When a city’s innovation economy is on fire, it’s the result of thousands of people and companies, across a variety of categories, heating up their respective industries and departments.
Yes, a pillar company is important to the overall health of an ecosystem, but a single success story isn’t sustainable. That’s why Chicago’s emergence as a leading tech hub is due to all of the innovators, investors, entrepreneurs, employees, professors, civic professionals and more that are driving the city forward.
Below is the list of the 150 nominees for Chicago Inno’s 50 on Fire, our December awards event. Featuring CEOs and Heads of Customer Support, early-stage startups and established enterprises, incubators and non-profits, this list is a celebration of the top innovators and influencers in tech, education, marketing, food, healthcare, and more. (The final “50 on Fire” will be revealed at the December, 2nd event via an action-packed 10-minute video; more info and tickets here).
Also, if you’re surprised by some notable omissions, like TechNexus, Kristi Ross, Jeff Cantalupo, and Kevin Willer, it’s because they are part of 50’s panel of judges!
Finally, over the next couple of weeks, we will be posting category breakdowns that will include more information and insight into every single nominee. In the meantime, we’ve included a few ‘Nominee Spotlights.’
Congratulations to all our nominees. Now, let’s get to it.
- Amy Francetic, CEO, Clean Energy Trust
- Glenn Fulton, Executive Director, Englewood Blue
- Todd Connors, Executive Director, The Bunker
- Andrea Saenz, Deputy Commissioner, Chicago Public Library
- BLUE 1647
- Brenna Berman, CIO, City of Chicago
- Catapult Chicago
- Christopher Whitaker, Regional Brigade Captain, Code for America
- Computation Institute at University of Chicago
- Data Science for Social Good
- Derek Eder, Founder, DataMade | Co-Founder, Open City | ChiHackNight
- Future Founders
- Illinois Tech Global Leaders Program
- Katie Olson, Program Director, UI LABS
- Nature’s Little Recyclers
- Smart Chicago
- Stephen Pigozzi, Workforce Development Supervisor, Association House of Chicago
- Theaster Gates, Artist & Director, Rebuild Foundation
- Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer, City of Chicago
Catapult, the three-year-old non-profit incubator and co-working space, has helped its members raise over $65 million total in venture capital and employee over 500 people. With 19 alumni companies including BucketFeet and Packback, almost 90% are still in business.
The Illinois Tech Global Leaders Program (GLP) inspires high-achieving youth from across Chicago to lead and serve through STEM, supporting their path to higher education. GLP’s 100+ students come from over 60 Chicago-area high schools and represent 48 out of the city’s 50 wards.
Chicago’s leading redworm breeder, Nature’s Little Recyclers have removed over 100 tons of material from landfills in 2015, compared to fifty tons total for previous two years.
- Big Ideas Generator (BIG) at the University of Chicago
- Carter Cast, Professor, Kellogg School of Management | Venture Partner, Pritzker Group Venture Capital
- Chiaravalle Montessori School
- Helen Levinson, CEO, Indigo Interactive
- LEAP Innovations
- Linda Darragh, Executive Director, Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative
- The Garage
- Philip Troyk, Professor, IIT
- Polsky Center
- Rayna Yaker, CEO, RYE Consulting
- Startup Institute
- TEC Center at Erikson Institute
- Terri Lonier, Dean at School of the Art Institute of Chicago
- The Graide Network
The Big Ideas Generator (BIG) supports the most bold early-stage ideas in all fields of basic research at the University of Chicago. It gives rapid funding (up to $100K) and full-blown institutional support (up to 2 years) to manage the risks of growth for the nascent research projects. During the academic year 2014-2015, BIG has given over a million dollars to thirty basic research projects.
One of the most highly ranked faculty members at Kellogg (determined by student evaluations), Carter Cast is a clinical professor teaching entrepreneurship and marketing. In addition to teaching, Carter joined Pritzker Group Venture Capital in 2012, where he is a Venture Partner, advising Pritzker Group’s portfolio companies.
A Chicago-based nonprofit organization that is creating the future of education, LEAP Innovations is one of the country’s leading education innovation hubs, where innovative tools and strategies are discovered, piloted, and evaluated in schools throughout Chicago.
Indigo Interactive is a minority and woman-owned business that is “pushing the standard of education into the digital age.” This year, the provider of workflow management solutions released the Jura Platform, the first-ever SaaS model built specifically to the accreditation industry.
- Catalyze Chicago
- Devbridge Group
- G2 Crowd
- Hazem Dawani, CEO and Co-Founder, OptionsCity
- Henry Vasquez, CEO, Tribe
- J.C Grubbs, CEO & Founder, DevMynd Software | Co-Founder, DevWrx
- Jason Resch, Software Architect, CleverSafe
- Matt Moog, CEO, PowerReviews
- Maven Wave Partners
- Ric Gruber Jr, Partner, FUND Conference | Partner & COO, Pasky Gruber LLC | Founder, Brandless.io
- Rick Lane, CEO, Trading Technologies
- Rob Brimm, President, Fieldglass
- Sheila Talton, President and CEO, Gray Matter Analytics
- Sinode Systems
- Sprout Social
- Stuart Frankel, CEO, Narrative Science
- Talia Mashiach, CEO, Founder and Product Architect, Eved
- WiSTEM Cohort
- Zack Johnson, CEO & Co-Founder, Syndio.io
Bootstrapped from the beginning, cleverbridge, with global sales of over $536 million in 2014, has been profitable since 2007. The company, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has grown from its four founders to more than 300 employees today.
In the past year, DialogTech, a leading call analytics and automation platform, has rebranded (formerly Ifbyphone), raised $30M, acquired its largest competitor, and signed a partnership with Boost Media and IgnitionOne.
Jason Resch, a software architect at Cleversafe, holds 121 patents to his name, with 267 patents pending, and was recently awarded the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from the Illinois Institute of Technology. (In October, Cleversafe, was acquired by IBM).
Jellyvision, a provider of interactive employee communication software, has added over 125 to its team since the end of 2014. Also, its flagship product, ALEX, is now used by 3 million employees and 10 percent of the Fortune 500.
NuCurrent, an innovator in the field of wireless charging, has the highest patent-per-employee output in the state of Illinois. Also, its patents are in the top 10% of patent quality in the state, regardless of company size.
OpinionLab, the platform for collecting and analyzing customer feedback, has grown 66% in 2015 and was amongst the 14% of Inc 5000 companies that have made the list for the past three consecutive years.
Over Rob Brimm’s 11 years at Fieldglass, sales have grown over 1,200% with a 600% customer increase. Since taking on his new role as president in July, Brimm has already launched a global solutions consulting group as a mentorship resource for Fieldglass employees. Brimm is also the proud father of 8.
An active member of the Chicago tech community, Talia Mashiach has led Eved to record sales and growth in 2015, including landing several high-profile Fortune 500 clients and doubling the team’s headcount.
- Adam Justice, Vice President and General Manager, Grid Connect
- Anthony Watson, Founding Partner and Head of Business Development, ShipBob
- David Kalt, Founder and CEO, Reverb.com
- Jessica Gandham, Co-Founder and Lead Designer, Packback
- Kate Drane, Senior Director of Tech Outreach, Indiegogo
- Leah Potkin, Head of Customer Care, SpotHero
- Martin J. Logan, Chief Information Officer, Guaranteed Rate
- Mike Zivin, CEO, Whittl
Anthony Watson, the youngest of the 5 founding partners at ShipBob, helped launch the startup’s at-risk youth hiring program through a partnership developed with Lawrence Hall Youth Services. Today, ShipBob, the on-demand shipping service, is the second largest employer of MyTime at risk youth, only behind Potbelly’s.
Reverb.com is David Kalt’s third straight success story. His first was the first CRM for travel agents, his second was the first online broker for equity options traders, and his third is the first ecommerce site specifically for musicians and collectors. Three different industries, three firsts, three successes.
As SpotHero’s Head of Customer Care, Leah Potkin has grown the startup’s customer support team from two to 20 in the past year and a half, all while pursuing her MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.
In 2015, LyteShot, a maker of augment reality-based games and hardware, released its first game, Assassin, and received a handful of awards and recognition including: CES 2015 Innovation Award; Augmented World Expo 2015 Auggie Award – Best Game; SXSW 2015 Accelerator Finalist – Entertainment; Game Connection 2015 – Most Creative & Original Project; and TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield 2015 – Finalist.
One of Chicago’s fastest-growing startups (and one of its highest valued), Raise has grown from 120 employees to 240 in the past six months.
- Biju Kulathakal, Venture Partner, OCA Ventures
- Christopher Nyren, Founder, Educated Ventures & Educelerate
- Founder Equity
- Jumpstart Ventures
- Lindsay Knight, Marketing Associate, Chicago Ventures
- Moderne Ventures
- Origin Ventures
- Rahier Rahman, Founder & CEO, Pangea
- Peter Wilkins, Managing Director, Hyde Park Angels
- Shoshana Vernick, Managing Director, Sterling Partners
Since its launch this summer, Link Capital, which aims to alleviate the financial burden of medical professionals, has receive 745 loan applications, resulting in over $19 million in re-financed loans.
Pete Wilkins heads up an organization that has invested $30M+ in 30+ Midwest Companies since 2007, helping local startups raise over $185M in capital, which has in turn created over 680 jobs. Since joining as Managing Director one year ago, he has ramped up deal flow even more, increased the organization’s number of corporate sponsors from 6 to 18 and members from 90 to 110.
MARKETING & ADVERTISING:
- Finn Partners
- Josh Inglis, Founder, Propllr PR
- Kristi Zuhlke, Founder & CEO, KnowledgeHound
- Leslie Vickrey, CEO, Clearedge | Co-Founder, ARAMentors
- Rise Interactive
- Spring Rewards
The CEO of Clearedge, a provider of marketing and branding solutions to tech services and staffing industries, Leslie Vickrey is also the co-founder of ARAMentors, an organization committed to advancing women in technology.
In the past year, Sprout Social, a leading social media management tool, has launched a new social advocacy platform, added and expanded key integrations into its core product, joined the prestigious Inc. 500 list, and grown its team by 32%.
Pear, a marketing platform that helps brands build relationships with communities, has grown 15 times since January 2014, doubling its team size.
HEALTH & MEDICINE:
- Iman Jalali, Chief of Staff, ContextMedia
- Opticent Health
- Star Cunningham, CEO & Founder, 4D Healthware
- Sarah Doherty, Co-Founder & CTO, TeleHealthRobotics
In the past year, ContextMedia, a leading provider of healthcare media and information, has added over 100 jobs in Chicago, including its new Chief of Staff, former TrainSignal President Iman Jalali. (Jalali is also another 50 on Fire nominee). ContextMedia has also launched two new products in Q3, 2015 – waiting room WiFi and exam room wallboards – and will distribute nearly 30,000 tablets to exam rooms across the country over the course of the year.
Star Cunningham is the CEO and founder of 4D Healthware, a digital health platform that uses data from wearables to make real time health suggestions to help people tackle their chronic health problems. After nearly three years of being bootstrapped, 4D will close its Seed Round in October and it was recently chosen to present as a semi-finalist at the Mayo Clinic’s Transform conference.
FOOD, DINING, & DELIVERY:
- Eastman Egg Company
- Julie and Tony Bombacino, Founders, Real Food Blends
- Matt Matros, CEO, Farmedhere | Founder, Protein Bar
- Tom Jednorowicz, CEO & Founder, Meatheads
- Zero Percent
Eastman Egg Company, the cafe and foodtruck specializing in fancy egg sandwiches, has experienced 100% growth year-over-year in in-store sales, has added 22 employees, and raised $1.1M earlier this year to open a 2nd location. Also, in 2015, the company developed and released an app to enable seamless mobile ordering, allowing customers to not have to wait in line during their commutes.
A couple years ago, Julie Bombacino set out to find more natural and nutritious meal options for her young tube-fed son AJ. With her husband Tony, Julie launched Real Food Blends, a maker of 100% real food meals for people with feeding tubes. In its first full year of operation, Real Food Blends will surpass $1Million in 2015 sales.
LIFESTYLE, FASHION, & FITNESS:
- Lindsay Segal and Brielle Buchberg, Co-Owners, Luxury Garage Sale
- Hiral Sanghavi and Yoganshi Shah, Co-Founders, BauBax
- MaZi Dance Fitness
- Red Frog Events
- Ross Petersen, CEO, Blitsy
- Sonali Lamba, Founder, Brideside
- Tim Welch, Co-Founder & Developer, Nusiki
When Kellogg School of Management student Hiral Sanghavi and his co-founder Yoganshi Shah took to Kickstarter to fund their travel jacket, the two set out to raise a modest $20,000 to bring the product to market. $3.7 million and 20,000 backers later, the duo’s clothing line Baubax is now the most successful crowdfunding campaign in Chicago history, and it’s the most funding clothing project to ever be crowdfunded.
Tim Welch had the original vision for Nusiki – Instagram for music – and built the minimum viable product by himself on nights and weekends while also holding a 70 hour/week position at a boutique investment firm in Chicago. This MVP was enough to secure a 500k seed round and hire 3 additional full time employees. Since then, the company has released its iOS and Android apps and launched nationally at SXSW.