artisan Cocktails, Dancing, and French Macarons (not to be confused with macaroons, I found out). Using SOSH, I can easily find out where to eat wild boar, take a trapeze class, or dine in the dark. Or just see what’s going on in the Mission today, so I can decide if it is worth the parking. SOSH is currently my delicious guide to the City by the Bay.

7. Net-Neighbors
Created in February 2012, Net-Neighbors.com brings together people who want to share the cost of internet services (who then become “hosts” and “guests”). The user base is still small and only available in the U.S., but I have great hopes for this service; the founder is still concentrating on outreach and marketing, as many site visitors are skeptical so far. I asked the hardest questions I could think of and the answers satisfied: No, so you can’t be taken to court for that Rihanna Talk Talk Talk download–you are not liable for another user on your network making illegal downloads. Yes, service stoppage issues are handled amicable by Net-Neighbors. Yes, there is firmware to equitably share bandwidth by user, so no one can hog it all.

Signing up is free.

8. Tocaboca
For all you parents out there who want computer games for your kids that teach more than hand-eye coordination or the ABCs, comes a digital play studio for kids from Sweden. Tocaboca is a team of play designers, art directors, developers (or “playsmiths”), interaction designers and marketers. Around since 2011, they first came to my attention this year on Facebook, where they have over 250K likes.

To see the six principles they believe in, check out their About page: products that allow you and your kids to play together, games that provide play both on- and off-line, and more.

And best, it’s all natural: no advertising or in-app purchases.

9. Flinja
There’s a new kid on the P2P block: peer-to-peer jobs. Flinja.com is a P2P jobs marketplace that builds on student and alumni networks. It ties user participation to a college and like Facebook before it, all users are required to log in with their .edu email addresses to prove they are either currently attending a participating university or have previously attended.

Employers can rate students who have worked for them and vice versa. It handles all billing and payments through a third party, and takes care of fraud detection and disputes between students and alumni. Job listers set their own prices, and Flinja takes a 10-15 percent cut of all transactions. If your alma mater is not listed (mine isn’t), let them know.

10. CircleUp
Equity-based crowdfunding platform CircleUp brings together accredited investors and high-growth consumer brand companies. You see a brand you like or a new beverage you think is tasty, and CircleUp provides a way for you invest (as a “custowner,” and usually with preferred shares.) CEO Ryan Caldbeck writes for Forbes, and clearly has his hands around the future of equity-based crowdfunding. If “angel investing” is your thing, consider this alternative. Companies typically have more than $1 million in revenue for the current fiscal year, a track record of success, and strong leadership teams, but of course, with all investments, you really have to assess the appropriateness and risk for yourself.

Note the impressive, consistent press starting in March of 2012.

RUNNERS-UP
Munchery

A food+tech startup to watch from San Francisco, Munchery is an online marketplace for consumers to purchase meals directly from a stable of local, world-class chefs. Order handcrafted meals from fresh daily menus, designed to be finished off in your oven or microwave. And yep, there’s an app for it.

RunKeeper/GymPact
Now that it’s January, it’s hard to swing a dirty gym towel and not see something about setting and keeping fitness goals. In August of 2012, RunKeeper and GymPact–aligned their business goals—and users’ fitness goals—into one. Stay honest about getting to the gym because now you have some skin—or actual dollars—in the game.

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