With the Chicago Auto Show in town this month, it’s a good reminder that the Windy City has quietly positioned itself as a hub for automotive innovation.
While it may not be home to auto makers like Detroit or have the amount of startup activity compared to the Bay Area, Chicago has a history of launching tech-enabled auto companies. Cars.com launched in Chicago in 1998 and was one of the city’s early tech successes, eventually selling to Gannett for $1.8 billion in 2014. CCC Information Services was founded in 1980 and provides claims management and auto body shop estimating software.
Chicago is home to the BMW Technology Corporation, the car maker’s technology development office it opened in late 2014. The West Loop space houses dozens of Chicago software makers working across a range of disciplines such as mobile apps, cloud-based services, machine learning and big data analytics.
Chicago is also a major city for HERE, a mapping technology company with a large presence in the city. The company, which sold in 2015 to an auto group made up of Audi, BMW and Daimler for $2.8 billion, hires around 1,100 employees in Chicago–many of which work on mapping tech for driverless cars. Thanks to HERE, Chicago has the second most self-driving car jobs in the US, only behind the Bay Area, according to USA Today.
But there are a number of upstarts that are working to improve the way we buy cars, insure cars, park cars and more. Here are 11 startups making Chicago a hub for auto innovation:
Chicago has the second most self-driving car jobs in the US
Drivin is trying to disrupt the used car industry with a platform that allows car dealerships to more efficiently sell, source and acquire vehicles for their lots. Drivin uses data analytics to show dealerships what vehicles they should acquire based on demand, and then it buys the car and delivers it to the dealer, saving them from wasting time at vehicle auctions and buying makes and models that won’t sell. Founded by Groupon founders Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky–and led by CEO Kayne Grau, the former CTO at Cars.com–Drivin has raised $17.5 million in equity.
Snapsheet is an app that allows drivers to send a photo of their damaged vehicle to an insurance agency after an accident. The startup’s “virtual claims system” guides customers through the auto insurance claim process, and it has landed major insurance providers such as AIG, MetLife and USAA as clients. The company has raised more than $30 million in funding, including a $20 million Series C back in October. Snapsheet’s investors include Lightbank, Pritzker Group, OCA Ventures, Liberty Mutual and USAA.
Founded in 2006, ParkWhiz is the oldest of Chicago’s 3 major parking apps. ParkWhiz helps drivers find and book parking spots from their phone before they arrive at their destination, eliminating the hassle of driving around the city in search of affordable parking. The company has raised $36 million since it launched. Last year ParkWhiz landed a deal with Ford to be one of the companies integrated in the auto maker’s new FordPass app, a “connected car” feature that includes a suite of car-related apps.
Like ParkWhiz, SpotHero helps drivers reserve parking in advance at parking garages and lots. The startup, which was founded in 2011 and has raised more than $27 million, expanded into 13 new cities in January. And this month it launched a Parking Developer Platform to provide parking reservation functionality to third-party websites, apps and cars with connected or autonomous capabilities.
Similar to ParkWhiz and SpotHero, ParqEx helps drivers find parking on-demand. But ParqEx is different in that it connects drivers with private spaces, such as condo garages and other residential parking. Dubbed the “Airbnb of parking,” ParqEx is a marketplace where people, organizations and businesses can make money off their unused spots. The startup has also developed an IoT solution called Access+, which allows renters and approved users to open any garage door or gate with a click of a button on their smart phones. ParqEx raised a $1.3 million seed round last December.
Last year Allstate officially unveiled Arity, a tech startup spun out of the insurance giant that collects billions of miles of sensor data from smartphones and vehicles to help companies evaluate the risk of a driver by knowing how likely they are to get into a car accident. Built by a team of 200 technologists inside Allstate’s Merchandise Mart space, Arity can help insurers better price a coverage plan for individual customers. The startup counts Allstate, Esurance and Answer Financial as users.
OtoBots is an on-demand car mechanic app that connects you with certified mechanics in your neighborhood. The startup, which launched in 2015, can come to your home or office and service your vehicle at your desired time. The service is designed to give users more control over their car repair experience and save people from wasting time at the body shop.
8. HAAS Alert
Founded by a former HERE product manager, HAAS Alert is an app that alerts drivers when emergency vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances are approaching. Working with in-dash car units like Apple Car Play and Android Auto, HAAS sends an audible warning and push notification to the driver’s infotainment system. The startup was one of twelve companies selected to the 2016 Ford-sponsored Techstars Mobility of Detroit accelerator.
Chicago startup TextNinja wants to put an end to texting and driving. It’s built an app and bluetooth device that can recognize when you’re in your car and silences text notifications while you drive. TextNinja auto-responds to incoming texts with a customized message, and notifies you of all of your missed messages once your trip has ended. TextNinja also has a social gaming component where the app awards drivers points for a certain number of miles driven without texting.
FastToll is an iOS and Android app that lets drivers go through Illinois tolls without an IPASS and pay their fares from their phone at the conclusion of their trip. FastToll tracks all the tolls a person goes through, and it directs users to the Illinois Tollways website to complete the transaction within seven days. While technically based in Las Vegas, FastToll selected Illinois as its first market.
ForeverCar is a provider of car repair protection plans. Through its site, ForeverCar recommends the top three plans to a customer, and they can then view quotes and purchase plans online. If there is a breakdown, customers have access to a ForeverCar “Protectionator,” essentially a repairs concierge who will coordinate rental cars, towing, payment and communication with the repairs shop. The company raised a $10 million Series A last year.