Chicago is on FIRE.
Not in the literal sense, of course. (This city is all too familiar with that.) What we’re talking about is the city’s innovation class—the entrepreneurs, startups, organizations, makers, doers, ass-kickers, and more—who are working to change Chicago for the ntotter.
Each year, Chicago Inno honors the people, companies and organizations that keep this ecosystem going with our end-of-year awards show, 50 on Fire. At 50 on Fire, we celebrate the individuals and organizations that are heating up Chicago across a variety of industries. And this isn’t your standard ranking or list, where the nominees are compiled simply by total revenue, or number of employees, or year-over-year growth. 50 on Fire is a reflection of Chicago’s ecosystem at large: a collection of people and organization in a number of different roles, stages, and categories that are, for lack of a better term, on fire.
We asked for your nominations, and below are the 150 finalists for this year’s event, broken up into eight categories: B2B, B2C, Edu, Civic, Lifestyle, Marketing/Advertising/Design/Development/, Health, and Supporters.
We received over 300 nominations, and whittling them down to 150 was nearly impossible. So congrats to the finalists, and be sure to get your tickets to the big event to see who we reveal as Chicago Inno’s 50 on Fire for 2017.
So, what’s next? If you’re a finalist, be on the lookout for an email from Chicago Inno! We’re hosting a 2 day photoshoot on October 2 and 3 and you’re invited. Also, be sure to join us at 50 on Fire on November 16 at The Builders BLDG where we’ll premier the 50 on Fire video and announce the winners, who will be selected by a panel of judges.
5thColumn: A cybersecurity company that helps companies improves the performance of existing security infrastructure.
AFN: A supply chain and logistics company that works with manufacturers, retailers, and motor carriers across North America to develop logistics solutions.
Alexine Mudawar, Enterprise Account Executive, Yello: Mudawar mentors and teaches new sales talent in Chicago through a program called Victory Lap and works to help young women find success in sales.
Alligatortek: Alligatortek’s product Produce Matchmaker is a web application built to connect Feeding America’s network of food banks to food donors, and it was a 2016 Chicago Innovation Award winner.
AMP Americas: AMP Americas helps heavy-duty trucking fleets transition to cost-effective, clean, American natural gas. The company recently raised $47 million in funding.
Brian Clark, CEO and co-founder of Ascent Technologies: Ascent is a regulatory technology company that has built a platform that uses machine learning and domain-specific artificial intelligence.
Buoy: Buoy provides employers with an easy way to offer their employees meaningful perks and experiences.
Cleverbridge: A commerce, billing and payment company that has grown to more than 300 employees.
Crowdfind: A digital Lost & Found software that’s used by music festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo to help people track down missing items.
DialogTech: A company that provides businesses with analytics and insights about their phone calls, DialogTech now has 150 employees.
Elements Global Services: A Global Employer of Record (EOR) service provider, Elements Global Services helps companies onboard, manage and pay employees worldwide in compliance with local laws.
Ensono: Ensono provides hybrid IT solutions that address clients’ IT operations and infrastructure needs.
Envoy: Envoy, previously named VisaNow, helps companies navigate work-based immigration, streamlining the process and making it easier for HR teams to find and hire foreign talent.
Farhan Ahmad, CEO and founder of Bento for Business: Bento, a startup that helps SMBs manage employee expenses, just opened a Chicago office and Ahman relocated from San Francisco to Chicago.
Flexera: Flexera makes buying and selling software more transparent, secure and effective. It counts Fortune 500 companies like Adobe, Best Buy and Ford among its clients.
G2 Crowd: Business software review startup G2 Crowd has collected more than 250,000 reviews of business software and services since 2012, and this year raised $30 million in funding led by Accel.
GrowthPlay: GrowthPlay uses consulting, training and technology solutions to help companies increase revenue and drive profitable growth.
HighGround: An employee engagement platform that helps organizations build engaged and high-performing teams through continuous feedback, ongoing employee development and real-time recognition.
InContext Solutions: InContext Solutions helps brands and retailers leverage virtual reality in bringing new and promising in-store concepts to life. It counts Walgreens, Kellogg’s and Anheuser-Busch among its clients.
Jeff Shea, CEO of Payline Data: Payline Data is a payments company that powers payment experiences for buyers and sellers, and it has done $2 billion in overall processing volume.
Jellyvision: Jellyvision, maker of employee benefits communication platform ALEX, helps 91 of the Fortune 500 companies with understanding complicated benefits documents like healthcare and 401k.
Jeremy Schultz, EVP of Strategy at SAVO: Schultz is a sales strategist at SAVO, a Chicago-based sales enablement platform.
Jud Bergman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Envestnet: Since founding Evvestnet in 1999, Bergman has grown the company into the premier technology and services platform for independent broker dealers and registered investment advisers.
Justyn Howard, CEO and founder of Sprout Social: Howard founded social media management tool Sprout Social in 2010. The company has increased its revenue by more than 270 percent over the past three years, and its customer base includes more than 19,000 brands worldwide.
KDM Engineering: KDM, a minority and woman-owned electrical engineering firm, serves utilities while maintaining a non-profit supporting women and minorities in STEM.
ktMINE: ktMINE is revolutionizing how to find and look at intellectual property with search and reporting capabilities, analytics, and alerts.
Level Office: Chicago-based co-working company Level Office has expanded to 17 locations in 13 cities. This year it crossed 1 million square feet of space, and entered the Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Denver, and Nashville markets.
Machinio: A search engine for used machinery and heavy equipment that connects buyers and sellers.
Nick Kokonas, CEO and co-founder of Tock: Founder of restaurant reservation startup Tock, Kokonas is also the owner of Chicago restaurants Alinea, Next, and the Aviary.
OfficeLuv: OfficeLuv creates happier and more productive workplaces by centralizing office services through one solution. It combine on-site personnel with technology to help office management teams off load tasks, restock and order supplies and groceries, manage vendors, gather employee insights, and analyze office spend.
Parker Holcomb, CEO and co-founder of Fraight AI: Fraight.ai is building an artificial intelligence powered freight broker that coordinates FTL shipments at next-generation speeds.
Paro: Paro matches businesses with highly vetted financial analysts, CFOs, CPAs, and bookkeepers who have the domain expertise to tackle company-specific problems.
Review Trackers: An online review management solution for enterprises to measure customer experience.
Rochelle Gorey, Co-Founder & CEO of SpringFour: SpringFour provides consumers with referrals to local programs and appropriate financial products that help them improve cash flow and address the root causes of financial challenges.
Sean Naismith, Head of Analytics Services at Enova Decisions: Enova Decisions provides analytics services help companies make data-driven decisions instantly. Naismith is also the great grandson of basketball founder Dr. James Naismith.
Semantify: Semantify is a business intelligence tool that leverages AI and machine learning to give enterprise users the ability to conduct rapid discovery of information, and perform advanced analytics, using a simple interface.
seoClarity: A software company that helps brands like Grainger, Expedia and Overstock rank highly in Google search results.
Shipbob: A Chicago-based logistics startup that recently raised $17.5 million. It has experienced over 300% YOY revenue growth, added 2 new fulfillment centers, and tripled its headcount.
Snapsheet: Snapsheet makes virtual claims technology used by auto insurance carriers to optimize claims processes. It raised $32 million in funding in the last year.
Sprout Social: Sprout Social is a social media management company. In the past year, Sprout has introduced more than 50 new and enhanced product features, including a bot builder for Facebook and Twitter.
Supernova Companies: A technology platform for wealth management lending.
Tiz: Tiz connects bars and restaurants with alcohol distributors, streamlining the process of keeping the bar stocked. They work with five Midwest distributors and are streamlining operations for 115 establishments.
TMC: TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson, manages some of the world’s largest supply chains by providing consulting and advanced technology that help companies move products from across the world to local store shelves and front doors.
Tracey Wiedmeyer, Chief Technology Officer at InContext Solutions: Wiedmeyer has pioneered the use of virtual reality solutions for retail business, and this year led the charge in launching InContext’s virtual reality platform ShopperMX into VR headsets.
Truss: A commercial real estate tech startup that helps small businesses find office space with machine learning and artificial intelligence.
YCharts: A financial data provider that enables smarter investing, YCharts is used by TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab and Fidelity.
Arjun Dutt, VP – Product Strategy & Marketing at Semantify: Semantify is a business intelligence tool that leverages AI and machine learning. Dutt runs its product strategy and marketing, and previously was a senior member of the Fieldglass leadership for nine years.
Megan McCann, founder and CEO of McCann Partners: McCann Partners is an IT recruitment firm that supports some of Chicagoland’s top organizations with the tech talent they need to compete.
Precognitive: Precognitive is a fraud prevention technology that combines device intelligence, advanced behavioral analytics, and a real-time decision engine to prevent fraud.
Redmond Construction Corp: RCC is a construction company that has worked on office space of several notable tech companies, including G2 Crowd, Steelbrick, Pinterest, Codeverse, and The Onion.
Skill Scout: Skill Scout transforms how companies attract and identify talent, turning the transactional nature of online job boards and applicant tracking systems into a relationship and brand building capability through video job postings, social recruiting, and hands-on, skill-based interviews.
SMS Assist: SMS Assist is revolutionizing the multisite property management market using its SMS proprietary technology platform. The company recently raised a $150 million Series D and is valued at more than $1 billion.
Avant: Online lending startup Avant provides credit alternatives to middle income consumers in the US & UK. Avant is among Chicago’s “unicorn” startups valued at $1 billion or more.
BrightLeaf Homes: BrightLeaf builds high performance homes of the future that are attainable for more people than multi million dollar super flashy “eco” homes, calling themselves the “Tesla Model 3 of home building.”
DesignerShare: DesignerShare is a peer-to-peer marketplace for women to rent their designer clothing and accessories to one another.
Deskpass: Deskpass, a subscription co-working service that lets you work at different office spaces across a city, is in five cities and provides its members access to 120+ shared workspaces.
Grubhub: Grubhub recently tightened its hold on the food delivery industry by purchasing Eat24 from Yelp for $287 million.
Guaranteed Rate: Online mortgage lending company Guaranteed Rate increased revenue by nearly 60 percent last year, growing from $483.4 million in 2015 to $777.7 million in 2016. The company also increased its workforce to 3,231 at the end of 2016.
Guard Llama: Guard Llama offers an emergency personal security device that provides a one-button connection to law enforcement. The company appeared on Shark Tank earlier this year.
Jasmine Shells, CEO and founder of Five to Nine: Five to Nine host events for young millennial professionals who are looking to make new friends in Chicago.
Jiobit: A Chicago hardware startup that makes wearable tracking devices for kids and pets.
M1 Finance: M1 Finance is an online brokerage that aims to be user-friendly and simple to use. It has nearly 20,000 users since launching one year ago.
Swap Motors: Swap wants to disrupt the used car industry by helping to sell your car online. Swap Motors will send a mechanic out to assess the car and give it a fair quote. List your car online. And then comes to pick up the car and deliver your check once it’s been sold.
Tovala: Tovala has created a countertop, internet-connected steam oven with a companion meal delivery service.
Welltended: Welltended is an online plant delivery service that helps you fill your home with plants that fit your lifestyle and environment.
Drew Shields, CTO at Trading Technologies: In the past three years, Shields has overseen new product development to spur growth at Trading Technologies, starting with a brand new hybrid-cloud platform that was the first of its kind in the industry, called the “TT platform.”
Rentalutions: Rentalutions, a software platform for DIY landlords, has grown to serve nearly 50,000 landlord users in more than 14,000 zip codes since 2013.
Shiftgig: Shiftgig’s app connects businesses with reliable, high-quality workers on demand for short-term work opportunities. The company has raised a total of $56 million in funding to date.
Swap.com: Swap.com is an online consignment shop, and it raised $20 million dollars in funding last year.
Raise: Raise is a gift card marketplace that lets users buy and sell gift cards. The company has raised more than $80 million from NEA, Accel and others.
Albert: The online platform is bridging the gap between learning and interactive products to help students master numerous subjects and standardized tests.
BLUE1647: The entrepreneurship and tech hub is fostering and developing programs through classes, workshops, events and technology to growing community success.
Brian Bar, Founder & CEO of Victory Lap: In 2016, Brian founded Victory Lap and has since continued to grow the talent company by focusing and teaching sales practices in hiring, training and developing.
Carter Cast, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management: Carter has received the Impact Award from his students each year from 2012-2017 and is continuously named one of the highest ranked faculty members in the school.
Concern Worldwide: By working hand in hand with communities in poverty, Concern Worldwide is training women to spot early signs of child malnutrition and teaching pre and postnatal practices to mothers.
Great Hearts Initiative: Great Hearts Initiative is an online community that is connecting causes people are passionate about with similar nonprofit organizations.
Joshua Prudowsky, Director of Special Projects at Mikva Challenge: Leading the Mikva Challenge, Josh is growing civic and political participation among the younger generation.
Katy Lynch, Co-Founder & CMO of Codeverse: In early 2017, Katy co-founded Codeverse, interactive coding school and tech platform focused towards kids.
Livio Bolzon, Co-Founder of Codemoji.com: The online coding platform focused on coding is teaching kids to code through familiar emojis.
Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The center has grown and continued to offer numerous programs, such as the New Venture Challenge and UChicago Startup Investment Program.
Rendel Solomon, Founder of One Stock One Future: Rendel Solomon started One Stock One Future in 2016 and in little less than a year has begun to turn hundreds of young students into shareholders by teaching basic financial literacy.
SciMath Education: In less than 5-years the company has worked with over 150 students in more than 20 city schools improving scores across math, science and college testing.
Tony Sheffler, Founder at Classform: Classform is helping K-12 schooling integrate and adopt technology in the classroom.
TransparentCareer: Since winning the New Venture Challenge in 2016, TransparentCareer is helping individuals manage job options, benchmark their salaries and negotiate offers to better plan their careers.
Valerie Groth, Founder of Ryan Banks Academy: Ryan Banks Academy is an independent and coeducational college-preparatory, residential, tuition-free middle and high school that will prepare motivated students from Chicago neighborhoods to graduate from college, enter into meaningful careers, and be the catalyst to bring positive change into their communities.
Kelley O. Cambry, Co-Founder & CEO of Paige & Paxton: Paige & Paxton provides elementary STEM curriculum, content, events and a supportive community to schools, youth organizations, business leaders, and parents.
BallotReady: BallotReady allows users to research and understand every candidate on their local ballot before heading to the voting booth.
Brenna Berman, Executive Director of City Digital at UI LABS: Brenna took the helm of City Digital in May of this year after serving as CIO for the City of Chicago. She has helped increase civic engagement in technology in Chicago by forging partnerships with entities like Smart Chicago Collaborative.
CityBase: CityBase is transforming the way government agencies communicate with residents and with each other, offering a suite of tech solutions that range from payment kiosks to intuitive websites to other APIs.
Jason William Johnson, Director of Entrepreneurship at the Chicago Urban League: Williams, the co-founder of networking app Konveau, became Director of the Chicago Urban League Entrepreneurship Center in March 2017. Under his leadership, the Center has expanded its number of business coaches, and developed strategic partnerships with organizations such as The PrivateBank and World Business Chicago.
Jessyca Dudley, Project Officer at The Joyce Foundation: Jessyca is the driving force behind funding and evidence based programs for The Joyce Foundation’s Gun Violence Prevention Program.
Jose Muñoz, VP at Resurrection Project: Jose helped launched the #IncreaseThePeace program which aims to empower young people in numerous neighborhoods to promote peace in their communities.
ParkerDewey: ParkerDewey is helping recent college graduates and students to fill your business and staffing needs.
Provide: Provide is helping entrepreneurs in childcare businesses ease their administrative work and government filings.
Raul Rosas, Co-Founder and CEO at Fluxee & President of Sprouting Leaders: Between leading and growing a virtual reality tool for real estate, Raul is also helping expand Sprouting Leaders, a nonprofit dedicated to personal and academic growth in Chicago’s youth.
re:work training: re:work is helping jumpstart careers by teaching individuals sales and then connecting them with employers.
Andrew Means, Head of beyond.uptake: Connecting first-generation college students, beyond.uptake is the philianthropic and civic sector of Uptake.
Big Game Air: A first-of-its-kind luxury game day travel company redefining how consumers enjoy sports experiences. Merging private aviation with the convenience of same-day, round-trip travel, Big Game Air offers customers a seamless experience of traveling to a sporting event on a private jet with the ability to return home the same day.
Lenny Lebovich, CEO of PRE Brands: The fast growing fresh beef brand had significant retail expansion in 2017 including multiple independent grocers across the Midwest, Jet.com, Peapod.com and full chain expansion at Meijer & Mariano’s.
Maja Perez, Volunteer Shop Manager, Working Bikes: Maja launched and now hosts WTF! Night at Working Bikes, a volunteer bike mechanic session exclusively for Women, Transgendered, and Gender Non-Conforming volunteers. Over the last two years, WTF! Night has become an integral part of Working Bikes’ volunteer mission.
Modobag: Modobag has created a motorized suitcase that you can ride through the airport. The smart and connected carry-on gets you to your destination up to three times faster than walking.
One Stop Equine Shop: An online store with an extensive catalogue aiming to provide consumers with horse tach and riding apparel.
Stu Grubbs, CEO of Lightstream: An online platform empowering people with all levels of experience the capability and ease to stream.
Curiosity.com: Curiosity.com is dedicated to improving lives by maintaining their dedication to learning into adulthood. They also recently launched an app on Amazon’s Alexa.
For True Foodies Only, Inc: A mobile network for everything from promoting great restaurants, chefs, cooking, food and wine.
Hydro Grow LLC: Hydro Grow is helping customers grow producer in the comfort of their own homes to eliminate the grocery store.
Kevin Ludden, Director of Creative at Figo: An insurance company dedicated to helping pets and their owners stay connected and covered.
Oars and Alps: A female founded company focusing on a men’s skincare line without the hassle or toxins.
Wise Apple: A food delivery service for kid lunches. The company recently raised $3.6 million in 2016.
PartySlate: An online events platform helping consumers connect and plan their next event.
Allard Laban, Chief Creative Officer at Jellyvision & VP Creative at Jackbox Games: As an artist and a creative leader at two leading Chicago companies, Laban was recently named to Adweek’s 2017 Creative 100.
Andrew Parnell, CEO of Earlybird Software: Led Earlybird to over 200% growth over the last 3 years while retaining over 90% of team over that span in the tumultuous software development landscape.
Avionos: A digital services and solutions firm that delivers innovative connected customer experiences. After closing out their second year of operation, the Avionos team saw exponential growth and is on track to double the team by the end of 2017.
Burak Pirgun, Partner at Clarity Partners, LLC: Clarity Partners helps their clients align business processes, people, and information systems with their enterprise strategy.
Caleb Gardner, Co-Founder of 18 Coffees: Founding a digital innovation firm that works with mission-driven companies to solve big problems.
ClearEdge Marketing: A full-stacked marketing team helping grow numerous Chicago companies. In the past several years it has partnered with powerhouses such as Outcome Health, Cleversafe, ShopperTrak, Fieldglass and most recently, SpotHero.
Clique Studios: Clique Studios is a design and technology company. They work with ambitious teams to create industry-leading digital experiences for companies like Second City, Signal, Northwestern Law and the Pritzker Group.
Helen Levinson, Founder & CEO of Indigo Interactive: A tech firm that provides software products to quality assurance organizations by capturing, reporting and analyzing compliance and safety data.
Ink Factory: Ink Factory utilizes visual note-taking to transform how companies train employees, how conference planners engage attendees and how brands design interactive tradeshow exhibits.
Katie Lord, Founder of Katie Lord Inc: Katie Lord has helped companies achieve over $50,000,000 in venture capital funding through marketing and design. Recent projects she’s worked on include the Midwest Women in Tech Conference, Chicago Podcast Festival, Syndio, EventUP and University of Chicago SSA.
NEXT/NOW: NEXT/NOW leads the way in emerging next generation technology and solutions for brands.
Popular Pays: A tech powered marketplace connecting content creators with brands to produce custom content.
Reva Minkoff, Founder of Digital4Startups Inc: By significantly growing her client base and was named Best SEO Provider Midwest by TMT News.
Rise Interactive: Rise’s positive environment perpetuates professional progression and digital marketing innovation for employees and clients alike.
Strike Social: Strike Social was named the No. 1 fastest-growing private company both in Chicago and Illinois by Inc. Magazine this year.
The Escape Pod: The Escape Pod is anindependent, full-service advertising agency founded in 2006 by ad industry veterans Norm Bilow and Vinny Warren, creator of the legendary Budweiser “Whassup!” campaign.
1871: 1871 is the home of nearly 500 early-stage, high-growth digital startups and more than 1,500 members supported by an entire ecosystem focused on accelerating their growth and creating jobs in the Chicagoland area.
Becca Keaty, chef development officer at Bunker Labs: As a top executive at Bunker Labs, Keaty helps veterans transition to entrepreneurship and startups after serving.
Colin Keeley, founder of the Tech in Chicago Podcast: Tech In Chicago is a podcast highlighting many of the best startups and founders in Chicago.
Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871: Under Tullman’s leadership, 1871 has graduated more than 200 companies, which have created more than 7,000 jobs in the Chicagoland area and attracted/raised more than $200 million in new investment capital. Tullman is stepping down from his CEO role at the end of the year.
Hyde Park Angels: Hyde Park Angels is one of the most active investment firms in the Chicago startup ecosystem. Last year, HPA invested in 27 deals alone.
Impact Engine: Impact Engine is a venture fund that invests financial and human capital in early-stage, for-profit technology businesses improving education, health, economic empowerment and resource efficiency.
Jonathan, Ellis, Managing Director of Sandalphon Capital: Ellis launched Sandalphon Capital within the last year and has since made 17 investments, mostly in Chicago. His focus is on financial and real estate technology companies.
Maria Christopoulos Katris, CEO and founder of Built In: Katris heads up Built In, a six-city online network and recruitment tool for tech companies and startups.
Pete Wilkins, managing director at Hyde Park Angels: Under Wilkin’s leadership, HPA has become the most active investor in Chicago as named by PitchBook. He has built a network of investors who have started, scaled, and sold companies who are using their expertise to grow companies now.
Propllr: Propllr has become a go-to PR firm for Chicago’s most promising startups, including Jellyvision, Envoy Global, M1 Finance, InContext Solutions and Rentalutions.
Samara Hernandez, senior associate at MATH Ventures: Well known in the Chicago tech scene, Hernandez often speaks at events, and has frequently spoken up for female founders and sexism in VC/tech.
Scott Kitun, CEO of Technori: A successful media entrepreneur. Kitun turned a popular tech podcast into a media company that now includes several prominent media brands including Technori – which has built a community around connecting entrepreneurs from around the world by showcasing founders both in-studio, on Chicago’s top tech show on WGN Radio, and on-stage at nearly 100 national events, attended by thousands of tech fanatics.
Darvece Monson, Founder of More Than Your Kidneys: Starting in 2015, Darvece founded More Than Your Kidneys to provide a community of hope, information and outreach.
ExplORer Surgical: An online playbook for the operating room.
Kaizen Health: The logistics company is helping both patients and providers better plan and coordinator appointments and rides.
Kelli Enright, Director of Partnerships at MATTER: MATTER is Chicago based health and technology hub innovating to solve diverse healthcare problems.
Kyoko Crawford, CEO of SkinIO: With the help of an app, SkinIO is working to make cancer screenings available to all.
Luna Lights: Luna Lights is an automated lighting system that is utilizing cloud-based data analytics to reduce the risk of falling for older adults.
ResQ Pharma: ResQ Pharma is tailoring an existing product to deliver life-saving “lipid rescue therapy” with a dedicated, practical ethos.
Carlo Navarro, Executive Director at Cancer Research Foundation: The Cancer Research Foundation is a group of “cancer research venture capitalists” who provide seed funding to scientists and researchers who show promising work in treating cancer.
Go Clean Label: The free online platform is guiding consumers and food professionals with what it means to be “clean label.”
Outcome Health: A technology company that is putting touchscreen tablets inside doctor offices to interact with patients at the point of care. They recently raised $500 million and are valued at more than $5 billion.
RXBAR: A Chicago based protein bar company that is upfront and honest with consumers about their real ingredients. RXBAR is now the third best-selling nutrition bar on Amazon and has its own Amazon Dash button.
Tempus: Started by Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky, Tempus uses machine learning and genomic sequencing to better understand a patient’s tumor, and tailors a treatment plan best suited to combat it.
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