Be cool, Chicago.

Over the past month, Chicago Inno has been accepting nominations for its third annual Coolest Companies Competition, a friendly challenge to find, spotlight, and celebrate the local startups and tech companies with the best culture.

We asked you to tell us all about your business, its perks, and why your company’s the coolest. And though you gave us a thousand different reasons – including free lunches, charitable initiatives, team outings, group trips, yoga, and much, much more – it was clear that, at the end of the day, if you love going to work everyday, then that’s really cool.

Below we’ve posted a list of the Coolest Companies nominations, as well as an excerpt from every submission to give you an idea of how Chicago businesses are keeping their employees happy.

To mix things up, this year we will be announcing 5 of our winners “Superlative Style.” The Inno team will determine what superlatives best fit the winners. The final 5 winners will be chosen by readers’ choice voting – and all will be crowned live at the event. Categories will include…

  • Best Perks – Most original and/or impressive perks. (Why are your perks the best?)
  • Best Office – Best, most unique/creative space. (Why’s your office so cool?)
  • Most Re-Tweetable – Best social media presence. (Why does your biz crush Facebook/Twitter?)
  • Most Giving – Best and most charitable initiatives. (How are you giving back?)
  • Wellness-est – Best and most wellness initiatives and programs. (How’s biz helping you stay healthy?

As a reminder, Chicago Fest is our annual summer celebration of the city’s innovators, featuring live music, lawn games, food trucks, and much more. It’s taking place at Galleria Marchetti on 8/16; grab your tickets here.

5thColumn offers a fun and relaxed work environment in an office equipped with lots of toys, shared work spaces, and no dress code. We offer company outings, & weekly events to keep employees happy and engaged.

I’m proud to be a part of an organization that is so focused on empowering and advancing women, and I believe this commitment sets AFN apart as one of Chicago’s “Coolest Companies!”

We host company-wide champagne toasts/mimosas/lunches for large projects closed, and we boast a Stella Artois beer on tap for responsible employee enjoyment. We hold an annual family holiday party and quarterly team events.

Arity, a company founded by Allstate redefined what it takes to be an edgy, fun, energetic and lively startup with innovative perks while maintaining the legacy reputation.

Avant is changing the banking game with it’s innovative “Powered By Avant” technology.

Working for this company is more than a job. It is a cause I am proud to stand for and be a part of the team. Working for bamm is rewarding and there is avocado toast  served at team meetings; so what’s not to like about bamm?!

We have created a vibrant destination in the heart of our community providing fresh produce, streetwear, vintage products, and much more through community-based enterprises. 

Brad’s Deals
Is it enough that we work from home on Fridays, eat catered lunches on Wednesdays, get reimbursed for race fees, offer 100% pay for 12 weeks of maternity leave, as well as the opportunity to run away to the Virgin Islands office when winters get rough? Of course not. That’s why we launched our Women’s Tech Accelerator last year, helping women tech entrepreneurs launch their businesses by sharing our space and offering personalized mentorship.

Located in the Merchandise Mart, Braintree believes that the best talent deserves the best benefits, which include the perks of a fantastic workplace. The more than 100,000 square foot office, which is home to more than 500 Braintree employees, provides a collaborative and open work environment, and includes amenities including a game room, unique meeting spaces, library and atrium.

Buildout is the coolest because the founders desperately and intensely care about all of their 35 employees. Aside from all the office perks (free lunch, snacks, cold brew and kombucha keg, game rooms, free swag, and standing desks) they really want us to believe in and celebrate our accomplishments.

We create workplaces that don’t suck! We provide companies a one stop shop way to easily offer their employees an array of perks; from in office yoga to fresh fruit delivery to improv classes, we have awesome providers for each.

CannonDesign – especially in the Chicago office – places an emphasis on fostering entrepreneurial spirit, celebrating employee growth and achievements, and encouraging community leadership. Weekly office updates bring staff together to congratulate teams on project wins, offer recognition to strong employee/team work and to share our employees’ personal achievements, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

Capsim Management Simulations
The company strongly believes in work-life balance and getting the necessary time off to re-energize our brains. Capsim not only offers a generous and flexible PTO policy, but everyone knows that if they need to take a quick break they can always stop what they’re doing and just socialize with a colleague.
But I think one of the things that sets apart is that teamwork is the best here. People care about their peers, their customers, their consumers and only want all of those people to succeed!

Centro is striving to be the first company to provide an integrated DSP with all other digital media buying methods in one platform. This is an exciting endeavor at the company level, but also at the individual level. It is extremely cool to be part of a team trying to do something that has never been done before.

Clarity Partners LLC
I love working for Clarity Partners because its a true partnership in relation to employee growth and success at work and in life. Great benefits, healthy meal program, an intern program that starts in High School and develops people through college, the Clarity Cares program which is employee driven and supports several non profits.

Clean Energy Trust
With just 8 full time people on board, we are a close-knit group of policy, technology, and investment experts who feel lucky every day to be working on the cutting edge of clean energy.

cleverbridge provides unlimited opportunities to learn new things, advance in your career and make things happen professionally, personally and socially – including promoting 45% of its employees from within.

Not only is CloudCraze cool because of its technology, but it fosters an awesome culture! Between our monthly OurHours (including Music Mondays at Millennium Park, trivia and fun outings like the Tom Petty concert) and our philanthropic activities (serving dinner at the Ronald McDonald House and Sarah’s Circle) to Friday Kickbacks in the Kitchen (with our kegerator) and our summer kickball season (we’re reigning champs!), there’s never a dull moment at CloudCraze.

No one expects a Fortune 500 ad tech company to be this cool. Dress is casual, and so is the attitude: within our bright, color-coded offices, you’ll find SVPs chitchatting with junior associates, our president brewing up the coffee (fresh-roasted local beans, of course), lively foosball games and even livelier whiteboarding sessions.

We make sad people happy by getting them back their found stuff and helping them with lost stuff…….Perks include unsolicited hugs and social media love from happy patrons, a work schedule that sees our team running the show at nearly every large-scale music festival of note.

Our office space is designed to be an open, welcoming, collaborative space. All (or most – we’ve learned our lesson) surfaces are write-erase. Have an idea? Sketch it on the conference room glass partition (or table) and bring back your fellow co-workers to discuss!

Eat Pakd
Making life easier for busy moms!

Elevate K-12
You couldn’t work here if you didn’t care about education. That mission permeates what we do and even though sometimes stuff like fundraising or sales can get away from the mission of an edtech company, it doesn’t for us–it’s about students of all ages (K-12 that is) reaching their potential through human-to-human interactions.

Beyond our perks, we foster a values-based, innovative culture where all employees can come as they are, voice their ideas, make an impactful  contribution and drive real results, regardless of where they sit in the organization. Our variety of learning, training and idea-sharing programs, coupled with challenging work, ensure team members get the fuel they need to grow their careers.

Flexera Software
Flexera has an entrepreneurial and diverse work culture – helping employees thrive and succeed. Flexera’s culture is built upon Candor, Passion, Professionalism & Ethics, Keeping Score, Celebrating Success and Giving Back.

Not only is FourKites reinventing supply chain visibility, but also reinventing what it means to be a cool company. FourKites’ new office comes fully equipped with a rooftop bar and patio for monthly happy hours, an on premise gym, cold-brew coffee on tap, a Stella Beer machine and more!

G2 Crowd
Aside from the obvious perks of working at G2 Crowd (catered lunch four days a week, all the La Croix you can drink, cold brew + nitro cold brew on tap, treadmill desk, and more), the culture in our office is second to none. Transparency is at our core and is reflected by the open communication between employees and managers.

This company is cool for the way it’s run and its product. The team of two 20-year olds from UChicago work full-time internships from 9-5 during the day but work from 8AM-9AM before work and 5PM-9PM after work every day to run the business.

GoHealth has been thriving in Chicago for over 15 years, and now armed with an updated mission and values, we’re showing no signs of slowing down. After renovating our headquarters late last year, the GoHealth offices are full of innovative technology (hello, standing desks and iPad-run conference rooms), collaborative workspaces, and plenty of fresh fruit and cold brew. And based on employee feedback, we offer wellness-focused perks, like weekly Pilates classes, Friday haircuts and manicures, and subsidized gym memberships. GoHealth will continue to always put our employees first. 

Grid Connect
Grid Connect offers amazing perks and benefits to their employees such as a matching 401K, ping pong every day, a bags tournament every summer, bonuses, paid healthcare for individuals and their families, weekly massages, an annual holiday party, an annual trip to see the Kane County Cougars, complete with a skybox and free food and booze.

Our Chicago office space was also just renovated in the last year and is full of places that inspire creativity and collaboration; the result is an authentically fun, productive work space. And like you’d expect from Grubhub, a food-obsessed company, there’s tons of free food around to enjoy, along with frequent company-wide happy hours.

There’s plenty of fun to be had as well; incentive trips to tropical locations, volunteer opportunities, intense Whirlyball competitions, beach volleyball leagues, March Madness parties, Blackhawks and Cubs games, and the unique quality of truly having a voice at a company.

Impact Engine
At our quarterly retreats, we always take a field trip decided by one team member based on that person’s “hidden talent”. We’ve been geocaching and bowling, gone on brewery tours and sustainable food tours, and played board games and learned how to knit in bars across Chicago.

We have an army of 3D printers at the office, for R&D, we can 3D print and make anything we want. It is pretty cool to have a bunch of machine that can make your digital ideas into reality in a matter of hours.

Everyone makes sure to be in town for Mustache Day, though, since no one would dream of missing our made-up holiday where everyone grows (or glues on) wild mustaches and then eats their height in meat at Fogo de Chao. Business stops for Mustache Day, but during the rest of the year, we’re laser-focused on building cutting-edge technology that transforms confusing jargon into helpful advice for our end users.

We get an individual training budget – thousands of dollars a year to spend on learning and development actitivites we choose. We have detailed career maps, coaching sessions and leadership opportunities so we’ll know exactly how we’re going to advance in a given year.

Our weekly recurring wellness program includes: weekly meditation sessions, 2x in Office Yoga classes per week, In office massage once a month, in office flu shot and biometric screenings 2x a year, Cross-fit class, running club, monthly nutrition sessions, mental health sessions, company culture outings, weekly catered lunch, daily health snack bar and $1,000 in a digital Lifestyle spending account for personal health and wellness so employees can purchase anything to relieve stress and promote wellness from dog walkers to running shoes to personal trainers or gym/fitness classes.

Level Office
Our mission is to support the small business community. Bill Bennett, our founder, sends Level’s employees on an annual team trip to a destination outside of the country to experience a new culture to gain a different perspective and bring innovative ideas to the table upon our return. 

Lost Arts
Lost Arts aims to empower ambitious creatives in the city of Chicago. We’re inherently cross-disciplinary in the creatives we attract (architects, entrepreneurs, engineers, product designers, graphic designers, artists and more), and develop programming that stretches their limits and supports their goals.

M1 Finance
Each quarter, we face off with a team competition, at outings that involve whirlyball, bowling or other fun activities. After our monthly Demo Days, we imbibe the homemade lager that our lead software architect and resident brewmaster helped us brew — which we call “M1 Liquid Assets.”

I love the easy going culture and how we are all encouraged to take ownership of our work. What’s cooler than FREEDOM?

Maestro Health
On any given day you’ll see “Maestronites” riding our in-house scooter throughout the office (walking around is so 2000) and our CEO, Rob Butler, serves all staff cheese on a platter on Fridays.

We get to work in a 63,000 square foot facility that houses millions of dollars worth of manufacturing equipment for rapid prototyping– 3D printers, laser cutters, cnc machines, vacuum formers, etc. as well as co-working space so we can learn from our creative and innovative community.

Modern Teacher
Modern Teacher is redesigning K-12 classrooms across the country similar to its own revolutionary workplace. Our unique culture – fueled by focused objectives, dedication to common goals, and lots of free coffee – inspires our team to create a product we’re proud of without the hindrances of a traditional working environment.

It’s not everyday you get to change the way the world does something. But that’s what Modabag’s diverse, multicultural, multi-generational, bicoastal team is out to do – as in changing the way the world travels. So far, we are having a helluva lot of fun doing it – mostly because our high-energy founder has fostered a culture of no egos, no sandboxes, no personal agendas and no mountain too tall to scale.

Networked Insights
We are given the autonomy and freedom to get our work done where we want, when we want.  That level of trust from my company motivates myself and others here to do our best work possible.

We’re an award winning digital experiential company that builds and plays with emerging tech all day. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Gesture Tracking, Holograms, and Projection mapping are some of our favorite tools.

NuCurrent is building a team of experienced alumni of Motorola, Blackberry, Intel, Analog Devices and Freescale Semiconductor that is making wireless power possible for mass adoption by consumers.

Oars + Alps
Having previously worked in a serious corporate environment, the fun, lighthearted culture of Oars + Alps makes coming to work every day a delight! 

At ParqEx we have relocated to a new office in River North which puts us in the hub of innovation and technology. A fun, spirited work culture creates inspiration for personal and professional growth. This is all complimented by our offsite events volunteering in the community, along with monthly team bonding activities. We believe that people of every urban community can help solve the parking crunch by sharing what they already have. ParqEx strives to reduce the carbon footprint one spot at a time. We must create a smarter city by utilizing the assets that we have more efficiently.

Payline Data
Beyond business, we are built on a foundation of providing opportunities for employees and customers to achieve their greatest potential and giving to those in need.

This year alone we have participated in a cooking class at the Chopping Block, attended the Snowball Gala, traveled to our CEO’s home to try her delicious cooking, a variety of happy hours and much more.

project44 builds its culture off of employee suggestions, so everyone gets a hand in making it as cool as they want it to be.

Red Frog Events
At Red Frog Events, we pride ourselves on amazing benefits, a one-of-a-kind office and a company culture unlike any other. Full-time employees can enjoy unlimited vacation days and a paid four-week sabbatical every five years!
Not many people can say that they keep a lime green bass guitar next to their desk for impromptu mid-afternoon jam sessions or that they’ve sung along as their CTO belted out “Guerrilla Radio” by Rage Against the Machine at their holiday party, but that’s just a day in the life for team members.

Because we prioritize lifelong learning at ReviewTrackers, we offer employees free books of their choice on Kindles, museum passes, monthly lunch and learns and architecture walking tours throughout Chicago. We also encourage team members to get to know each other through our bring-your-co-worker to lunch program. We have snacks, team outings and work every day to create an environment in which the team can do the best work of their careers.

ShipBob, Inc.
Aside from having the brightest team members I have ever been associated with, Shipbob actually helps businesses grow.

Collecting sneakers is not only a hobby, but a business. The cool part is we are in the business of protecting sneakers.

Simple Mills
We’re changing the way America snacks, and we reap the benefits both personally (with food and wellness perks) and professionally (from daily customer communications about how we’re making a difference in their lives with our “clean” baking mixes, crackers, cookies and frostings).

Everyone from founders to interns has a voice in the company weather it is a product change or where the next happy hour is.

SoMe Connect
Every new team member has a mentor that is assigned to them to help them grow in their career. This colleague is not someone who is their supervisor, but rather someone who acts as a sounding board and allows the new employee to be more vocal and ask questions that they may not feel comfortable asking their day-to-day management teams.

We recently expanded to a large, beautiful new office in the South Loop that makes wellness a priority for our more than 200 employees; it includes a Zen Den for relaxation and meditation, and a game room with shuffle board, video and arcade games for people to unwind.

With 6 of our original members still here, we are as close (and welcoming) as it gets. Starting off in a dinky office above the Billy Goat, SOS now operates out of the CBOT in a colorful, fun space with a view.

Strike Social
Some of the extra perks include, unlimited PTO, stocked beer fridge, frequent happy hours and out of office events at WhirlyBall and Cubs games.

At SwipeSense, the following values guide our work to eliminate hospital errors each and every day; Driven by Purpose, Practice radical candor, Celebrate better failure, Decide with numbers, and Breathe eternal optimism.

The Ocean Agency
The company culture is what sold me. Work hard, play hard is really our motto.  Our “Thunderdome” has a ping-pong table, yoga mats & weights, and beerio cart set up.

TW won the Anita Borg Institute’s Top Company for Women award for 2016.  

We have great perks including free Tovala Meals for lunch and dinner (if you stay later), regular team dinners and outings and a welcoming work culture allowing for members to work remotely if they prefer.

Trading Technologies
The Chicago office space includes a game room featuring table tennis, shuffle board, and Golden Tee, to name a few, as well as a kitchen space with complimentary snacks such as bagels, cereal, ice cream, and cold brew coffee.

What’s so cool about our company is our close-nit team and our camaraderie.

UI LABS is both structurally and culturally the coolest place I’ve ever worked. We’re situated in a retired Mars facility on Goose Island, so everyday I’m greeted with an unbeatable view of the Chicago skyline, plenty of geese, and our bioswale.

I previously worked at a PR agency where, for nearly a decade, I represented dozens of tech clients. There are none out there like Uptake. From our vibrant, buzzy work space, to the incredibly smart people, to the perks and benefits of being an Uptaker, it’s a place where people are proud to be.

We like to give back to Chicago with our #ServicePaysDividends Pay it Forward event. During the week we enjoy draft beer, summer hours, “Starbucks and Study” education sessions and look forward to our annual Whirlyball and Cubs game outings

Through online courses, industry events and guidance from company leadership, every team member is empowered to accomplish career goals.


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