Summer break? For student-run startups, there’s no such thing.

As founders increasingly start their entrepreneurial journey at a younger age, college student startup founders often take advantage of their summer vacation to grow their venture, whether at an accelerator, coworking space, or sometimes just their kitchen table. And with resources for student entrepreneurs growing in Chicago, from Northwestern’s Garage to University of Chicago’s Polsky summer Accelerator, there are more ways to grow a business in summer months than ever.

With that in mind, here’s a look at ten Illinois student (and just graduated) startups to keep your eye on, because they’re set to seriously hustle this summer break.

Amber Agriculture

This startup launched by a UIUC MBA student Lucas Frye is bringing Internet of Things to the farm. The wireless sensors are installed in grain bins, and measure moisture and CO2 levels to help farmers minimize spoilage. Amber Agriculture tied for first place at this year’s Cozad New Venture Challenge, and will work out of UIUC’s iVenture accelerator this summer.

CommonCents team.


What if you could pay off your student loans faster by saving your spare change? That’s the idea behind CommonCents, a startup by graduating UChicago fourth years Maggi Heneghan, Madeleine Barr, and Reshad Monsur, which takes the “spare change” off debit card purchases (by rounding up purchase to the nearest dollar) and automatically making payments to student loans. By their calculations, a student with $35,000 in debt can save nearly $20,000 in interest and cut down their repayment period by five years. CommonCents won this year’s UChicago College New Venture Challenge, and is working out of the Polsky Accelerator this summer.


Investors pour through stacks of financial documents to assess whether an investment is good or bad–at times upwards of 80 hours over two weeks to slog through documents and get all the necessary information. With that in mind, Jigar Shah, Abhimanyu Deora, and Anand Kannappan, three computer science students, created Finalyze, a platform that uses natural language processing algorithms and machine learning to pick out key pieces of information from financial documents to aid investors in financial decisions. The team was a finalist in UChicago’s College NVC, and will work out of the Polsky Accelerator this summer.

BrewBike (Credit: Indiegogo)
BrewBike (Credit: Indiegogo)


What’s a hot summer day without a cool iced coffee? A group of Northwestern students is making that experience mobile with BrewBike, a startup that offers Limitless High Definition iced coffee sold out of a custom-made tricycle cargo bike. Cofounders Brammy Geduld and Lucas Philips raised over $10,000 on Indiegogo earlier this spring to get BrewBike off the ground, tested it out at Northwestern’s Spoonfest and Dillo Day music festival, and are currently constructing their custom bike with Heritage Bicycles. This summer they’re working out of the Garage accelerator, Wildfire.


This startup, launched by brothers William and Stephen Cheng, is creating a wearable device to track 3D movement of the leg for monitoring physical therapy. ExoWear was inspired by their care for their grandmother, who needed to monitor her in-home arthritis and scoliosis therapy. William is a student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (Stephen is at Boston College), and their team includes students from UChicago. This summer they’re working out of the UIUC iVenture accelerator.

Ryan Lebar, Carrie Shaw, and Thomas Leahy, founders of Embodied Labs.
Left to right: Ryan Lebar, Carrie Shaw, and Thomas Leahy, founders of Embodied Labs

Embodied Labs

Could virtual reality be the ultimate tool for empathy, and potentially better medical care? That’s the goal of Embodied Labs, a VR startup launched by University of Illinois at Chicago biomedical visualization student Carrie Shaw. The startup uses VR tech, narrative filmmaking, and empathy-focused education to help medical students and doctors better understand geriatric care. Their first film, “Alfred,” takes the viewer through seven minutes in the life of an elderly man suffering from hearing and vision loss. Their curriculum will be used in classes in UIC’s medical school this fall.


Womentum combines crowdfunding, microloans, and a pay-it-forward model to create networks of female entrepreneurs around the world. The startup, cofounded by Northwestern student Aaron Leon, works with NGOs in developing countries to find female entrepreneurs who need a donation to kickstart their business. Donors on the site crowdfund projects, and the entrepreneurs are then encouraged to pay it back to another female entrepreneur in their community.  Initially they’re launching with seven women entrepreneurs in India, then will expand to entrepreneurs in Cameroon and California.

Touchlight Innovation 

A startup launched by UIUC student Swarnav Pujari aims to power office buildings only using office worker’s footsteps. Pujari has created a product called the Power Pad, that can be placed below carpet or floorboards and harness energy from the force of a footstep using proprietary compounds. Touch Light Innovation placed second in this year’s Cozad New Venture Challenge, and will work this summer out of the iVenture accelerator.


The Cast21 team (Courtesy of Cast21)
The Cast21 team (Courtesy of Cast21)

Jason Troutner, Ashley Moy, Justin Brooks, all recent graduates from UIUC, are reinventing the cast. They created a proprietary application process to immobilize bones through a waterproof material that forms to the patients’ body, while giving the skin room to breath. It can also be used with electrical stimulation therapy, which has been shown to mend bones faster in certain cases. The startup was a finalist in this year’s Cozad New Venture Challenge, and will work out of the iVenture accelerator this summer.

Kali Zoe 

SAIC student Callie Spiros believes jewelry can look beautiful–and have a purpose. That’s why this spring she launched Kali Zoe Designs, a startup that creates accupressure jewelry. Their first product, the Mudra, applies pressure to the skin between the thumb and index finger, a spot commonly known to alleviate headaches, pain, and stress throughout the body, according to Kali Zoe founders. Kali Zoe recently raised over $9,600 on Indiegogo to launch the Mudra line. Spiros is Future Founders fellow, and won the People’s Choice Award at Future Founders’ U.Pitch competition this winter.