The Top Startup Studios of 2023
We’ve had the pleasure of engaging with many startup studios in the space and have compiled this list of the top startup studios for 2023.
The number of studios across the globe now tops 200, with more arriving on a regular basis. In fact, many emerging businesses making an impact on the current economy saw their genesis in a startup studio.
The top companies in this space enjoy reputations as experts in transforming a compelling business idea into a profitable new business. They employ talented professionals combining state-of-the-art technical know-how with a keen business sense. This mix allows a startup’s founders to focus on bootstrapping a business as opposed to running its day-to-day operations while raising funds. Many of these studios act as web app development companies or mobile app development companies too, the possibilities are endless.
We’ve had the pleasure of engaging with many startup studios in the space and have put together this list of the top startup studios for 2023:
John Borthwick formed the Betaworks startup studio in 2008. Located in New York City, the development agency focuses on a deep analysis of consumer trends to inform its process of identifying great product ideas and turning them into successful businesses.
Soon after their formation, Betaworks gained fame throughout the entrepreneurial world for developing popular digital products like Dots, Bitly, and the Twitter management tool, Tweetdeck. However, in addition to building new products and platforms from scratch, Betaworks also invests in great software development ideas and develop apps. The electronic wallet service Venmo offers one obvious example of smart investing by the studio’s leadership group.
Notably, the company formed the Betaworks Camp in 2016 aimed at offering in-person support and corporate innovation advice to emerging startups. This residency program provides the means for entrepreneurs to work directly with Betaworks leadership. According to the company: “Camp allows us to immerse ourselves in emerging tech categories and work closely with the startups in each cohort.” This close interaction allows the studio to gain insight into potential startups worthy of receiving capital from the studio’s $50 million series A fund. Other startups receiving investment capital and other operational support include:
- Hugging Face
The global eFounders startup studio boasts offices in Berlin, New York, Paris, and San Francisco as well as over 1,000 employees. Founded in 2011 by Quentin Nickmans and Thibaud Elziere, this studio transforms great ideas into enterprise software startups.
With a relatively large company, eFounders might be one of the first enterprise-sized startup studios. Ultimately, this large global community provides a unique collection of diverse viewpoints and insights informing their process of business creation. The studio feels they empower top software engineering talent with the ultimate goal of “building the future of work.”
eFounders includes a core leadership team covering the functional areas of technology, project managers, UI/UX design, user experience, marketing, HR, and product management. They serve to provide the entire organization with a common culture despite their disparate locations. In a similar manner to the founders, this core team works in a hands-on fashion with new startups providing critical insights and the wisdom gained only through experience. Over time, this approach proved itself repeatedly with successful new businesses like:
NineTwoThree Venture Studio
Formed in 2012 by Andrew Amann and Pavel Kirillov, Boston’s NineTwoThree Venture Studio combines innovative technical chops with strong business domain knowledge. They focus on transforming compelling business ideas into captivating digital ventures, including mobile platforms and interactive websites as well as custom software development.
As a startup studio and top mobile development company operating as an agency builder, NineTwoThree gains crucial market insights from a variety of business sectors. When combined with their top-shelf technical skills and experience in building apps, it provides startups with the technical know-how and business acumen to reduce the risk typically found in the practice of creating new businesses. This flexibility also provides the studio with a critical alternate source of revenue used to form new businesses, while also keeping their employees consistently engaged in interesting project work at every stage of a startup.
This business model continues to pay dividends for the studio with a host of successful high quality new businesses incubated within the confines of the digital agency. Most of the new companies are based on some form of innovative digital product, including appliances, websites, or mobile apps. Some of the highlights of NineTwoThree’s portfolio include:
New York City-based Human Ventures was formed in 2015 by Heather Hartnett, Joe Marchese, and Megan O’Connor. Their ultimate goal involves investing in businesses aimed at meeting a variety of human needs as a web development company or mobile application developer.
Human Ventures uses its trademark “built on purpose” to provide insights into its mission statement as a startup studio. Purpose likely serves as the most important word in that phrase, since the company focuses on helping innovative and ambitious entrepreneurs through various stages of startup development. The major differentiator in their business model involves creating new businesses focused on solving problems related to current human needs, as noted earlier. The studio leverages a robust network of founders, investors, and corporate partners for this purpose.
In fact, those three vital components make up Human Ventures’ “business creation platform" and development services. The studio also focuses on three core principles as a software development company when identifying business ideas they wish to transform into thriving companies. These include:
- Solving a real human problem
- Highly scalable unit economics
- A deep sense of responsibility
A cursory glance at the companies they designed and developed reveals these principles in action. Some of the highlights from their portfolio include:
San Francisco’s Wilbur Labs was formed in 2016 by Phil Santoro and David Kolodny. The studio identifies industry pain points and forms startups around concepts solving these issues.
A more traditional startup studio, Wilbur Labs identifies bold ideas with true potential in the modern marketplace and leverages their talent and experience to turn them into successful new companies. The studio uses its lab to perform an initial analysis of the viability of each idea for a new product or service. After this validation step, they onboard leadership with specific experience in the relevant target market to manage this new business.
This studio provides additional funding, operational support, and other resources to help bootstrap the emerging company. In addition to helping form new businesses, the studio also boasts an investment arm to provide capital to other nascent organizations. Since its founding, Wilbur Labs created or invested in over 20 new companies, with new businesses formed each year. A few highlights from this growing portfolio include:
Founded by Jack Abraham in 2012, the San Francisco-based Atomic leverages a disciplined approach to form disruptive startup businesses from innovative ideas.
Atomic also boasts a similar two-pronged approach of transforming great ideas into promising new businesses in addition to providing investment capital to other fledgling organizations. The studio leverages a collection of “serial entrepreneurs,” many of whom boast experience building billion-dollar companies, and serve as co-founders to the organizations incubated in the Atomic studios. When combined with a knowledge base made up of the best practices in business creation along with other capital resources, the studio reduces the risk of the entrepreneurial process.
Jack Abraham still serves as Managing Partner and CEO for Atomic and commented on the studio’s philosophy. "There has never been a better time to start a company and our mission is to encourage more people to choose entrepreneurship. The world can be better when more people build the future we want together,” said Abraham. Some highlights from their portfolio include
Based in The Netherlands, Michael van Lier formed Builders in Rotterdam in 2015. They focus on building nascent technology companies powered by innovative ideas and experienced operational know-how, combined with strong capital sources.
Since Builders is a startup studio with a strong technology focus, they boast significant experience in state-of-the-art software engineering concepts. At the same time, they also strive to form new businesses able to foster “a more fulfilling and sustainable life for the globalized generation.” The studio typically partners with experienced entrepreneurs boasting transformational ideas along with relevant expertise in the target market for the software product or service.
Like other studios, the company leverages an internal lab used to vet brainstormed ideas to determine the strength of the opportunity. After identifying the best ideas, they match each concept with experienced leaders striving to make a perfect match between the product and the founder. Check out these links to the companies formed at Builders:
Mark S. McNally founded Laguna Beach’s Nobody Studios in 2020. The firm combines investors, entrepreneurs, and creative talent to build businesses with true value and a human connection.
Nobody Studios boasts a robust goal of forming 100 new companies in five years. To achieve it, they are crafting a process to supercharge the process of business creation, effectively allowing them to form new companies with a higher velocity than ever before. Additionally, their business model hopes to bridge any gap between investors, entrepreneurs, creative and technical talent, and the public. In short, they hope to disrupt the process of new business creation.
This high-velocity startup studio also leverages a crowd-sourced element throughout the entire entrepreneurial process – from ideation to the scaling of the new business. The company feels this process allows them to create new businesses 40 percent faster than other studios. In addition to Parentipity planning to launch later this year, the studio portfolio also includes:
Nobody Studios’ portfolio page also lists a variety of new company ideas awaiting full branding and website construction.
Pioneer Square Labs
Seattle’s Pioneer Square Labs began operations in 2015; formed by Ben Gilbert, Mike Galgon, Greg Gottesman, and Geoff Entress. Like other effective startup studios, they match great ideas and entrepreneurs with sources of venture capital.
Notably, Pioneer Square Labs identifies itself as a startup studio and a venture capital fund. Two embedded organizations – PSL Studio and PSL Ventures – manage both pieces of the parent company’s operational strategy. While many other startup studios also perform both functions, PSL makes this approach part of its core mission. Still, their studio wing provides the typical mix of compelling business ideas, exceptional entrepreneurial talent, and critical investment capital.
The studio generally focuses on new business ideas from the fertile community of the Pacific Northwest. This approach offers little surprise considering the technology giants that originally grew in Seattle and the surrounding region, most notably Microsoft and Amazon. PSL Studio emphasizes bootstrapping startups with the potential to be market leaders while boasting rapid adoption by their target market. Highlights of their studio portfolio include
Miles Dotson and Devan Fanfair formed the San Francisco-located Devland in 2016. They combine a brilliant technical team with entrepreneurs to bootstrap compelling new business ideas.
This startup studio clearly focuses on new business ideas leveraging the state of the art in technology innovation. Thus, it makes sense Devland saw its own genesis as part of possibly the original tech incubator known as Silicon Valley. The studio sources companies from a variety of sources, including various program channels as well as direct submissions. They boast a rapid validation process to determine which ideas boast the best potential for market success.
Still, many entrepreneurs approach Devland because of their high-end software engineering and design skills. The studio also boasts the capability to reduce complexity, making it easier to attract investors and ultimately forge market success. Their tech scope includes areas such as artificial intelligence, machine communication, robotics, and aviation. Peruse their Investments page to get more detail on the current projects in their pipeline, including:
- Rain Research
With offices in LA and Phoenix, Coplex was formed in 2018 by Anthony Johnson, Ilya Pozin, Nikola Mickic, and Zach Ferres. This studio works closely with existing corporations, providing them with the entrepreneurial energy to craft valid new businesses.
Ultimately, Coplex takes a different approach compared to other venture studios. In fact, this company effectively serves as an incubator for creating and operating new startup studios. As such, they typically partner with enterprises and larger businesses to provide a measure of entrepreneurial spirit to those corporations. They also regularly work with philanthropic organizations. They boast proven and repeatable processes to reduce the risk generally found when forging new ventures.
The studio’s mature processes rely on tools, templates, and frameworks honed from usage in creating other ventures. This approach begins with an ideation stage, followed by a rigorous design and validation process. Further investments lead to a launch and a subsequent growth stage. Some highlights from their portfolio include
Formed in 2015 by Mike Fitzgerald, Scott Dorsey, Eric Tobias, and Kristian Andersen, High Alpha is located in Indianapolis. The organization is made up of three smaller companies, with a focus on building nascent businesses in the SaaS space.
Its Midwest presence definitely differentiates High Alpha from other organizations in the smart studio space. They also boast a strong focus on crafting SaaS applications for the B2B space, as noted earlier. In a similar manner as PSL, they also contain separate embedded business units to handle startup studio and investment functions, High Alpha Studio and High Alpha Capital, respectively. The parent company identifies itself as one that dreams big, moves fast, and expects more.
The studio continually researches and validates new business ideas in multiple industries with a focus on creating top-shelf enterprise software companies. They remain on the outlook for entrepreneurial talent as well as potential customers to help transform ideas into thriving new companies. A few of their portfolio highlights include
Notably, a few of the companies in their portfolio are listed as recent acquisitions by other businesses.
Santa Monica’s Zuma Ventures began operations in 2014, formed by Allen Hurf and David Carter. A technology-focused startup incubator, the studio typically works on multiple initiatives simultaneously. ProspectWise, Flying Yak, and Wizr highlight Zuma’s portfolio.
Founded by Garret Camp in 2013, Expa has locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, and London. This studio focuses on the mobile app development space, relying on the open sharing of knowledge and ideas.
Expa provides entrepreneurs with the support and funding they need to forge competitive new businesses from the kernel of a great idea. Formed by experienced builders of companies, they offer the necessary practical advice in areas like design, branding, engineering, operations, and recruiting. That last item was especially critical during this era of The Great Resignation. Of course, they also provide startups with capital fundraising support through the new business’s early stages of operations.
That studio support especially makes a difference when it comes to product design, which covers vital areas like systems engineering, UI/UX mockups, and the building of prototypes. Additionally, their marketing experience comes into play with branding strategies aimed at impacting the desired target market. Crucial operations support also makes a difference in covering areas like legal and that important staffing assistance mentioned earlier. They leverage both repeatable processes and a robust network of experienced entrepreneurial professionals. Notable companies in their portfolio include
Rocket Internet was formed in Berlin in 2007, founded by Marc Samwer, Oliver Samwer, Alexander Samwer, and Fabio Tran. As highlighted by their name, they build Internet companies leveraging proven web-based growth models in the process.
This startup studio also focuses on a two-pronged approach: both incubating and investing in compelling business ideas as well as emerging companies. However, they generally concentrate their efforts on the Internet and other technology organizations located anywhere in the world. They seek out “daring entrepreneurs” as potential partners for their investment efforts (under the name of Global Founders Capital). Additionally, the studio boasts an experienced operations department to help both startups and fledgling businesses accelerate their growth.
CEO Oliver Samwer commented on the studio’s philosophy. “Rocket enables entrepreneurship. We build and invest in great technology companies globally and provide a unique blend of operational support and capital,” said Samwer. Notably, Rocket Internet’s portfolio includes over 200 businesses located on six continents, highlighting their global reach. These firms provide employment for over 40,000 employees with a total business valuation of close to 30 billion Euros. Some of the emerging companies in their portfolio include:
Science was formed in Santa Monica in 2011 by Greg Gilman, Michael Jones, Mike Macadaan, Peter Pham, and Tom Dare. They leverage a centralized platform to source trends, ideas, and talent vetted across their entire portfolio.
Self-identifying as a “multi-asset investment firm,” Science also features the common approach of including both a startup studio as well as a separate venture capital wing. According to the firm’s website: “We invest in and build the next generation of companies shaping the future. We bring together the best ideas, talent, and financing through a centralized platform that helps us uncover trends we can share across the entire portfolio.” Ultimately, the studio strives to nurture the brands in its portfolio from ideation to launch.
Their studio resides within the company’s 25,000-square-foot headquarters, helping their operations team keep its finger on the pulse of these emerging businesses. They also leverage a technology development team located in India. Science leadership also typically holds seats on the boards of many of the companies in their portfolio. Some of the highlighted companies include:
The Los Angeles-based Colab began operations in 2013, formed by Jon Bradford. They are known for turning compelling ideas – even those drawn on a napkin – into successful modern businesses.
This startup studio boasts positive metrics, including over two billion dollars in combined portfolio exits, over 100 businesses founded or advised, and over half-billion dollars in raised startup capital. They leverage a large network of entrepreneurs, technology wizards, and business experts along with a focus on sweat equity to give their incubated startups a real shot at a successful launch. Their process includes a three-pronged approach featuring product development, brand marketing, and capital fundraising to achieve the goals of their new businesses.
Colab features a core team well-versed in validating intriguing entrepreneurial ideas, crafting effective business models, and product branding. A robust network of tech talent and investors ensures incubated startups receive the critical funding they need for a successful launch. The positive aspects of this approach are evidenced by their track record of thriving businesses as noted in the detailed metrics mentioned earlier. Some of the notable companies in their portfolio include:
If you’re looking to start or grow your own startup studio, check out our Digital Venture Studio Playbook which outlines NineTwoThree’s journey as an agency builder.