With Chicago Fest right around the corner on August 17, we’re taking a look back at last year’s event and checking in with the 2015 Coolest Companies winners. From new office spaces, new technologies and new job opportunities, these companies have certainly maintained their cool-factor throughout the year.

Check out a few of last year’s winners and don’t forget to cast your vote for in the  2016 Coolest Companies finalists in Readers’ Choice before August 11th!

The Abundancy

Since summer 2015, Frequency540 has changed names to The Abundancy and moved offices to a modern, two-story space on the river.

“It’s very Mad Men-meets-Facebook. Disco lights are built into the ceiling above the main staircase, leading to our large, open layout on the second floor. There’s always a good spot available to cozy up and power through, or to have brainstorms on the fly. Best of all, our meditation / yoga room followed us to the new office, and is a really serene place to participate in guided meditation for a reset during the day, or to unwind with yoga after work,” said The Abundancy’s CMO, Katie Newman.

Newman pointed to the meditation / yoga room as one of the company’s incredible wellness benefits.

“We have a walking treadmill where you can do work on your laptop while taking a stroll. We’re also right next to the Chicago Riverwalk, so it’s easy to get some fresh air while meeting with a coworker or taking a break,” she said.

Newman emphasized trust and accountability as two huge factors in fostering an inclusive and cooperative company culture.

“It’s not just about a weekly happy hour or a ping-pong table. It’s about treating your employees as whole people, with respect and trust. We are able to work with a level of flexibility not often seen at other companies because we’re all accountable to each other, and supportive of each other’s lives in and out of the office,” she explained.

Guaranteed Rate

In May 2016, Guaranteed Rate launched the Intuitive Loan Finder, a tool that allows customers to explore mortgage options by comparing programs and rates, enabling them to find personalized results with a few clicks.

Guaranteed Rate said that it is a “different kind of mortgage company” that is based on several core values, most importantly putting the customer first.

“We think big, deliver results, and foster an environment that upholds our values and attracts those who want to work with the best of the best. When everyone is doing their best and the company is succeeding, we think that shines through to the cool,” the company explained.

The company’s best office perk is its rooftop lounge, which boasts views of Chicago’s skyline as well as foosball and ping-pong tables.

“It’s the perfect space to take a midday break, unwind with colleagues at one of Guaranteed Rate’s regular celebratory events, or to even have team meetings,” the company said.

Narrative Science

Narrative Science turned six-years-old this year, a milestone, according to Katie Grinberg, Director of HR, who said, “every year passing means so much to a young company.”

Grinberg said Narrative Science’s people create a cool company culture, and the company seeks to hire people who share its values and believe in its mission.

“Whether it’s witty banter over carefully crafted cups of coffee, huddling in a conference room to put out (technical) fires, or playing bubble soccer with our summer interns, it’s the shared commitment to our technology and delivering exceptional customer experiences that keeps our culture consistent,” Grinberg said.

Grinberg added that the Narrative Science leadership strives to empower each employee to contribute thoughts and ideas.

“For example, we recently launched the ‘Solution Innovation Ideation’ project. If the idea proves feasible, the idea submitter is rewarded and the solution gets developed. It’s such an inclusive way to see tangible returns on creativity, and the participation has been overwhelmingly strong,” Grinberg said.

Among Narrative Science’s office perks are free lunches, lounge areas, standing desks, and office events like “workout week” and “fancy day.”

Rise Interactive

Since last year, Rise Interactive has grown substantially – creating more than 90 jobs, launching a new website, establishing new partnerships, and expanding its innovation team – “all with the goal of providing our clients remarkable experiences and superior results,” explained Lindsay Dagiantis, Associate Director of Employee Services.

Dagiantis explained that Rise Interactive takes an “employee-first” approach that creates a positive and productive culture.

“One thing that makes us unique from many companies is our commitment to not only listening to employees and soliciting feedback, but being transparent in areas where we can improve, then holding ourselves accountable for taking action,” she said.

Her advice for other companies seeking to create a cool, cooperative culture like that of Rise Interactive? Focus on employees.

“Be transparent and communicative. Create an environment where employees can generate the culture themselves. For example, to ensure we are meeting our employees’ needs, we conduct quarterly anonymous surveys and weekly pulse surveys which help us increase employee engagement and overall satisfaction,” Dagiantis said.

Various kinds of work stations throughout Rise Interactive’s office space promote openness and communication.

“When Risers need to get away and out of their usual work environment, they can make themselves comfortable in one of our unique workspaces, like our indoor patio space, working booths, or our Burst Lounge, a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose space for training and development, as well as industry events,” Dagiantis said.

Simple Mills

Margaret Griffin, Social Media and PR Manager at Simple Mills, said that the company maintains a cool culture by seeking new employees who are not only qualified, but also fit well with the existing staff.

Katlin, our Founder & CEO, always talks about the importance of hiring based not only on qualifications, but also culture fit. The most important thing you can do is make sure that a new hire will fit with the employees that already exist on the team,” she said.

Griffin thinks the coolest office perk is paid time off, a benefit available to the entire team.

“As long as the work gets done, you can pretty much be out of the office whenever you need to be,” Griffin explained.

Thank you to our event sponsors.