From the hallways at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, to the city’s accelerator programs for budding entrepreneurs, there is evidence in all corners of Chicago that shows it’s not just tech veterans pushing the city’s innovative spirit forward.
To highlight some of Chicago’s youngest entrepreneurs and technologists, Chicago Inno compiles a list each year of 25 promising and accomplished techies in the city’s startup scene.
Last year’s list included impressive young technologists making a difference at some of Chicago’s most notable startups, such as Reverb and Uptake, as well as budding founders working to get their own companies off the ground.
This year’s list includes a variety of young innovators as well, ranging from tech employees at local upstarts like ReviewTrackers and Avail, to founders and CEOs with innovative ideas of their own.
Those on the list were chosen based on nominations and Inno’s editorial selection process.
Check out all the honorees below.
Josh Aaronson, 23 | Leah Shapiro, 23
Founders, Debate it Forward
As students at the University of Chicago, Aaronson and Shapiro founded Debate it Forward, an education nonprofit that promotes healthy discourse in youth through play-based programming to foster kids’ confidence. In 2018, the duo came in second place at UChicago’s College New Venture Challenge and participated in the Polsky Accelerator program.
The following year, Debate it Forward won first place in UChicago’s other student startup competition, the Social New Venture Challenge, a globally-recognized accelerator program that focuses on launching social enterprises.
Now, Debate it Forward has nearly 30 teachers traveling to Chicagoland schools, hosting enrichment classes during school hours and a 10-week after school program. Additional offerings include summer programs and private tutoring.
Ibraheem Alinur, 22
Founder & CEO, City Health Tech
Alinur, who is currently an undergraduate student at Northwestern University, founded City Health Tech in 2017. The startup aims to improve community health for students at universities so that they can full apply themselves academically.
The startup aims to teach, track and reinforce good hygiene habits with an IoT-enabled sink attachment timer that shows users how long they should be washing their hands for. City Health Tech says the device is inexpensive and easy to install.
Carraig Athy, 25
Marketing Analyst, Kin Insurance
Athy, a Northwestern University graduate, specializes in customer communication touch points across calls, SMS, email and chat at Kin Insurance. Since starting his role, Athy has taken over affiliate marketing and operational business intelligence for the insurance startup.
Under Athy’s supervision, acquisition costs have been cut in half and engagement rates are up across the board, according to Kin.
When he’s not at work, you can find Athy sponsoring DJ events at clubs across town with his promotion company, Manifest Chicago.
Devanshu Bharel, 22
Principal, Co-Founder & CEO, Spaceman ID
When Bharel started at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2014 to study computer science, he developed a deep interest in blockchain technology. So earlier this year, he launched Spaceman ID, a company offering products to help web services implement self-sovereign identity, a shift in digital identity that focuses on user’s having more control of their data. Spaceman ID’s solution allows for a simplified method that creates accounts on websites that ensure privacy, security and portability.
And now, Bharel is taking a break from IIT to work on Spaceman ID full time. The startup’s name is a nod to Bharel wearing a spacesuit when he would mentor entrepreneurs at university hackathons across the country.
Brent Chase, 25
Co-Founder & CEO, gaia Wearables (PAL)
Gaia Wearables (PAL) is a behavioral training tool and wearable device for early detection and mitigation of meltdowns for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Chase’s passion for the ASD community originated from when his younger brother was diagnosed with ASD in the late ’90s. The device can detect, notify caregivers and reduce emotional episodes among autism patients. The company has been featured by TastyTrade, Cheddar and Inc., and Chase is a fellow of Future Founders, a Chicago-based organization aimed at supporting young entrepreneurs.
Sophie Davis, 20
Co-Founder & CEO, alula
Davis, a student at Northwestern University, helped create the alula lamp, a smart lamp that encourages a better sleep routine through sunrise and sunset simulation. Over the last year, she has developed a working prototype.
As a member of Northwestern’s student startup hub, The Garage, Davis has competed in the college’s Wildfire and Demo Day competitions. She has also received funding to work on alula as part of the Propel Program for female student founders.
Jake Glover, 24
Broker Account Executive, Jellyvision
Glover joined Jellyvision in June 2017 as a business development representative after graduating from DePaul University. In less than six months, Glover organized over 200 meetings and sourced more than $500,000 in new revenue for the company.
Glover was promoted to account executive earlier this year to focus on benefit consultant relationships. Since then, he has worked with consultants to identify 150 clients that are a fit for Jellyvision’s software platform ALEX, and has closed seven new customers and nine new partners.
Nathan Graber-Lipperman, 20
Founder & CEO, Powder Blue Media
In 2017, Graber-Lipperman launched Powder Blue Media, the owner of UNPLUGG’D, a multimedia website dedicated to covering pop culture. The content focuses on sports, entertainment, music and style. Right now, he’s building Powder Blue Media at The Garage, Northwestern’s student startup hub.
“Nathan is an absolute superstar,” said Elisabeth Wright, the marketing manager at The Garage. “As a newcomer to The Garage within the last year, Nathan and his team made it clear they were here to stay, despite being surrounded by coders and engineers. Nathan sees the world through a totally new lens, and we predict he’ll have a major impact on the way Gen Z communicates and talks about our world.”
Alexander Hejazi, 23
Founder & CEO, BallBox
A graduate of Michigan State University, Hejazi moved to Chicago in 2016 to pursue his startup dreams. He initially worked at Chicago startup Paro as a financial consultant. But in 2018, he quit to launch BallBox, the maker of electronic locker kiosks that allow consumers to rent sporting equipment and leisure items.
With a kiosk at North Ave. beach and another in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Hejazi is gearing up to launch in a third city—Denver.
Randalyn Hill, 19
Strategy & Brand Specialist, Ama La Vida
As one of the youngest honorees on this year’s list, Hill works for Ama La Vida, a local career, life and leadership coaching startup. After graduating high school at only 16, Hill enrolled in Praxis, a 12-month college-alternative program that helps young professionals kickstart and launch their careers.
Then at just 18, Hill began working for Ama La Vida. Initially hired as a B2B sales representative, she has been promoted several times, and now focuses on growing the company’s business as a strategy and brand specialist.
Jesse Hinchcliffe, 25
Associate Product Manager, ReviewTrackers
Hinchcliffe, who started as an intern at ReviewTrackers in 2015, has been promoted three times during his short tenure at the company. He has gone from the operations side of the business to the product side, holding roles as the company’s project manager and product analyst. Now as associate product manager, Hinchcliffe runs ReviewTrackers’ “Shared Services” team, which is responsible for all review data collection.
“His can-do attitude, attention to detail and natural curiosity serves him well in creating value for our customers,” said ReviewTrackers CEO Chris Campbell. “Jesse is a person that wakes up every day looking to make an impact, and he does that here at ReviewTrackers.”
Neil Hughes, 24
Business & Finance Analyst, Avail
Hughes joined Avail’s team earlier this year to help it gather and analyze data, which allows the startup to make better decisions about how to grow its community of 150,000 landlords and 300,000 renters. Avail, founded in 2012 as Rentaulations, builds software that helps part-time landlords take care of their rental properties.
A graduate of the University of Illinois, Hughes also interned at Chicago tech company G2 Crowd before joining Avail.
Olivia Keneipp, 24
Product Manager, The Minte
The Minte, a Chicago startup that brings hotel-style cleanings to apartment buildings across the city, was founded in 2017. And since its inception, Keneipp has been an asset to the company, says The Minte CEO Kathleen Wilson.
Before becoming the company’s product manager, Keneipp held roles like customer service representative, field manager and analyst.
“She has a natural ability to not only make good decisions but to understand what is needed to make a decision, and she brings that information to those she is working with,” Wilson said.
Samantha Letscher, 23
Co-Founder & CEO, Bossy Chicago
Bossy is a platform that connects feminist consumers with women-owned businesses to drive revenue for women entrepreneurs. Letscher launched Bossy in Chicago in the spring of 2017 while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in integrated engineering studies at Northwestern University. Letscher was recently honored at The Anita B. Org’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, winning the popular vote and $15,000.
Moe Mitchell, 22
Founder & CEO, Moe Mows
In 2013, Mitchell launched Moe Mows, a lawn and landscape business that allows customers to request services through an app. At the time of Moe Mows founding, Mitchell was just a sophomore at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville trying to find new customers to buy his lawn care services. The startup provides mowing, mulching, trimming, planting and other lawn services. To get guidance on how to build his company, Mitchell was a fellow at Future Founders, a Chicago-based organization aimed at supporting young entrepreneurs.
Erik Nadeau, 24
As a student at the University of Chicago, Nadeau and his co-founder Jessica Gartenstein (who appeared on last year’s list) founded Frönen, a non-dairy, frozen dessert, comprised of only bananas, honey and lemon, in 2017.
That same year, the company won first place at the University of Chicago’s College New Venture Challenge. Since the CNVC, Frönen has been a vendor at the Taste of Chicago, and can be found in Foxtrot, Treasure Island, Galleria Market and select Whole Foods locations.
Tyler Nass, 22
Founder, IMPL Ventures
When he isn’t in class studying computer science at DePaul University, Nass is interning for 30 hours a week as a cyber defense analyst for CME Group, one of the world’s largest financial exchanges. And when he’s not interning, he’s building IMPL Ventures, the creator of MUL8R, a coding platform for software developers and programmers. Once he graduates in 2020, Nass plans to run IMPL full time.
Laura Nilles, 24
Since moving to Chicago to join Digital4Startups in an entry level role a year and a half ago, Nilles has used her expertise to help the company grow. After being promoted six months ago, she now heads up Digital4Startup’s paid social media program and manages several of their high growth clients. She’s helped several high-profile startups successfully expand their advertising efforts into new markets and secure seed funds. Since she joined, Digital4Startups says it has doubled in size and revenue.
Zack Shreier, 21
Quevos, which Schreier founded in 2018 with Nick Hamburger (who appeared on last year’s list), makes a high-protein snack chip whose primary ingredient is egg whites, packing the nutrition of an omelette into a bag of chips.
Zack, who has been a type 1 diabetic since he was 11 years old, has depended on egg whites because of their lack of carbs. The startup won the College New Venture Challenge at the University of Chicago in March, taking home $15,000. Shortly after, the startup was one of five accepted into Kraft Heinz’s Springboard, a program that looks to help food entrepreneurs turn their young businesses into thriving CPG brands.
Now, Quevos can be bought around the city in Freshii locations, Hyde Park Produce and UChicago campus stores.
Amrutha Sivakumar, 25
Product Manager, LogicGate
Sivakumar, a graduate of the University of Michigan, joined LogicGate in early 2019 with a versatile skill set from three years of fintech experience. She was LogicGate’s first product manager and was initially brought on to drive business while enhancing user experiences.
LogicGate, founded in 2015, provides a fully configurable SaaS product to operationalize and automate risk, regulatory and compliance programs for comapnies in healthcare, IT, banking and even fast food.
LogicGate says Sivakumar has helped incorporate more customer-focused research and processes to close the gap between users and product development.
Soren Spicknall, 22
Lead Data Scientist, AskWhai
Chicago-based AskWhai, a company translating new data science research into transparent, explainable, real-world applications of artificial intelligence, works to democratize AI for small businesses.
Besides analyzing data at AskWhai, Spicknall volunteers in the local tech community. He leads a volunteer team at Chi Hack Night called Transit Talk, which is creating a crowd-sourced issue reporting system for public transit networks. Spicknall also organizes a weekly event called South Side Code & Coffee, which creates a meeting point for tech communities in areas of the South Side that aren’t typically well-served by software-related events.
Vaibhav Verma, 23 | Richard Wu, 21
Simmer is an app that provides reviews for specific dishes at restaurants. It helps users find the best-reviewed dishes across all delivery apps and nearby restaurants. Verma and Wu thought of the idea because of the sometimes lack of information that can be found on sites like Yelp or Google about specific dishes and the quality of them.
Simmer is currently participating in Y Combinator’s Summer cohort, raising capital as it looks to launch in three cities this year.
Drake Weissman, 21
Founder & CEO, eo
Eo is a student-run, dockless bike-share program for college campuses. Initially launching eo at Northwestern University, Wiessman is working on expanding his business to other campuses.
He has worked closely with Northwestern officials and the City of Evanston to successfully launch and run his business. To help develop eo, Weissman is a member of The Garage, Northwestern’s student startup hub.