2017 has been quite a year for Chicago tech startups. In between the highs and lows, we’ve seen plenty of early-stage startups that are on the rise throughout the city.
To find Chicago Inno’s latest crop of startups to watch, we reached out to roughly a dozen Chicago VCs, CEOs, tech organization leaders and other startup folks, combined with our own reporting over the last year, to narrow down 18 early-stage startups people should keep an eye on in 2018.
Whether it’s a company with a serial tech founder who’s taking their next big swing, a fast-growing startup tackling a massive industry, or simply a business with an innovative solution to a complex problem, here are 18 Chicago startups to watch in 2018.
ExplORer Surgical is a surgery workflow tool that aims to create better communication in the operating room. The startup has built a “surgical playbook” that medical professionals can use in the operating room, allowing everyone from surgeons to assisting staff to be on the same page. The startup raised $3 million in August, including $500,000 from the UChicago Startup Investment Program.
Kin Insurance makes it easier to buy home insurance by using data from sources that can better assess risk, and it puts the entire process online—making insurance available in just a few clicks. Kin uses available data from satellite images, public records, building permits and MLS information to build its policy. Kin was founded by three seasoned Chicago entrepreneurs: Sean Harper, founder of FeeFighters, a payments startup that sold to Groupon in 2012; Lucas Ward, the previous CTO and co-founder at Rippleshot; and Sebastian Villarreal, who previously founded LendSquare, which was bought by Avant in 2015. The startup raised $4 million earlier this year.
BallotReady is a voter information startup that gives people information about candidates up and down their ballot. The startup’s goal is to help voters stay informed on the people they’re voting for, especially in local elections that often have a more direct impact on someone’s day-to-day life. Ballot Ready Founder Alex Niemczewski said in September that the startup has now served over 1 million voters, and plans to expand to all 50 states next year. Beyond just presenting information to voters, BallotReady is also selling to PACs, grassroots organizations and other political groups, as Niemczewski said BallotReady has more comprehensive data on local elections than the RNC and DNC.
Amper helps factories improve machine and labor productivity by monitoring machine metrics in real-time. The startup’s first product is a tool that gives factory managers real-time data on manufacturing operations. Amper lets businesses instantly react to problems on the conveyer belt, for example, by keeping a close watch on the machine data. The startup says its plug-and play software and hardware can be installed in just 30 minutes and requires no IT integration.
Truss is a commercial real estate platform that helps small companies use technology to find office space. Co-founded by Andrew Bokor, who previously founded cybersecurity company Trustwave and sold it for $770 million, Truss is a tech-enabled brokerage that allows companies to handle all of the aspects of the office search from one platform. Businesses can search for spaces, virtually tour the inside, negotiate price and sign lease documents all on Truss’ site. The startup uses machine learning and data science to help find properties that best fit a business’s needs. Truss raised a $7.7 million Series A in August.
Launched in 2014 by former Bonobos Director of Customer Relations Rob Royer, Interior Define helps customers shop for chairs and couches online. The startup has integrated 3D “furniture visualization software” into its website that allows shoppers to see every design change from every angle. The e-commerce startup specializes in affordable, customizable furniture, and everything the company makes is made-to-order, allowing the customer to build their ideal piece of furniture by choosing things like cushion firmness, length, material and color. The company has raised $12 million to date, including an $8 million Series A in May.
Regroup Therapy has created a simple and secure way for mental and behavioral health professionals to extend their digital reach. The startup provides integrated telepsychiatry services to existing healthcare entities, increasing their capacity to treat patients with behavioral health needs. The startup has raised over $8 million in funding, and its investors include Grubhub Co-Founder Mike Evans and Lou Malnati’s President Mark Agnew.
Genivity helps financial advisors and their clients predict medical costs, and plan their finances accordingly. The platform uses proprietary algorithms developed by the startup’s Co-Founder and Chief Data Scientist Emily Chang (formerly of 23andMe) to project out-of-pocket medical and assisted living costs based on hereditary factors, lifestyle habits and health risks. That information is shared with financial advisors to help ensure their clients are spending smartly on current healthcare costs while saving enough for long term care costs.
Launched by GiveForward Founder Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Pearachute is an online platform for parents and guardians to find local activities, like baseball or ballet, for their children. The startup appeared on Shark Tank in October and got a $500,000 offer from Shark Mark Cuban, though the deal ultimately fell through. Since launching in 2016, Pearachute has expanded to five markets and has raised around $2 million.
Born out of the University of Chicago, ClostraBio is creating some of the first drugs to prevent and treat food allergies. Based off research from Professor Cathryn Nagler, ClostraBio’s goal is to make drugs that boost the body’s natural intestinal barrier, stopping the reaction before it starts. It’s initially working to solve peanut and milk allergies, and the startup has raised more than $1 million to date.
Livongo Health CEO Glen Tullman, Argo Tea Founder Arsen Avakian, and former Walgreens CEOGreg Wasson are behind a new company called Cooler Screens. The company, which has a website but little other online information, is apparently putting digital screens on grocery store freezer doors. The company says in it’s website that it’s “transforming retail cooler surfaces into IoT-enabled screens that deliver new marketing opportunities and smart merchandising.” Tullman, Avakian and Wasson are all listed on the company’s website as its leadership team. The company has raised $700,000 in equity funding, according to a Form D it filed last month.
Triggr Health is helping people fight substance abuse addiction with its predictive analytics app that uses someone’s phone behavior to determine when a person is likely to relapse. Triggr knows a person’s normal habits, looks for behavior that might be out of the ordinary—like a change in location, sleep patterns, and even how much a person is texting or playing Words With Friends—and the startup can proactively reach out to provide support. Triggr says it can predict with over 92% accuracy three days before a person slips in their recovery. Earlier this year the startup raised $4.2 million in funding from Ohio-based Drive Capital.
Craft beer is increasingly becoming an amenity in tech offices, and local startup Crafty is making sure office beer kegs are stocked up around Chicago. The startup launched in 2015 with the goal of delivering kegs of local beer to offices for happy hours and other events. Crafty has since evolved into a “food, beverage, and events management platform,” delivering snacks, cold brew and other goodies to workspaces in Chicago. They’ve landed a handful of big-name customers in Chicago, including Google, Uber, Yelp, Salesforce, Trunk Club, WeWork and Coyote Logistics.
Noirefy is an online platform that connects minority candidates with top companies and job opportunities to help diversify teams. Launched in 2016, the startup aims to increase diversity through referrals and eliminate discrimination in the hiring process. Job seekers can search and apply for jobs directly on the Noirefy platform, and companies pay to post jobs and get their opportunities in front of a diverse workforce.
Fluent Forever, an app that helps you learn new languages, was founded by former opera singer Gabe Wyner, who needed to learn new languages for work. The method Fluent Forever uses is a tool known as a Spaced Repetition System, which uses digital flashcards to teach vocabulary and grammar. The system knows when you’re likely to forget a word or phrase, and then tests you at the moment right before you forget. In September, Fluent Forever became the most funded app in Kickstarter history, and ultimately raised over $580,000.
Packback, which started in 2014 as a digital textbook company, underwent a major pivot in 2017. It’s now using artificial intelligence to help quantify difficult-to-measure student metrics like critical thinking and curiosity. The startup’s product, Packback Questions, is an online discussion platform that uses A.I. to analyze a student’s written questions and essay answers. Unlike multiple choice questions, Packback Questions measures a student’s ability to apply and analyze course concepts. This results in a more accurate measurement of a student’s ability to think critically, rather than just recite details from a textbook. Mark Cuban, who invested in the company when it appeared on Shark Tank three years ago, called the startup’s technology “what it takes to win in education.”
Fixer is a handyman service that sends a professional to your door in under an hour. The startup launched this year and is founded by Mike Evans, who co-founded Grubhub in 2002 and helped take the company public in 2014. Fixer charges customers $80 an hour, but it doesn’t round to the hour. (“If a job takes six minutes, than we only charge for six minutes,” Evans said.) There’s no site visit fee or minimum to hit, and each “fixer” must go through four levels of screening processes. Areas of repair include electrical, plumbing, bathrooms, exteriors, furniture, and walls and interiors.
Digital Golf Technologies helps golf courses offer fully automated hole-in-one contests as a way to generate additional revenue and give golfers some added excitement on the course. DGT, which was co-founded in 2015 by former Redbox CEO Gregg Kaplan, works with over 150 golf courses across the U.S. that install the startup’s HD cameras and ball tracking technology at one of their par 3 holes. Players pay an additional $5 for a chance at $10,000, or $10 for a $20,000 payout. DGT’s CEO is Mike Jakob, a former executive at Sportvision, the Chicago sports tech company best known for inventing the yellow first down line you see during football broadcasts.