These perks are great, but the real reason I love to come into work is because of the people around me.
Be cool, Chicago.
Over the past month, Chicago Inno has been accepting nominations for its second annual Coolest Companies Competition, a friendly challenge to find, spotlight, and celebrate the local companies and startups 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 100 Coolest Companies nominations, as well as excerpts from a number of submissions to give you an idea of how Chicago businesses are keeping their employees happy. To determine the finalists, we will be sharing every single nomination form internally and with a panel of judges and last year’s winners. Together, we’ll identify the 8 best and will announce them on stage at Chicago Fest on 8/17.
Also, this year, we will including two ‘Reader’s Choice’ winners. So, tell us who you think is the ‘Coolest Company’ from the list of nominees and the two companies with the most votes will be announced at the Fest! [Enter Here]
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 Revel Fulton Market on 8/17; grab your tickets here.
Check out all the #CoolestCompanies nominees below:
Submission Excerpt: Everyday is a new challenge and the people that are here are so unique and intelligent that you feel inspired to be better than you were yesterday.
Submission excerpt: We have an open loft office with remote controlled planes, cars, drones, hammocks, video games, etc. It’s really like working in a man-cave.
Submission excerpt: Advanced Group holds monthly activities including happy hours on the rooftop in downtown Chicago, bingo nights, trivia nights, pizza parties, themed potlucks, chili cook-offs, and board game nights. Embracing the competitive spirit, Advanced also has annual March Madness brackets, Fantasy Football leagues, a softball team, golf outings, and encourages signing up for 5ks and 10ks with coworkers.
Submission excerpt: Our culture is built on empowerment, entrepreneurial spirit, commitment to teamwork, sense of humor, dedication working hard, having fun, and not taking ourselves too seriously.
Submission excerpt: We have free breakfast, drinks and healthy snacks—every once in a while ice cream treats—-along with a ping pong table, life-sized Jenga game and cable TV! The office was designed with a futuristic look, which makes it a fun place to work, plus having open seating and video conferencing makes it easy to connect with employees all around the country and world.
Submission excerpt: What’s cool is we’re boot-strapping and super-focused on solving the problem.
Submission Excerpt: It’s an environment where the best ideas win and all blockers to interact with senior leadership have been removed.
Submission excerpt: The people that work here – everyone here is nice, fun-loving, and above all unique and interesting. Also, the coolest perk about my job is by far the fact that I’m crafting for a living. We have chefs that come in that make us delicious breakfasts daily, we do have unlimited vacation, and of course, all of our dogs are welcome!
Submission excerpt: Our community involvement is amazing. Paid time off to coach and mentor at places like Dev Bootcamp and General Assembly, free space to host events for graduation ceremonies like Startup Institute or Meetups for Girl Develop it, opportunities to get involved and mentor for our new women tech accelerator are just some great ways we give back.
Submission excerpt: Something we’re really proud of is that each of us has had a hand in building out our new office space. We recently invested in our own space, complete with rooftop access and blueprints for the deck. From building custom worktables to painting light fixtures to installing wood panel art, we’re truly making our space a place we all call home. It’s a shining space that embodies our values and our personalities.
Chicago Literacy Alliance:
Submission Excerpt: The Literacenter is a colorful and bright space with community scooters; book pun named meeting rooms; and a lounge with foosball, ping pong, shuffleboard, Rock Band, board games, 2 pianos and more.
Submission Excerpt: When it’s summer in the Windy City, employees gather on the roof deck for a game of bags and barbeque from the cleverbridge Grill Club. Every spring, they team up for the epic Amazing Race, darting around downtown to complete outrageous challenges. They stay warm during icy winters with fabulous corporate events – like the Holiday Party and cleverpalooza, an annual charity gala benefiting a Chicago-area non-profit. On Fridays after work, everybody grabs brews from the beer buggy and unwinds.
Submission excerpt: The list of fun things we do could go on forever. Here are some of our faves: Ping Pong matches all day; Softball with Chicago Sport and Social Club; Escape Room (Fun thing to do as a team building activity); FlapJack FRYday (pancakes in the AM, burgers for lunch).
Submission excerpt: Connections Marketing allows us to work from home 2 out of the 5 days we work. Who doesn’t like working from their pjs and bed?
Submission excerpt: Barista + coffee bar; panoramic views of downtown, the river and lake, Divvy Bike share; in office yoga 2x a week; meditation and mindfulness programs; catered lunch daily; fresh fruit and snacks; employee-led Learning, Giving, Green and Wellness teams; Intramural sports teams. Simply put – our team loves to spend time together and achieve big goals!
Submission excerpt: Our team plans company happy hours, hard-core gaming nights at Dave & Buster’s, and build-your-own mini fruit pizza bars during the day.
Submission excerpt: Datascope has an “Internal Talks” series, where we get together over lunch while a team member gives a talk. Topics range from a new tech skill that a team member just learned, to a summary of a completed project, to a practice session for a talk that the team member will give at an upcoming conference. These talks are popular because it gives the team a chance to learn from each other as well as giving each team member multiple opportunities to practice speaking about their work.
We also enjoy proving each other wrong, and have a structured betting system to facilitate our competitive instincts. From betting on which CTA train line is slower, to whether a team member can complete 1000 jumping jacks in an hour, to whether a team member can taste the difference between different brands of bottled water, these friendly bets are a fun way to test hypotheses and take an occasional break from work.
Submission excerpt: Happy hours are more spontaneous here at DKC Chicago. Our ‘water cooler talks’ usually happen around 4pm, but around the kegerator, of course.
DLS Internet Services:
Submission excerpt: We play hard ‘cause we work hard. Our vacays are on fleek – zip lining, power boats, and parties at the Hancock.
Submission excerpt: Apart from the gratifying feeling of disrupting an industry that hasn’t changed in decades, DRIVIN’S culture is ahead of its time. With a brand new office complete with a custom fully stocked bar, karaoke stage and lounge as well as a 12 x 12 foot gaming wall – DRIVIN is the ideal place for company camaraderie and socialization. Additionally, DRIVIN offers weekly happy hours, unlimited paid vacation, employee recognition, company outings, sports teams and more!
Submission excerpt: Epsilon’s Chicago office regularly hosts Truly Tremendous Trivia (cocktail hour trivia with prizes, hosted by two costumed employees), as well as holiday themed breakfasts and lunches (like Pi day).
Submission excerpt: We understand the value of perks and benefits at GoHealth. We offer unlimited vacation days year-round, plus flex Fridays during the summer months.
Submission excerpt: We have “Shot Fridays,” which includes a new shot or alcoholic drink every Friday at 2.30PM.
Submission excerpt: Guaranteed Rate has a company culture that’s centered on being healthy, balanced and fun- in fact, it’s one of our core values.
Submission excerpt: They let us live.
Submission excerpt: We create our culture of “cool” by religiously using our own employee engagement platform to recognize one another for accomplishments, tracking goals, getting a pulse on our overall mood and share performance feedback. One of our core values is to “Take Fun Seriously.” With our stocked kitchen, beer on tap, video game room, massage chair, hot sauce collection and more, it’s hard not to have fun while at HighGround!
Submission excerpt: People come to work at Hirewell for the people, but Perks don’t hurt:) We do yearly incentive trips to places like Bahamas, Vegas, and Caribbean.
Submission excerpt: One of the top perks of working at iLoan are the daily catered lunches. Each workday involves a buffet-style feast of our favorite food spots in the city. We also offer ample vacation time, a generous annual learning budget and your pick of computer hardware, keyboard and headphones.
Submission excerpt: We have an Employee Innovation Program, which is open to all Impact employees. The Innovation Program is to encourage and formally recognize ideas submitted by Impact employees that positively affect our company in one or more of the following areas: Growth, Culture, Efficiency, Savings, etc.
Submission excerpt: The real reason I can’t wait to go to work each day is we get to build better creative software for gamers and storytellers…and I get to do it with some of my best friends.
Submission excerpt: Like at many Chicago tech firms, beer Fridays are a staple at Insureon. But Insureon’s biggest perk may be getting to hang out with Gunner, a German shepherd / lab mix that slinks around the office. A common debate among employees is whether the nap-prone pooch is actually part cat. Whatever he is, he’s 100% Insureon.
Submission excerpt: Free yoga. We have snacks. Lots of snacks. Sweet snacks, savory snacks. You name it, we snack it. This year we introduced an annual Work from Anywhere Week where employees get to work remotely for a week – like a vacation, but with your laptop.
Submission excerpt: We not only plan frequent happy hours and food events—often by embracing the talents of our colleagues with competitions like a beer brew-off or chili cook-off—but also by helping employees start their own extracurricular activities for like-minded colleagues. Besides annual intramural sports teams, there are more than 10 current employee groups including a board game club (kNerds), a women in the workplace group (kWOW), a rock-climbing group (Vertikal), and more.
Submission excerpt: These perks are great, but the real reason I love to come into work is because of the people around me. Everyone here genuinely cares about their coworkers, participate in the fun, and contribute to culture all while upholding our core values (which are displayed on our free mugs).
Submission excerpt: We love all the perks like ping-pong, Peapod deliveries, our beer cart, (did we say ping-pong?!), and more, but our great culture goes beyond the perks. We strive to bring together smart and driven people who are as invested in our growth as we are in theirs.
Submission excerpt: We’ve got cool perks like frequent catered lunches and a paid day off to volunteer in the community, but what we appreciate most is how MBX invests in its employees. Ongoing training and shadowing opportunities enable a large portion of our open positions to be filled through internal promotions, and usually into other departments.
Submission excerpt: We want the creativity of each and every employee to shine in their own way. If they want dogs then bring dogs. If they want to bake cookies bake cookies. As long as everyone is a team player and getting their s*** done. No sweat.
Submission excerpt: Extraordinary culture: Local coffee, tap beer and organic fruit/veggies on site.
Submission excerpt: We have one of the 200 cleanest offices in Chicago. The other 199 belong to our awesome customers.
Submission excerpt: We have a party cove and tank top Fridays.
Submission excerpt: We help top employers offer student loan repayment as a benefit, so of course our company contributes to the repayment of employee student loans!
Submission excerpt: As a proud, growing member of 1871, one of the world’s largest technology incubators, Pivotal just upgraded to 15,000 sq. ft. office space in the historic Merchandise Mart and provides free catered breakfast every morning, frequent catered lunches, easy going dress code, discouragement of working past 5pm and working on weekends, almost no meetings, sunny, open spaces with great views of the river and architecture, arcade games, Ping-Pong, scooters, free, healthy snacks and drinks, nitro cold-brew, and rotating beers on tap.
Submission excerpt: PowerReviews recognizes that not every person is most productive at his or her desk, so we designed our office space to create working spaces that would be conducive to everyone. We have standing desks, couches, chairs, meeting spaces in open areas, a ping pong table, and a pop-a-shot basketball game — all to appeal to different working styles and encourage impromptu conversations and collaboration.
Submission excerpt: We’re a group of go-getters that know how to work hard & play hard. Our office culture is laid back in the sense that you can rock your own style with good taste. Our team shares common space so we’re a big family. Song requests always welcome. Everyone is incredibly invested in the growth, success & mission of project44. We bleed project44 blue!
Submission excerpt: We offer an employee of the month program where the winner picks a charity to donate to.
Red Frog Events:
Submission excerpt: The best perk of the office is the people! Aside from the nice-to-the core, hard-working employees, we have unlimited vacation days, catered Family Lunch every Monday where we laugh and discuss what’s going on, an office bar and craft beer fridge, unlimited snacks, event clothing and shoe budgets, and free dinner if you’re in the office beyond 7:30.
Submission excerpt: Working at Reverb.com is a dream for musicians and music lovers. Not only is unique gear always at arm’s length for an impromptu jam session, but also our favorite artists come through the office to participate in demos and interviews. Our “industry events” – from Pitchfork Music Festival to SXSW – also double as perks.
Submission excerpt: The company values continued learning and with that we have a kindle program so every employee gets their own kindle + all books they want on the company.
Submission Excerpt: The access to startup incubators, venture capital firms, and growing businesses is something that we are exposed to, both for ourselves and our students.
Submission excerpt: At SAP Fieldglass there is a culture of fun but also of giving back to the local Chicago community. Aside from weekly beer cart on Thursdays, guacamole, chili competitions, and sports activities such as softball, we participated in Make-a-Wish Global Spirit Day, Boys & Girls Club and countless other local initiatives.
Submission excerpt: Scout plans lots of fun “Scoutings,” or Scout Outings. Some of my favorite Scoutings have been, Cubs games, volunteering around Christmas, and the one time we rented a yacht. My favorite perk has to be raffle for the Scout vacation house use (or rather, mansion) in Hawaii.
Submission excerpt: We are energetic, passionate, and 100% invested in what we are doing. With a serious love for healthy food, it is a fantastic benefit to get all of the baking mixes and crackers you could ever want.
Submission excerpt: SMS-ers looking to get healthy take part in our 12-week “#GetFitSMS” challenge with a cash prize and baseball suite tickets for the winning team.
Submission excerpt: SpotHero supports local startups – We work with local startups for everything including our cleaning crew, catering company, handymen, and delivery service.
Submission excerpt: Monotonous and boring aren’t in our vocabulary. People at Sprout are empowered to take on projects and challenges that interest them and support their growth and are encouraged to have some fun along the way.
Submission excerpt: We’re lucky to have all of the great perks that come with a casual office and a small group of people who actually like working together. But beyond that, we’re working on projects we care deeply about, and we want to produce the best possible work for our clients. Their causes are our causes.
Submission excerpt: From beer kegs with local brews to a weekly yoga class, Swoon has perks covered. Most importantly our goal is to make sure everyone is set up for success. Swoon has extensive new-hire and ongoing training programs to help us further develop our career. Swooners praise each other’s accomplishments with a 5’3’’ trophy that we pass around to each other for a job well done.
Outside of helping people find jobs, the pulse of Swoon consists of community and music. We have a dedicated charity team and are currently partnered with a number of local charities. Weekly we host a class of future Hospital Magicians for Open Heart Magic and annually we host a fundraising event for Have Dreams.
Synap Software Labs:
Submission excerpt: Our office is a part of TechNexus which is excellent because, aside from access to local beers on tap, a rooftop deck, free opera tours and events each month, we have access to other like-minded companies and individuals!
Submission excerpt: Every Thursday afternoon is beer:30 where we sample a new beer while listening to a presentation of any employee willing to teach the team about something. Could be very relevant all the way to how to cook a turkey.
Submission excerpt: The Space: it’s an open space that houses the office, engineering workshop, test kitchen, a “tree house” and an upcoming indoor herb garden. When you are tired of staring at your computer you can get inspiration from the creative Tovala meals in the test kitchen.
Submission excerpt: UpRight does so much to take care of employees. Beyond unlimited PTO and stellar health benefits, we are one of the first companies in the US that offers student loan repayment to our employees.
Submission excerpt: One of the best perks we receive on our five-year anniversary is a sabbatical, where team members receive an extra give days of paid vacation AND a $1,000 stipend to use on a trip or adventure!
Submission excerpt: 90-day Jacket Ceremony and Celebration – we celebrate each employee’s first 90 days at UrbanBound with games, activities, food, and drinks. Outing for Quarterly Company-Wide Goal; Annual and bi-annual Kickoff Company Offsite and Celebration; Get to know new hires happy hours; Personal milestones are celebrated (weddings and bridal showers / birthdays / work anniversaries).
Submission excerpt: Just a few of Vivid Seat’s perks include generous PTO, catered lunches, happy hours, ping pong, arcade games, rotating craft beer kegs, discounted gym membership, intramural activities, and an in-house putting green. Our work is all about helping fans attend great live events, so we do the same for our staff. Employees get access to deeply discounted tickets to all live events nationwide. Our office space enhances our culture which celebrates our industry, promotes gratifying relationships with colleagues, and provides a highly supportive and rewarding work environment.
(Images via Coolest Companies Submissions; Featured Image clockwise from top left: Red Frog Events, Simple Mills, Scout Exchange, Guaranteed Rate)
Chicago Fest Tickets:
Thanks to Our Amazing Chicago Fest Sponsors: