Like with sports teams, Bostonians are spoilt for choice with so many great local businesses to support. Top job prospects are a huge reason why many graduates from Boston's illustrious colleges stay long term. There are simply too many cool Boston companies to name in one list.
With that caveat in mind, we’ve researched five of the most ‘wicked awesome’ Beantown businesses you may not know about. Read on for our top picks of the hidden gems in Boston and the Greater Boston area.
Wink & Nod
- Founded: 2014
- Founded by: Boston Nightlife Ventures
- Industry: Hospitality - Bar and Restaurant
- Website: winkandnod.com
Wink & Nod, Boston’s swankiest speakeasy, may be a relatively young business, but it’s old at heart. After all, people do go there to party like it’s 1927.
Like another of the cool Boston companies on this list, finding the entrance is the hard part. Once you’re inside, the backlit bar, ambient dining area and chandelier are anything but discreet.
The talented mixologists there can put together pretty much any cocktail you dream up. If you go in character, you could even ask for your beverage to be served in a brown paper bag!
Special feature: Rotating kitchen (culinary incubator)
Unlike Toronto’s CN Tower, Wink & Nod doesn’t physically revolve. But it does incubate some of Boston’s finest culinary talent. The owners invite a new team of chefs to run an on-site pop up kitchen every six months.
Previous head chefs have included Le Cordon Bleu alumni, Michelin Star-trained maestros, and Zagat ‘30 Under 30’ talent. That’s a long list of tough acts to follow, but according Yelp reviews, they more than rise to the challenge.
The format gives regulars reason to come back again and again. It also offers gives rising chefs a platform to help launch their own ventures. If all goes well, a Wink & Nod residency can lead to a fixed restaurant, as happened for Patrick Enage, whose Southeast Asian pop up, Akinto, now occupies the building next door.
- Founded: 2013
- Founded by: Sean Neville, Jeremy Allaire
- Industry: Consumer Finance
- Website: circle.com
There are two archetypal members in any friend group. There’s the pal who’s quick to lend money and even quicker to forget. Then there’s the well-meaning one who intends to pay them back, but never seems to carry the correct change.
Circle Pay is the calm friend; the one who makes sure that money tensions between group members never boil over. The social payment app allows you to transfer funds to friends from your bank account via in-app instant messages. In the same way, you can gently nudge pals to pay you back.
Circle became popular as a cryptocurrency marketplace. Then, in light of regulatory uncertainties around bitcoin, it pivoted to focus on fiat currencies. But with more than $100 million in venture capital under its belt, Circle's growth looks anything but uncertain.
Special feature: (Almost) zero transaction fees
Circle’s enables the free exchange of value by allowing users to transfer money without transaction fees. While that may change soon, for now it means Circle offers better value for money than traditional interbank services like Western Union.
Circle works with almost any bank in the US, UK and Europe, and the company plans to expand into China. Soon enough, cross-border payment charges may well be a thing of the past.
- Founded: 2005
- Founded by: Alex Whitmore, Kathleen Fulton
- Industry: Food and Confectionery
- Website: tazachocolate.com
The windows aren’t sugar glazed and the plumbing isn’t edible, but Taza Chocolate’s factory is bona fide. Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton opened the factory in 2005, the same year that the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake hit the big screen. Their aim was to create tasty but ethically-sourced American chocolate.
Following Mexican chocolate making traditions, Taza chocolate makers use hand carved millstones to grind roasted cacao nibs. The mixture gets tempered and solidified into molds before being packaged and shipped to over 5,000 retailers worldwide.
Of course, like any chocolate factory worth its cocoa solids, it’s open to the public. Taza runs daily tours and tasting sessions in the rooms where the chocolate is actually made. That definitely earns Taza Chocolate a spot on our list of cool Boston companies.
If you’re interested, you don’t need a Golden Ticket, but you do need to book online to guarantee a spot!
Special feature: Direct Trade certified
Taza started the first Direct Trade Scheme for paying cocoa farmers a fair price. Unlike the Fairtrade certification, which only cooperatives receive, being Direct Trade Certified means Taza agrees prices directly with farmers. This truncates the entire supply chain, leaving a much better profit margin for the farmers at the heart of the whole operation.
- Founded: 2013
- Founded by: Gregory Mark
- Industry: Manufacturing, 3D Printing Hardware and Software
- Website: markforged.com
Greg Mark, the eponymous CEO of Markforged, thinks that today’s 3D printers represent a ton of as-yet unrealised potential.
His innovation? A new way of using 3D printers to produce strong-as-metal machine parts far quicker than regular methods.
The technology is low cost, precise, and it opens up mouth-watering possibilities for same-day manufacturing for all kinds of things. Airbus, Ford and Harley Davidson all gave their backing to Markforged early on.
Markforged is bringing us one step closer to unlocking the disruptive potential of 3D printing.
Special feature: Affordability
When a new supply chain innovation delivers 98% cost efficiency savings, the world takes wakes up. Microsoft was among the attentive investors in Markforged’s latest November funding round.
Markforged’s unique process for printing metal machine parts is up to 10x cheaper than conventional methods. Now the company wants to scale it so that it can serve entire factories with 3D printer fleets.
Markforged is doing for the entire manufacturing industry what the assembly line of the 1950s did for automotives.
- Founded: 2006
- Founded by: Oliver Mak, Jay Gordon, Dan Natola
- Industry: Fashion
- Website: shop.bdgastore.com
Bodega captured sneakerheads' attention in 2006 when Dime Magazine named it the third best sneaker store in the US.
To really see what all the hype is about today, you have to visit their Boston outlet in person. Air Jordans and And1s never looked better than on Bodega’s red bamboo display shelves. Like a warmer version of an Apple Store, the boutique shoe shop captures the comfort and allure of high end high tops.
Bodega founders Oliver Mak, Jay Gordon and Dan Natola make customer service a pointed focus. Friendly staff forgo hipsterish pretensions by helping customers find exactly what they’re after. If you have any interest in sneaker culture, make sure you find Bodega next time you’re in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.
Special feature: Anti-marketing
Bodega perfected the anti-marketing approach to gaining brand recognition. “We wanted to make a physical manifestation of the hunt for great product”, explain Mak, Gordon and Natola. So, while sneaker fandom was hitting its peak in the 2000s, Bodega had only a cryptic splash page for a website. They hid the entrance to the original outlet inside a nondescript corner store selling rice and pickled eggs.
Early on, people wandered in by accident and left feeling like they had discovered something exciting and special. Word of mouth carried so quickly that within two months, the head of Nike New England had offered an exclusive shoe deal. The rest is history for this box fresh prince of cool Boston companies.
While we don’t recommend spoiling the surprise of Bodega’s hidden entrance, watch the video below for a peek:
What do you think of our selection of cool Boston companies? Let us know in the comments section below, and return next month to read our picks for Chicago's most exciting enterprises.