50 Awesome Chicago Based Startups You Should Get To Know
Chicago is a startup hub that does not have one defining characteristic. The tech community and coworking culture spreading throughout the city encompasses a variety of industries from social good and health tech, to food accelerators and real estate.
Known for having one of the top ranking economies in the world in both size and diversity, Chicago attracts a highly educated talent pool, and stable infrastructure as the tech sector is split amongst diverse focuses.
Chicago also has great funding opportunities with angel investors like Hyde Park Angels and Cornerstone Angels, to coworking spaces, incubators and accelerators like Lightbank, TechStars Chicago, Catapult, and 1871.
Venture firms like OCA Ventures, Chicago Ventures, and others have increasingly been investing in earlier stage deals. We’ve put together our list of 50 new, interesting, and successful startups in the windy city.
In no particular order, here is our list of follow worthy Chicago startups:
This startup is launching the first online refractive eye exam and lens prescription service, aiming to make eye care more accessible and affordable.
In 25 minutes you can take an exam from anywhere and receive a doctor signed prescription within 24 hours or less, saving a trip to the eye doctor and saving you money.
The startup raised a $3M seed round in 2014 with participation from Tribeca Venture Partners, Chicago Ventures, and other VCs.
2. Mira Fitness
This Kickstarter launched startup in the wearable tech space that is a sleek, fashionable bracelet for women that tracks activity like steps, and connects with an app where users can enter other healthy activities they do such as yoga.
Mira also has a feature called “Boosts” that are fun, simple reinforcements for healthy activities the user can easy add in their day. Mira set a goal of 10K for their Kickstarter, raised 125% of that goal, and have already shipped out the first batch to backers.
Health insurance in the U.S. has gone through some drastic changes in the past couple of years. This private health insurance marketplace works with more than 300 health insurance carriers to help consumers comparison shop for health insurance quotes.
The startup has drastically grown with the passing of the Affordable Care Act, and has helped 30M+ people shop for coverage for free. GoHealth charges a fee to its insurance partners in exchange for exposure to their millions of users.
Consumers can also purchase insurance directly through the GoHealth website. In June of 2012, GoHealth raised $50M in private equity.
Retrofit is taking a new approach to weight loss by correcting the culprit that leads to failed diets most often: bad habits.
Retrofit is a platform for data driven weight management, and provides expert advice via Skype and remote monitoring devices for a 12 month behavior modification program.
Their average client loses 1.2 pounds per week, and they have treated over 50,000 weight loss patients successfully to date. Retrofit has raised $15.7M in 3 rounds of funding.
Launched in 2014, Livongo is a platform that helps people with diabetes better manage their chronic condition. The system includes a glucose meter to send user information to be analyzed and monitored by Livongo’s diabetes educators.
Users can share data with their doctor, family, or friends and also be warned when their blood sugar swings too much.
Livongo has signed several large clients like Mission Health System and Office Depot, and has raised $30M from their Series A and B funding rounds from VC’s like General Catalyst Partners and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Poor hand sanitation is the largest driver of hospital-acquired infections, resulting in deaths and massive costs to the healthcare system.
SwipeSense is bringing accountability and transparency to hand hygiene in hospitals to drive behavior changes and lower infection rates. Their portable and trackable hand sanitation device dispenses FDA approved alcohol gel with a hand swipe, and simultaneously transmit usage data to the web-based app to record usage for each healthcare worker.
SwipeSense raised $9.7M in Series A funding in June of this year from New Ground Ventures.
This startup offers a suite solution with three web-based products to help drive savings in hospital supply spend by leveraging knowledge of hospital members, public data, and the FDA.
Procured Health offers features like market and clinical information for medical devices, a workflow solution for the hospital purchasing process, and a savings discovery tool.
Procured Health raised $4M in Series A funding led by FCA Venture Partners, and welcomed a managing partner of FCA to their advisory board.
8. Relief Watch
This startup’s founder took home first prize at Unilever’s Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Award this year for the company’s simple software platform that is helping clinics in the developing world provide better patient care.
With an estimated 40% of all health centers in the developing world having stockout issues, Relief Watch launched its cloud platform that tracks supplies and medical equipment, and allows NGOs to report inventory records and disease cases via text and automated voice calls.
This lets medical distributors know what areas need which drugs or supplies. The startup recently signed a contract with Liberia to monitor tools and medicine fighting ebola.
Commerce and Marketplaces
9. Home Chef
We’ve seen a lot of fresh ingredient and recipe delivery services popping up and doing well over the last couple of years, and Home Chef launched to shake up the market. Launched in June 2013, this startup has raised around $1M to date with its seed round led by Guild Capital.
Subscribers sign up online and are able to customize their meal preferences based on dietary needs or goals. Home Chef customizes the menu options to the subscribers tastes, and they choose how many meals they want to receive each week.
Home Chef delivers one box each week with all of the fresh ingredients needed to make the meals, and step by step instructions.
Shiftgig is Monster.com for the restaurant, hotel, and retail industries. Instead of catering to the professional world like most job boards, Shiftgig offers a more effective way for employers to connect with qualified service based candidates, and quickly screen for the perfect hire.
For job seekers, Shiftgig allows users to stand out with profiles that include past work history, education, personality, photos, social influence, and recommendations.
Launched in 2012, Shiftgig has raised a total of $13M in funding with its most recent raise of a $10M Series A round late last year.
Once upon a time, Chicago was a major player in the gaming world, and this startup wants to relaunch that history. LyteShot, founded in late 2012, is a cloud based interactive gaming platform, utilizing augmented reality and 3D printing technologies to target the “live action gaming” market.
Users can play games in physical spaces anywhere through the platforms sensors live with other gamers. To date, the startup has raised an initial seed round of $635K.
The what I like to call “Warby Parker Method” has led to many successful ventures, and Brideside is another example of this winning business model.
Brideside is an e-commerce platform for bridal party retail that cuts out the middleman, and offers an inspirational shopping platform for users to find and purchase bridesmaid dresses. The platform also eliminates the pains for geographically dispersed parties by bringing the shopping experience online.
Brideside raised a $1.1M Series A round of funding in April this year.
This startup is taking giftcards to a more refined, thoughtful level. Giftbar is an online marketplace where users can purchase gift cards from a curated list of the best high end, independent retailers.
Users can personalize their gift card purchases and send them to recipients via email, mobile, or mail. Giftbar helps users package their purchase as a reflection of them and the individual they are gifting.
This startup raised $1M in funding in 2012, and has since gone live in 6 cities with more to come.
We can’t think of anything more aggravating than driving around, and around, and around again to find a parking spot. SpotHero wants to save us all from this awful feat by launching an on-demand parking app that assists drivers in finding nearby parking, with the ability to compare rates and book a spot in advance.
Users are offered discounted parking rates, and can pay directly through the app. Since launch in 2011, SpotHero has expanded to 12 cities in the U.S. including Chicago, New York, Boston, and San Francisco, and was voted “Best Overall App” and “Best Transportation App for the City of Chicago’s Apps” for Metro Chicago Contest.
SpotHero raised $4.5M in its Series A round of funding mid 2014.
DRYV is dry cleaning for the millennial era. This on-demand dry cleaning and laundry service available via mobile app allows users to arrange pickup of their items by a “DRYVer” who transports their items and understands the type of cleaning best suited for each garment.
The items are sent to eco-friendly cleaning facilities, and delivered back to the customer the next day, with delivery available 7 days a week.
DRYV raised $450K in seed funding in 2014 from Chicago angel investors to roll out the app in major neighborhoods via iOS, Android, and web.
Can “car buying” and “easy” go in the same sentence? EveryAuto launched in Chicago just last year to streamline the car buying process into a single, easy to use platform via web and mobile app.
Shoppers can locate, compare, and analyze new and used vehicles from the 1.8M daily listings in the US and Canada.
EveryAuto even offers assistance with financing options once a user has chosen the car they want. We are excited to see what’s next for this young startup as they continue to grow.
Have you ever received a gift card you wish was for a different store? This C2C gift card marketplace founded in early 2013, allows users to buy and sell their unused gift cards, giving them freedom back on how they want to spend their money.
The seller receives cash, and the buyer gets savings for thousands of brand options. With a sizeable series B raise of $56M led by New Enterprise Associates in January 2015, total outside investment to date is around $81M. The platform is now available for both iOS and Android.
As one of the largest tech deals in the Chicago area last year, we are excited to see the next growth phase for this startup.
David Kalt saw many flaws in the Amazon market for buying and selling instruments, and launched Reverb to create the marketplace he envisioned. Reverb is a marketplace for individuals and businesses to buy and list their instruments and music gear. Reverb charges 3.5% to sell compared to Amazon’s 15%.
In addition, the platform offers a list of handpicked curated items for users to discover new items, gear history, interviews with musicians, and a comprehensive Price Guide to help buyers find a fair price.
Reverb raised a $2.3M Series A round from diverse investors such as Eric Ries, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, and Lightbank.
Working women who don’t want to compromise beauty needs will love this startup. PrettyQuick, launched in 2012, is an online marketplace for premium salon and spa appointments.
Consumers use the app as a curated, hyperlocal guide to top beauty places including reviews and photos, and can book and pay (including tip) for specific beauty appointments all within the app.
For salons and spas, the app is a marketing platform and CRM tool. In the fall of 2014, PrettyQuick raised $1M in seed funding.
This startup was bootstrapped for its first 14 months with four co-founders and generated over seven figures in revenues under a 12 month period. Blitsy is an e-commerce site for the arts and crafts niche where crafters can buy their supplies up to 70% off.
Blitsy is also building a strong community of crafters that interacts with their crafting video tutorials and online content.
This May, Blitsy raised a $3.6M Series A round with participation from Lakewest Venture Partners, FireStarter Fund, Chicago Ventures, and other VCs.
Founded by two MIT graduates and a professor, StyleSeek is a personalized e-commerce website for lifestyle products that helps retailers create a custom experience through a SaaS model.
Coined the “Pandora for E-commerce”, products on StyleSeek range from apparel, to home, to travel, and more. The technology integrates recommendation tech, lifestyle blogs, and e-commerce enabling users to create and refine their StyleDNA.
StyleSeek uses its email newsletter to promote new products, but uniquely creates 100% personalized emails for each user. StyleSeek has raised $1.8M in seed funding.
nspHIRE is Tinder for HR. The app built for millennials allows employers and job seekers to swipe left or right for full time, part time, freelance, and internship positions.
The app is free for job seekers who can search actively or passively with different push notification settings, and are also able to search confidential with privacy settings. When an employer and job seeker mutually swipe right they are sent into a chat feature to discuss the opportunity further.
With most recruiters deciding in 6 seconds of looking at a candidate’s resume if they want to continue the conversation, we are excited to see if this app receives the explosive growth in HR that Tinder has for dating.
Fooda is changing up the way companies think about corporate lunch options and breaking the monotonous lunch routines of busy employees. Companies and individuals can join Fooda to have delicious meals brought to their office from local restaurants.
Users have 3 options for employees: pop-up lunches, corporate catering, and “Fooda Select” (currently only in Chicago). The pop-up lunch service is what the company is known for, where Fooda finds local restaurants (vetted and approved by Fooda employees) to go to the users office, set up shop, and sell their food.
In late 2013, Fooda raised a $10M Series A funding round from Valor Equity Partners.
Founded by two University of Iowa students, this startup has a very simple concept: it allows students to talk to other students in their classes to connect about classroom content.
clusterFlunk allows students to instant message, upload/download files (like study guides and lecture notes), and post to their class walls. Students can also sell textbooks, calculators, parking spaces, furnitures, or post apartment subleases.
Last July, clusterFlunk raised $1M in funding from Lightbank.
This edtech startup is working to narrow the achievement gap by creating a place where students do work and get help from teachers and classmates when they need it.
The iOS app allows teachers to create assignments via iPad, and monitor progress of the entire class using the teacher dashboard. Instead of looking to see whose hand is raised, the teacher can identify those struggling, and provide feedback via the iPad. Students are also able to give peer to peer feedback.
Earlier this year, Classkick raised a $1.7M seed round from Kapor Capital, Lightbank, Yammer founder Adam Pisoni, and other VCs.
Did you know that the phrase “How to …” is one of the top searched phrases on Google? MentorMob saves users that want to learn a skill with their online learning platform providing crowd-curation of the most helpful free learning content on any topic.
Their users can create “learning playlists”, which consist of websites, videos, blogs, and more on a topic or skill of interest. These playlists save users wasted time from just a general Google search. MentorMob raised a seed round of $220K.
Founded in 2010, BenchPrep is a learning platform that helps students prep for their exams through interactive courses for many different disciplines.
Users can download the free app on any device and purchase student content that can be started via their iPhone, and finished later on the web. BenchPrep has also partnered with publishing giants like McGraw Hill and Cengage Learning to prep students for common exams like college admissions, certifications, and licenses.
BenchPrep has raised $8.2M to date with its last fundraise of $6M led by New Enterprise Associates with participation from Revolution Ventures.
If you are a fan of the Discovery Channel because you like learning about history, science, and other topics, this startup is right up your alley. Curiosity is a learning platform that features content of all forms to make it easier to find, filter, and engage with educational content.
Users can engage with videos, long-form, short-form, memes, screencasts, and more to learn about specific areas of interest. Users can also access content on the go through the free iOS app.
Curiosity raised a $6M Series A round in late 2014 from Discovery, Chicago Ventures, and 3 other VCs.
Things That Make Your LIfe Easier
Didn’t do your homework on that client for your big meeting today? The Charlie startup can save that first impression by creating a page of useful and relevant information about who you are meeting with.
This software app connects to a user’s calendar and preps them on people and companies they are meeting with before hand by filtering through different online source and alerting users of commonalities and important facts.
Charlie uses the latest development practices such as automated testing, pair programming, and continuous delivery. This three year old startup has received $1.75M in funding from Hyde Park Venture Partners and Lightbank.
Your are out and about exploring the city, when you look down at your phone and realize you are going to have to stop at that coffee shop to charge your phone that is barely hanging on to its last 5% battery life.
AMPY was launched to keep you mobile and moving, as the world’s smallest motion charger that uses your body’s kinetic energy to charge your USB-powered devices. The device can be strapped anywhere on the user’s body, and they can see things like minutes of battery life generated, calories burned, and their carbon offset.
With a successful Kickstarter campaign raising $309,323 (3x their original goal), the company is now in beta with their initial prototypes for its backers, and also looking to integrate the technology into other wearable devices.
Want to try a new recipe, but don’t feel like buying a ton of groceries? Kitchin, founded in 2012, is a mobile digital version of your kitchen that simplifies things like grocery shopping, meal prep, and reduces food waste.
Kitchin keeps track of what you have already, when it’s expiring, suggests meals based on what is currently in your kitchen, and will direct you to the closest grocery store if you need an item.
Users can scan loyalty cards and snap photos of receipts via the Kitchin mobile app to upload items to their virtual pantry which organizes items and notifies the user how much of each item they have in different categories.
32. Options Away
If you travel often, you will love Options Away, a startup that lets users hold their flights for days to weeks while finalizing travel plans for a small upfront fee. Users have peace of mind knowing that they are locked into the best fare price, and if prices decrease Options Away notifies customers to lock in an even better rate.
The startup’s APIs allow their strategic partners like Expedia and Hipmunk to integrate their unique offerings to their large customers bases. Customers can lock in the price of a flight for up to 21 days until they decide their travel plans.
Options Away has raised $5.6 M to date with a recent Series A funding round of $3.5M led by OCA Ventures with participation from Thayer Ventures and Pritzker Group Venture Capital.
Scout is a self-installed home security system that is more affordable than other security options on the market, with month-to-month contract options, and portable devices. Scout has partnered with Works with Nest, Amazon Echo, and IFTTT, and their system integrates with lighting products such as Philips Hue and LIFX.
Users can access controls through their phones, tablets, computers, and now Apple iWatch and Android wear. Financing solutions are also available for Scout customer through another one of their partners, Affirm.
Scout has raised $700K in funding through SeedInvest.
Formerly called TempoDB, this startup provides software developers with its time series database solution, available as hosted or deployed. The solution makes it possible to store and analyze billions of measurement time series data points from millions of internet sensors.
TempoIQ has raised a little over $4M to date, with its most recent funding round of $3.2M led by Hyde Park Venture Partners.
Marketing and Content Solutions
This project management tool was founded by Jason Fried, CEO of a software company called 37signals. Basecamp set the bar high in the productivity solutions space, and is run on the cloud and only requires users to have access to a web browser or smartphone to use the platform.
Basecamp offers its users free weekly classes on how to use its platform effectively, including a live Q&A, and is designed to service users from freelancers to multinational corporations.
The VC firm of the company’s well known investor, Jeff Bezos, invested an undisclosed amount into the company back in 2006. What is fascinating about the success of Basecamp is that it was purposely grown slowly, carefully, and methodically, which tends to be a much different approach that many startups are taking today. In this case, slow and steady does win the race.
This startup began as a project at Northwestern University in Chicago. Narrative Science, founded in 2010, identifies and conveys relevant information into accurate and actionable conversational language.
This language generation platform is powered by artificial intelligence that analyzes data, understands relationships between information, and generates perfectly written narratives.
Narrative Science raised a $10M Series D rounding of funding in late 2014 with participation from USAA, Battery Ventures, Jump Capital, and Sapphire Ventures.
Launced in 2013 by the founders of horse betting website “Youbet.com” that exited at $127M, Fandium stays close to its sports roots, and aggregates social content around live sporting events.
Available as an iOS or Facebook app, Fandium collects and filters social content into a single-stream of game day conversation, along with other features likes game stats, check-ins, fan profiles, and leader boards.
Fandium raised an initial $1.25M in seed funding from angels in 2013, and is now raising a $750K round to develop their service for Android devices.
With giants like Starbucks and Panera implementing their own customer loyalty rewards applications, how do local business owners compete? Belly is a fast-growing player in the customer loyalty and rewards space that is helping SME’s solve that problem while also reinventing the space through gamification, digital check-ins, and an iPad setup for businesses.
Merchants pay a monthly subscription to use the plug-and-play rewards platform, receive marketing material for consumers, and can track customer data to offer exclusive promotions and rewards. Belly users can see a list of merchants in their location, and scan their smartphone at each location to check in and accrue rewards.
Belly raised $10M in Series B funding led by Andreessen Horowitz.
39. All Campus
As we head more towards distance learning, and away from the traditional classroom, universities worldwide continue to expand their online programs.
All Campus launched in 2012 to partner with universities to expand enrollments and acquire qualified students to expand their online class enrollment. The startup uses marketing research and enrollment expertise to help universities create effective national campaigns customized to the program’s unique needs.
All Campus has raised over $8M in funding to date with its most recent raise of $844K that occurred in April this year.
As location based marketing continues to grow in popularity and relevance, more marketing startups are focusing on hyperlocal product offerings. Geofeedia, launched in 2011, is a subscription based SaaS that helps companies gather social media intelligence tied to specific locations.
Their patented technology filters and analyzes social media content in real time across multiple sources to gain actionable insights through hyper-local monitoring. Geofeedia is used by well known brands like McDonald’s and Dell, news outlets like CNN, and even law enforcement agencies.
To date the startup’s total funding through angel and institutional investors is just shy of $4M.
Formerly called DIYSEO, UpCity is an inbound marketing and SEO solution geared towards small businesses with budgets of $800 or less. Through a subscription based platform, UpCity offers different strategy packages based on budget, needs, and future goals.
The UpCity platform manages and delivers customized tasks, generates reports, and provides a full range of SEO services geared towards growth and revenue generation.
UpCity has raised a $3.5M series B in 2013 from Chicago Ventures and Firestarter Fund.
42. Food Genius
Food Genius provides market data, analytics, and research for the foodservice industry. They provide reports on things like menu data and price tracking, to statistical analysis for how to optimize toppings on burgers or develop new products.
Since launch in 2010, Food Genius now serves widely recognized brands like Kraft, Arby’s and Coca-Cola.
Food Genius has raised $2.4M in funding from Hyde Park Ventures, New World Ventures, Pritzker Group Venture, and Chicago Ventures. Funding has gone towards sales on things like automating parts of the selling process, and actively managing existing accounts.
This social CRM solution was founded mid 2012 to help brands effectively identify and engage customers near their physical business location. Through Earshot’s social media processor and platform, brands are able to capture and re-distribute eligible social content within a defined geo-fence.
Brands are able to more effectively manage, interpret, and respond to social media posts created at nearby locations of interest.
Earshot raised $1.7M in seed funding last June from Lakewest Venture Partners, Point B Capital, Serra Ventures, Birchmere Ventures, and other VCs.
44. Sprout Social
Launched in 2010, Sprout Social provides businesses with an effective way to manage their social media efforts. The company provides an online platform to customers where they can manage their social media presence on a single interface, cross post/read, monitor analytics and reports, and more.
Today, Sprout Social has an impressive range of clients including McDonalds, Nokia, Pepsi, UPS, and more.
The company has raised $27M to date, with their most recent raise backed by Lightbank and New Enterprise Associates.
45. Civis Analytics
This startup believes that the world’s biggest problems can be solved with big data. Civis Analytics help companies leverage their data to make more informed decisions and build smarter, data-driven strategies.
Their cloud-based products built by a team with diverse backgrounds in Fortune 500 companies, and even rocket science offer analytics to unlock ideas within a company’s data.
Civis Analytics raised an undisclosed seed round in 2013.
This online lending platform offers a highly customized approach to the personal loan process. Avant is not so much an original idea, as it is catering to an untapped market in the lending industry.
Avant targets those who may occasionally forget to pay bills on time, and allows these personal loan approvals often ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 to process within minutes or up to a 24 hour time frame.
Avant, founded in 2012 now operates in 46 U.S. states and the UK, and has raised more than $1B in funds as the company assumes the risk that comes with defaults.
GiveForward is the Kickstarter for medical and life events, specializing in the niche of medical fundraising. Anyone can use the online service to create a free fundraising page for a family member, friend, or themselves for things like uncovered medical bills, cancer treatments, funeral costs, adoptions, and other life events.
GiveForward raised $2M in its Series A funding round in July 2012 led by Founder Collective and First Round Capital.
Not a crowdfunding fan, but looking for ways to fund your retail or manufacturing business? Bolstr was created for consumer, retail, and manufacturing business who are profit generating can go to raise funds from investors.
The online marketplace uses a unique revenue share investment structure to help businesses maintain equity. In exchange for funding, investors are entitled to receive a fixed percentage of revenues each month, until they have been paid back a predetermined multiple on their investment. Businesses on Bolstr can receive access of $25 to $250K to use towards growth.
To date the startup has raised $2.3M in total, with its most recent seed round of $1.7M earlier this year.
The Odd Ones Out…
This startup was the first place winner of the EEBC-It’s Just Brunch Club! Fall 2014 StartUp Competition in Chicago. Nano Gas Technologies infuses nanobubbles of gas into wastewater, which causes any remaining trapped oil to rise to the surface.
Their technology collects an additional .6% of oil than leading methods, which is equivalent to 18 additional barrels of oil per day at a 3,000 barrel/day disposal well.
The technology not only collects more oil, but increases the quality of the oil collected. Nano Gas Technologies raised $255K earlier this year.
Breakwater Chicago is a kickstarter launched project that will be a floating entertainment destination on Lake Michigan in the Chicago Harbor. The part yacht, part island resort will be a 50,000 square foot floating venue with entertainment options like restaurants, pools, clubs, event space, and more.
A really cool feature will be during winter when the vessel will be anchored to shore, and covered with a clear air-structure dome for a winter escape. Breakwater Chicago raised twice the amount of their pledged kickstarter goal, which also led to additional outside investment of $1M from private investors.
The total project budget is $23M, and the team has developed a financing structure for the remainder of the project. The project is now in the later stages of the design phase, and the team is headquartered in the offices of 1871, a Chicago accelerator.