5 Cool Start-Ups to Keep an Eye On

Zynga

What It Is : Is your friend begging you for seeds she can plant on her farm? Or maybe your little brother likes to go on shooting sprees in the middle of the day? Thank Zynga. The most popular developer of games for social media, Zynga is the creator of FarmVille, Mafia Wars, CafeWorld and other games on Facebook, iPhone and Yahoo!

Why We Need It: It's an untapped market for fun. Now that the world's population is increasingly going online for entertainment, companies like Zynga have a unique chance to draw in a new generation of video game players. "The growth of the U.S. virtual goods market, particularly inside social games on Facebook, has been tremendous over the last year," says Justin Smith, founder of gaming research firm Inside Network, valuing the U.S. virtual goods market today at about $1.6 billion. "As the largest developer of social games on Facebook, Zynga is poised to ride the growth of this market."

Bare Facts: Zynga was founded in 2008 and now has 600 employees. More than 65 million users play Zynga games every day, helping build 30 million FarmVille farms in the U.S. alone.

Hello Wallet

What It Is: A website that gives low and middle-income Americans financial advice. In return for a monthly fee starting at $4, members can plug in their financial profile and get personalized recommendations for a college savings plan or a cheaper bank in their neighborhood.

Why We Need It: "Financial literacy in the U.S. population is challenged, and here is something that will give them actionable advice," says Don Rainey, a venture capitalist with Grotech Ventures who has invested in Hello Wallet. Its service is different from Mint.com's because its focus is forward-looking, helping users piece together the financial future they want, as opposed to simply analyzing their financial history.

Bare Facts: AOL co-founder Steve Case is an investor in Hello Wallet, which was founded earlier this year and is still in Beta testing. Fortune 500 companies have already expressed an interest in signing up their employees for the service, according to Rainey, and the City of San Francisco is offering the service free to residents and workers.

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