Bored of the same happy hours, business card exchanges and LinkedIn requests? Time to expand your network.

Chicago entrepreneurs have stepped up to create tech tools and events that pick up where traditional networking leaves off, from a “smart” event badge to facilitating connections between young professionals while scaling the walls at Brooklyn Boulders.

That isn’t to say their ambitions just lie here in the city, however. In the past, the giants of networking tech have taken notice of local startups’ moves–last year LinkedIn bought Chicago sales networking startup Pointdrive after using their tech.

Could one of these be the next big networking breakout star, or acquisition target? Read on and get connected.

Jason Johnson (Credit: Konveau)


Ever get to a networking event and feel like you don’t know who to talk to? Konveau, founded by Jason Johnson, helps address that problem. Event attendees sign up for a profile, and fill out information about their professional background and interests. The app shows users the other attendees they’re most compatible with, personality profiles of each guest and specific conversation starters tailored to attendees’ personality type. Plus, it gives event organizers audience insights and demographics. Since launching in January 2016, Konveau has been used in over 96 events and Johnson will be doing monthly workshops of with the product at 1871 later this spring.


This startup seeks to bring wearable tech to the networking world. Proxfinity’s patented smart badge can detect when you’re near another person who shares your industry or interests, based off a questionnaire you fill out in advance. When the device (which hangs around the neck like a typical conference badge, pictured above) senses compatibility, it lights up and your initials appear on a matching users’ badge and vice versa. They also have an accompanying app that allows users to keep track of their connections and update their profile interests. Event organizers also have the option to track traffic flow at events and access metrics about attendees. The startup, founded in 2015 by  Lisa Carrel and Christine Hutchison, has worked with over 3,500 event participants and won an Up-And-Comer award from Chicago Innovation Awards in 2016.

Swishlinks founders (Credit: Swishlinks)


Given those in the creative industry have a less clear cut track to their career goals, networking and jobs sites such as Linkedin and Glassdoor don’t work as well for showing off accomplishments. Swishlinks, which is designed for “hustlers, creators and innovators,” addresses that through their app. It shows off a highly-visual timeline, rather than just the end result, bringing recruiters on a narrative journey through their work. Users create “stories” which can be a professional milestone, moment or completed project, which can then be organized in “collections” that showcase their unique talent and personality. Founded by CEO Ali Shahanaghi and CTO Charbel Seif, the app is in beta and available on iOS and Android. It will be officially launched in June with extended commenting, messaging and tagging capabilities.

(Credit: Creative Women’s Co.)

Creative Women’s Co.

Creative Women’s Co. ditches the mad dash for business cards usually seen at networking events for a series of small, curated events aimed at female entrepreneurs in the creative industry. The series, founded by designer Ari Krzyzek, includes monthly brunches and cocktail hours limited to eight to ten participants, so everyone has the chance to create meaningful connections with the other attendees. The events also include educational workshops on topics in the creative industry. If you can’t make it to one of their events, they also have a Facebook group where members can discuss the industry as well as virtual webinars on topics that range from legal protection for small business to how to find purpose.

(Credit: Noirefy)


This professional network and app founded by Shaniqua Davis, is geared toward people of color, and aims to fight bias in recruiting through referrals. Noirefy offers members robust profiles where they can post their resume, work samples and even video blogs, and has a job board filtered by location. Members on the site can post jobs from their companies and refer resumes from Noirefy to their hiring managers, and companies can recruit directly from the platform. Given referrals account for six percent of applicants, but make up over a quarter of hires, Noirefy aims to fill the referral pipeline with a more diverse candidate pool.

Charlie App

Have a meeting with a new connection but don’t have time to prepare? Charlie App has your back. The service combs through hundreds of thousands of sources to create a one-page summary of someone’s professional history, shared interests and company news. They found their tech saves users an average of 57 Google searches per meeting. Charlie App was founded by  Aaron Frazin and Rob Volk, and they raised $1.75 million in seed funding led by Lightbank with participation from Hyde Park Venture Partners, Confluence Capital Partners, Patrick Spain (the founder and CEO of Hoovers), Lon Chow and Armando Pauker of Apex Venture Partners.

(Credit: Five to Nine/Instagram)

Five to Nine

What if your next connection wasn’t made online, but while hanging upside down on a bouldering wall? That’s the promise of Five to Nine, a community for emerging professionals that offers city exploration and experiential networking. The startup, founded by Jasmine Shells, offers four types of experiences for members: Tastings and Tours (celebrating National Margarita Day with custom margs at Bar Cocina), Active and Fitness (90s throwback-themed yoga), Music and Arts (including tips on navigating summer festivals) and Speaker Series (an “Appy Hour” series with pitches from local entrepreneurs and conversations with influencers–full disclosure, I’ve hosted a few Appy Hour fireside chats). It’s geared toward transplants who both want to meet new people and explore the city. Five to Nine offers individual tickets to events, but there’s also an application-based membership that offers perks, discounts and exclusive newsletter content.

Note: Updated to clarify that Swishlinks is currently in beta.