The future of technology is increasingly a game of answering the “what if” question. What if anyone could buy or sell stocks without paying fees? What if we all had a meeting and no one needed to takes notes because a voice assistant listened to the whole thing? What if gene sequencing became as simple as accessing a smartphone feature? Three startup technology companies are building solutions to answer exactly these questions.

The firms were on full display last week in Redwood City, California at the Startup Grind Global Conference. The annual gathering of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, corporate executives, and journalists provided attendees with two days of sessions covering everything from building smart robots to integrating enterprise software.

Gene sequencing for the masses

The future of gene sequencing was showcased by one of the more interesting business models at the event. The cost of performing DNA analysis has dropped significantly in recent years as the speed of computing power has increased. Last July, Helix launched a marketplace for genetic evaluation based on a saliva test.

“We’re at a new era where millions are people are going to be sequenced,” said Justin Kao, co-founder of Helix, during a presentation at Startup Grind. “We want to make genomics as turnkey as turning on a server today.”

Helix performs what’s known as whole-exome sequencing, and then markets additional evaluations from pre-screened partners. It’s kind of like using apps from the Google or Apple store.

The Helix platform allows users to evaluate everything from how quickly they metabolize caffeine to which body type can take best advantage of high-intensity cardio workouts.

The genetic data is stored in a user’s personal Helix account and cannot be shared with any third party without permission, according to Kao. The Healthy Nevada Project, a multi-year effort to study the health of state residents, will use Helix to sequence the DNA of 40,000 people for free (Helix normally charges a fee for testing) later this year.

While Helix may be disrupting the gene sequencing market, Robinhood is attempting to upend the stock brokerage industry by allowing investors to make trades for zero dollars. Founded three years ago (entertainment figure Jay-Z is an investor), the company has attracted over two million users under the age of 36.

“We want to see cost of financial services become entirely free,” said Baiju Bhatt, Robinhood’s co-founder, during a presentation at one Startup Grind session.

“The way to do that is through the openness of the Internet."

The phone app-driven trading platform runs on very lean overhead, foregoing most advertising or a large staff. It makes money from interest on unused cash deposits made by users.

Robinhood made news last month with the announcement that it would begin offering cryptocurrency trading, including bitcoin, in five states. The digital currency trades will not be free however, although Robinhood will have no minimums, maximums or withdrawal limits.

Making meetings more productive

As voice-cognizant digital assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, become more widely used, Voicera is seeking to take advantage of their growing popularity by creating a similar product for the workplace.

In November, the startup launched its free open beta that uses artificial intelligence to listen, take notes and flag action items for follow-up.

Voicera’s CEO, Omar Tawakol, became intrigued by the concept of using Digital Assistant technology in the business space when he learned that 99 percent of conversations in the enterprise were undigitized. “That sounded like white space to me,” said Tawakol during a presentation at the conference. “Meetings are this time sink where everyone has to do it.”

Voicera’s assistant, called Eva, works with meeting providers such as Skype, Cisco Webex or Google Hangouts. The insights and outcomes it gleans from the conversation can be integrated into other business workflows, like Salesforce.

Unlike Alexa, Eva is not the loquacious personal friend that many users have come to know. “We found that people wanted a less chatty Eva,” Tawakol said.

Attendees at this year’s Startup Grind had several opportunities to hear from entrepreneurs who had successfully launched their own companies. One of them was Steve Huffman, co-founder of the social media news platform Reddit. “We didn’t know really what we were doing, we were just building what was fun for us,” Huffman recalled. He sold Reddit less than two years after founding it and became an instant millionaire at the age of 22. Undoubtedly, most of the entrepreneurs in the audience were all dreaming of the same result.