Every December, we post our annual Startups to Watch, a collection of early-stage Chicago companies that we anticipate big things out of in the coming twelve months and beyond.

On January 31, we’ll be hosting a Startups to Watch meetup, which will feature pitches and discussions with several of the selected startups. In the annual roundup, we articulate why we’re bullish on each and every startup, explaining what they do and why they’re poised for a big 2018. But at the meetup, you’ll get the pitch and passion straight from the company, offering the opportunity to see exactly why we think these entrepreneurs and businesses will be driving and shaping the city’s innovation economy for years ahead.

Below is more information on who will be in attendance as well as the event schedule. Be sure to secure your spot here and we’ll see you at MakeOffices on January 31.

Jennifer Fried, CEO of ExplORer Surgical

Jennifer Fried is the CEO and Co-Founder of ExplORer Surgical. She founded the company with Dr. Alex Langerman as an MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where she received her degree with honors in Finance and Entrepreneurship.

Previously, Jennifer was a Vice President at Park Lane Ventures, a healthcare-focused venture capital fund spun out of Essex Woodlands. She began her career as a consultant at Bain & Company in Chicago after graduating from Northwestern University.

Alex Niemczewski, CEO of BallotReady

Alex Niemczewski is CEO and co-founder of BallotReady, an award-winning voter guide to every race and referendum on the ballot. Previously she founded a human-centered design consulting firm and taught coding at the Booth School of Business and The Starter League. She has a background in workforce development and is an alum of the University of Chicago. She was recognized in Crain’s Chicago Business “20 in their 20’s” list, Techweek100, and as a Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation Fellow.

Bobby Goodman, Co-Founder of Truss

Bobby is a Co-Founder of Truss, a commercial leasing marketplace connecting SMB’s looking for space with leasing companies and property owners. Bobby’s foray into the CRE Tech space comes off the heels of a 15-year tenant representation career where he focused on creating corporate occupier real estate solutions both in Chicago and around the globe.

Shaniqua Davis, CEO & Founder of Noirefy

Shaniqua (Shawn) Davis is a digital marketing and tech enthusiast with an eye for detail that spans beyond the norms of conventional digital relations. A Detroit native, Shaniqua learned early on to use innovative techniques to gain both experience and significant opportunities for advancement. Davis launched Noirefy, a platform that uses data and predictive analytics to drive diversity at corporations. As someone who had experienced discrimination based on her name alone, Davis wanted to implement a network to connect diverse professionals with jobs that promote diverse workplaces and cultures.

Gabriel Wyner, CEO of Fluent Forever

Gabriel Wyner fell in love with language learning over the course of reaching fluency in German and Italian through immersion programs. Searching for ways to bring immersion into the home, he began developing a system for building fluency in short, daily sessions. In 2010, his efforts paid off. He learned French to fluency in 5 months, and Russian in 10 months, and has since proceeded to Japanese, Spanish and Hungarian over the last few years. His book – Fluent Forever: How to learn any language fast and never forget it – turned into an app that’s become the most successful app Kickstarter in history.

Michael Evans, Founder of Fixer

Michael Evans founded Fixer, a same-day and scheduled handyperson service. The company is addressing the shortage of skilled tradespeople doing residential jobs by hiring full time employee “Fixers” and providing extensive training. It aims to be a trade school disguised as a dot com. Prior to founding Fixer, Evans founded GrubHub.com.

Mike Jakob, CEO of Digital Golf Technologies

Mike Jakob is CEO of Digital Golf Technologies, the company that captures amazing golf shots through proprietary HD video technology, generating new revenue for golf courses and rewarding golfers with large cash prizes and a video of their championship moment. Mike brings to DGT over 20 years of experience in sports, technology and digital media. Mike previously served as President, COO and CFO for Sportvision, the company best known for the invention of football’s yellow 1st and Ten® line, baseball’s KZone and PITCHf/x technologies and NASCAR’s RACEf/x. During Mike’s tenure Sportvision technologies were employed at over 5,000 events annually, reaching more than 100 million fans, and captured ten Emmy Awards, the inaugural Sports Business Journal “Sports Technology/Innovation of the Year” Award, and was named by Fast Company Magazine’s as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.”

John W. Colson, Director of Operations for ClostraBio

John W. Colson, PhD is currently the Director of Operations at ClostraBio, Inc., a University of Chicago spinout creating new medicines to prevent life-threatening allergic reactions to food. Previously an Associate at the University of Chicago’s Innovation Fund, John has evaluated and recommended go/no-go decisions on multiple deals in the technology space and worked side-by-side with University of Chicago faculty and staff to develop business concepts, establish milestones, and create operational plans. John was previously a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago and earned a PhD in Chemistry from Cornell University for which he was honored with the 2017 Henkel Award for Outstanding Graduate Research in Polymer Chemistry by the American Chemical Society. John is also an avid runner, qualifying for and completing the Boston Marathon!

Sean Harper, Co-founder of Kin Insurance 

Sean co-founded Kin Insurance, an insurance technology company backed by Omidyar, 500startups, Commerce Ventures, Chicago Ventures and Portag3 Ventures. Previously Sean founded FeeFighters, a payments company that he sold to Groupon, and TSS-Radio, an e-commerce company that he bootstrapped onto the Inc500. Before becoming an entrepreneur Sean was a consultant at BCG, an investor at Longworth Venture Partners and did his undergraduate and MBA at the University of Chicago.
5:30 – 5:55: Registration/Networking
5:55 – 6:00: Welcome, Opening Remarks
6:00 – 6:30: Startups to Watch (First 4)
6:30 – 6:40: Questions for First 4
6:40 – 7:10: Startups to Watch (Second 4)
7:10 – 7:20: Questions for Second 4
7:20 – 8:00: Networking