Four Washington D.C. start-ups changing the world

Start-ups might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Washington, but there’s a thriving community of new businesses in the US capital, many of which share the mission of making a positive difference in people's lives...

Under Armour is one of the most successful businesses to have launched in Washington and the surrounding area and its Give Back initiative puts millions of dollars into programmes to support youth, military veterans and breast cancer initiatives. But they’re not the only Washington based business aiming to change the world one way or another. Here’s four examples of Washington start-ups that have set out to make the world a better place…


Nearly two-thirds of all fourth graders across the US struggle with reading. Recognising this and the importance of learning to listen as well as speak, read and write, William and Tracey Weil founded Tales2go as a way to educate and entertain children.

Tales2go is an audiobook library that is providing schools and school districts access to more than 5,000 books from leading publishers. Students are able to use Tales2go not just at school, but are also given a license to use year-round on a personal device. This is helping to raise literacy levels across the US, with schools already seeing the difference it can make in students’ abilities.

"The best part about Tales2go is they don’t even know that they’re learning," one teacher said. "They love to be able to listen to Tales2go and they’re getting all those vocabulary connections. They’re getting that fluency and comprehension practice. Visualisation is huge. It teaches them how to visualise the story for the lower level learners without the semantics of struggling with the text."

Ethical Electric

Ethical Electric is on a mission to switch American homes and businesses to clean, renewable energy supplies. Supplying 100 per cent clean energy from wind and solar farms, they want to see a world free of "catastrophic climate change".

They’re making it easier for Americans to opt for clean energy suppliers by removing the need to change utility, start home construction projects or get any special equipment.

Read: Why the desire to create change drives businesses to succeed

As well as helping people to switch to clean energy supplies, Ethical Electric partners with a number of environmental and social change organisations by donating a portion of every member’s utility bill. Currently they’re funding a range of groups including The Wilderness Society, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Arbor Day Foundation.


Another Washington start-up focused on reducing emissions is electric bike manufacturer Riide. They’ve built an electric bike that is light, takes just three hours to charge, and can travel up to 25 miles on a single charge. And, unlike some electric bike solutions, they’ve made it affordable with a monthly payment scheme that means it costs less than a monthly metro pass.


Smartly is another education-focused start-up in Washington. Seeing how the cost of studying is pricing some students out of Masters programmes, it has come up with a solution that democratises education. Currently in beta, Smartly offers a free online MBA and then helps match students with top employers worldwide.

Smartly takes a different approach to most university MBAs, and even other online alternatives, ditching the boring lectures and abstract journal articles in favour of interactive mobile learning. Learners are required to interact with the lesson every seven seconds and are provided with immediate feedback on their responses. Each lesson lasts five to 10 minutes and builds on previously-learned concepts, continually testing understanding and introducing new information.

Leading institutions, professors and thought leaders in educational technology have already given Smartly their seal of approval. "In my 10 years in the education world, Smartly offers the best, most engaging learning experience of anything I’ve seen," Michael Horn, co-founder of Clayton Christensen Institute says, adding that it has "incredible disruptive potential".


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