UChicago Booth School of Business (Credit: Wikimedia)

While Chicago has always been a center for startups, students are also starting to flock to Illinois to study entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship concentrations at University of Chicago Booth and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management have increased significantly in recent years. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign launched an accelerator this summer to focus engineering talent on entrepreneurship. Illinois Institute of Technology is set to break ground on a center devoted to tech and entrepreneurship next spring. DePaul and University of Illinois-Chicago both host annual pitch competitions.

Startups such as Braintree, GrubHub, Packback, SimpleMills, and Innoblative launched out of local universities. So who’s next?

Here’s a look some recently launched student startups (either current students or graduated in 2015) who we hear are gearing up to have a big year in 2016.

Courtesy of The Graide Network
Blair Pircon found support at Northwestern to launch her edtech startup, The Graide Network.

The Graide Network

This edtech startup is aiming to make life a little easier both for current teachers and educators-to-be. The Graide Network connects current teachers with university education students who help grade certain assignments. This gives teachers more free time to plan lessons, as well as faster insights into student progress, while offering field work credit and real world experience for education students. The Graide Network incubated at LEAP Innovations this summer, started a second pilot this fall, and launched a blog showcasing their ‘Graiders’ and partner programs. Founder Blair Pircon, an MBA student at Kellogg, is also a Zell Fellow, a program for current student entrepreneurs.


Anansi is a wearable that will be able to sense when you’re in danger, and contact emergency services. The device, which is being developed at the Chicago Innovation Exchange by three recent UIUC alums, will sense a change in a wearer’s unique physiological parameters in order to detect when there is an emergency. The team is working with emergency services at UChicago and UIUC to get feedback on the device, and cofounder Nikita Parikh told Chicago Inno in October they’re aiming to have the tech fully developed for a beta test next fall.

Kofman Technologies

This defense tech company run by UIUC mechanical engineering undergraduate student Daniel Kofman, is creating next-generation body armor and quadcopters for law enforcement. After going through UIUC’s new accelerator this summer, Kofman Technologies was among 13 companies chosen from around the country to participate in TechNexus and the Department of Homeland Security’s new wearable tech accelerator, EMERGE. Recently the startup announced they had their first round of beta testers, set to test their quadcopter prototypes this spring.


This social enterprise out of Northwestern allows preschools in the developing world to invest a small monthly fee, and get a wealth of early childhood resources. They’ve created a system of shared materials and curriculum that rotates between a network of schools and provides training for local teachers in best education practices. This fall they traveled to India to set up pilot programs. Founder Bobby Powers, a current MMM student at Kellogg (graduating with an MBA and an MS in Design Innovation from McCormick School of Engineering), is a 2016 Zell Fellow.


NuGrad founder Jack Sutherland (center) with team members Brett Gilbert and Kenny Papke (Credit: Jesse Dwyer)
NuGrad founder Jack Sutherland (center) with team members Brett Gilbert and Kenny Papke (Credit: Jesse Dwyer)

This Illinois State University student startup wants recruiters to find hidden talent at overlooked schools. Their assessment and recruiting platform creates a “new GPA” for students that takes into account a qualitative overview of their characteristics, and then compiles the top students based off this new metric at any given school and connects them with relevant recruiters. Since launching this fall, they are working at eight universities and 32 companies. Founder Jack Sutherland, who graduated in May, just pitched NuGrad at Future Founder’s U.Pitch.

MarkIt Medical

This end-to-end patient referral platform allows doctors to easily direct patients to in-network specialists with detailed information about price, location, and insurance coverage. The startup, cofounded by two UChicago Booth MBA students, went through Polsky Center’s summer accelerator, presented at Technori in August, and is now incubating at MATTER.


This cloud-based access management platform that allows for safe exchange of virtual keys between hosts and guests using short-term rentals such as AirBnb and Vrbo. The startup, founded by Resha Shroff (a UChicago Booth MBA student), offers a code that only works on a smart lock during a specific window of time, so cleaners and guests can get in when they need to, but homeowners can feel more secure. The startup was a finalist at UChicago’s New Venture Challenge this year and went through Polsky Center’s summer accelerator program. Currently they are in private beta, but have plans to launch publicly in January.


This nonprofit launched by UIUC students offers STEM and maker workshops for girls ages 7 to 10. Since launching last fall, they’ve worked with over 400 students. After participating in UIUC’s summer accelerator, this fall they expanded their program to southern Illinois and the Chicago region, in addition to the workshops they already held in Urbana-Champaign. The startup also recently came in second in the InnovateHER business challenge competition.

(Courtesy of TagPrints)
(Courtesy of TagPrints)


This photo activation company builds companies’ brands through social media powered photo booths. Their users can either use a branded hashtag to get a photo print out, or share a branded photo through photobooths at an event. Andy Marsh, who just graduated from DePaul with a degree in marketing in June, launched the company as a junior, and already the startup has worked with clients such as Ferrari, Under Armour and the Grammy’s.


This sustainable fashion startup, run by UChicago Booth MBA student Sara Raffa, aims to make alpaca wool the next big winter wear material. Eislee sells a series of luxury scarves made from alpaca wool, which is ethically sourced and manufactured in Peru. Eislee participated in this year’s Social New Venture Challenge, went through Polsky Center’s summer accelerator, and officially launched their online store in November.