Now in its third year, it’s safe to say none of Chicago Inno’s previous Startups to Watch lists have included three founders who have all led companies to $1 billion+ exits.
As we’ve mentioned here before, Chicago’s tech scene is doing some growing up, highlighted in part by successful serial entrepreneurs who are now on to their next gigs and have committed to staying in Chicago. Groupon’s Eric Lefkofsky, Cleversafe’s Chris Gladwin, and Fieldglass’ Sean Chou are all taking big swings at their next startups, and represent high-profile names doubling down on Chicago’s startup scene.
But the health of Chicago’s tech community relies on more than a handful of experienced founders; the city is full of bright-eyed, first-time entrepreneurs who are tackling big problems with impressive technology. This list aims to highlight both the serial founders and young guns poised to make 2017 another big year for Chicago tech.
For this list, we set out to find Seed to Series A(ish) startups that saw some nice traction in 2016, and who are poised for even bigger growth in 2017.
So without further ado, here are our 17 Chicago Startups to Watch in 2017:
Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky’s latest startup Tempus is a far cry from daily deals. Tempus is building an operating system for cancer by using genomic sequencing and machine learning to help doctors get a better understanding of a patient’s tumor. By analyzing and collecting huge amounts of genomic data, Tempus can help doctors give patients more personalized treatment options. The startup launched in 2016 (Chicago Inno broke the news back in July) and has been partnering with hospitals like Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center and Rush University Medical Center to use its technology to give personalize care to patients.
Chris Gladwin sold his 11-year-old data storage company Cleversafe to IBM for $1.3 billion in 2015. That exit created created 80 new millionaires in Chicago, which in turn could leave lasting impacts on the Chicago tech scene as those technologists become startup investors and found new companies. Gladwin wasted little time before diving into his next venture, Ocient. Gladwin announced the new company in July but gave few details on its specifics, noting on his LinkedIn page that Ocient is “doing great things in information technology. One day, we’ll tell the world about it.” He said Ocient plans to “ultimately hire hundreds of local employees.”
Like Ocient, Catalytic is another quietly operating Chicago startup from a well-known entrepreneur. Sean Chou, the former CTO and employee No. 2 at Fieldglass, which sold to SAP for more than $1 billion in 2014, founded Catalytic in 2015 with the goal of helping companies automate business processes. Catalytic’s product Pushbot is a chatbot for businesses that can “take your operations to a new level” by helping “build, run, and improve your processes,” the company’s website says. While the public might not know everything about Catalytic, investors are bullish. The startup raised $11 million in September in a round led by NEA and included a slew of notable Chicago investors like Pritzker Group, Hyde Park Angels, Hyde Park Venture Partners, Sam Yagan’s fund Corazon, Lightbank, and Chicago Ventures.
4. Rise Science
Rise Science began as a research project by Northwestern University undergrads who were studying the effects of sleep and athletic performance. They found that sleep is the “most potent performance enhancing activity that exists,” more than any drug or exercise routine. They built technology that tailors sleep schedules to individual athletes, using things like a player’s genetic information and lifestyle to determine when a player should go to sleep, and how long he should sleep. After launching a pilot with the NU football team in 2013, Rise Science has brought its technology to the Chicago Bulls, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and other professional and college teams, charging teams between $35,000 and $150,000 who typically sign season long, multi-year agreements.
Hearken is on a mission to connect journalists with their audience in a more meaningful way that article comments and Twitter messages. Born out of WBEZ Chicago’s Curious City project and founded by reporter Jennifer Brandel, Hearken is a platform for newsrooms that allows readers to ask questions about their community and vote on questions they want to see answered. The startup landed a partnership last year with NPR as the public radio giant announced it was discontinuing website comments. NPR said it would bring Hearken to its Goats and Soda blog on global health and development “with the potential for expansion in the future.” Hearken is also in use in more than 60 newsrooms spanning 10 countries, including the BBC.
6. Remote Year
Launched two years ago, Remote Year set out to help people travel the world while still working at their job. The startup brings 75 people together at a time, who spend one month in a different city for 12 months–all while working remotely. Participants pay a $5,000 deposit and $2,000 per month to take part in the program, which covers travel expenses, accommodations, workspace and community activities. Over 500 people have taken part in Remote Year’s program, and the startup recently raised a $12 million Series A from investors like WeWork Labs co-founder Jesse Middleton and Airbnb co-founder and CTO Nate Blecharczyk.
Launched in 2014, FourKites is a logistics platform for trucking and transportation companies. The startup’s software provides companies with real-time load tracking to help improve supply chain efficiency, allowing shippers, brokers, and carriers to share real-time truck location and shipment status information all from their phone. FourKites raised a $13 million Series A in October, and it has provided real-time tracking to more than 2.5 million trucks, including for companies like Staples.
PartySlate, a member of the latest Techstars Chicago cohort, is like Pinterest for event professionals. The platform connects event planners with event professionals like caterers, venues and florists through a photo-heavy website that lets you find ideas that are posted exclusively by top event professionals. Users can save favorite photos to a “Slate” for their own party, and contact and collaborate with top event pros to help plan the event. The company was in the first cohort of 1871’s women entrepreneur program WiSTEM, and it raised $1 million in funding from Hyde Park Venture Partners in 2015.
Chicago startup Hologram has built a cellular platform for developing and deploying Internet of Things products. Hologram allows companies to connect their IoT devices to the internet, and with its cellular development kit, the Dash, developers can create a new connected device in minutes. The startup raised $4.8 million from Drive Capital in May, and it counts Kelloggs, Metromile and Placemeter among its initial customers.
Founded by UChicago Booth grad Resha Shroff, VirtualKEY creates automated, virtual key exchanges for vacation rentals like Airbnb. The startup works with smart locks and lets owners sends time-sensitive digital keys to anyone who needs to enter the building. Guests receive a digital key valid for the duration of their stay and cleaners receives a digital key valid for the day of check-out. The company was a finalist at UChicago’s 2015 New Venture Challenge, and it currently works with more than a dozen vacation rental sites.
Sticking with our theme of serial entrepreneurs, RepIQ is another Chicago startup from a seasoned founder. Launched this year by Shawn Carpenter, the founder of online financial terminal YCharts, RepIQ is a sales platform that uses data to help sales reps target the right prospects. RepIQ’s platform has information on more than 500,000 companies and helps sales reps identify prospects that are more likely to be customers, giving teams data to make the sales process more efficient. Carpenter launched the company with former Amazon executive Jonathan Suchland, and has raised an undisclosed seed round from Pritzker Group Venture Capital, Amicus Capital, Arba and Hyde Park Angels.
EatPakd, another member of the 2016 Techstars Chicago class, is a monthly school lunch delivery startup that sends healthy, pre-made meals to a family’s home. Meals are delivered weekly, and it gives parents a break from having to worry about making nutritious lunches every school day. EatPakd starts at $26 a week for four meals, and goes up to $72 a week for 12 meals. The startup recently expanded to Indianapolis, and it plans to open more distribution centers in Arizona and Atlanta as it begins to expand the business across the US. EatPakd won $10,000 at the 2016 Northwestern Venture Challenge.
Arity, a startup spun out of insurance giant Allstate, uses big data to determine how likely a person is to get into a car accident. Allstate, which officially unveiled the startup in November, said Arity works by collecting billions of miles of sensor data from smartphones and vehicles to help companies evaluate the risk of a driver. Arity, which is based in the Merchandise Mart, aims to provide software to insurance companies and others in the automobile space to give insight into a person’s driving behavior. For example, Arity’s algorithm will help insurers better price a coverage plan for individual customers. Allstate says more than 200 technologists, software developers and data scientists are working on Arity, and its product will be commercially available in 2017.
14. M1 Finance
Fintech startup M1 Finance, which launched out of stealth this year, wants to make investing as easy as using a savings account. It offers an automated investment platform that provides users with an easy and streamlined way to create a diversified and long-term portfolio. Built by Brian Barnes, a Stanford grad and Naperville native, the company raised $9 million in September.
Chicago has a strong but underrated gaming community, highlighted by classics like Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam. And the latest entry into Chicago’s gaming community is a startup that lets you play mobile combat games from your phone in under 60 seconds. Gunslinger Studios, launched by veteran video game developer Tim Harris, aims to create a library of competitive games you can play with just your thumb. The idea is to create an experience for avid gamers that you can play quickly and on the go, and its first product Exiles of Embermark is due out in 2017. Gunslinger recently raised $1.4 million from Chicago Ventures and other investors.
Founded by Anitha Rao and Marguerite Manteau-Rao, Neurocern is a dementia management system that aims to change how patients are assessed, treated and cared for. The startup creates personalized treatment plans for every patient by generating unique brain profiles and matching care solutions for people battling dementia. Currently based in Matter–Chicago’s hub for health tech companies–Neurocern is part of 1871’s WiSTEM cohort for women entrepreneurs.
TransparentCareer, a startup born out of UChicago, brings transparency to compensation and careers by giving job seekers access to reliable crowdsourced data on salaries and career trajectories. The startup won the 2016 New Venture Challenge, UChicago’s prestigious university startup competition that helped launch Grubhub and Braintree. The company’s first offering is TransparentMBA, which focuses on helping MBA students negotiate job offers. The startup raised an additional $850,000 in September from Hyde Park Angels, Pritzker Group, Origin Ventures, OCA Ventures, Hyde Park Venture Partners and other investors.
Images courtesy of the above companies