Chicago’s Top 30 In Tech 2010
30. Funding Feeding Frenzy
Coming in at the end of the year, the Funding Feeding Frenzy competition held at the Chicago SYNC center was quite a success and has built a large amount of buzz around the event. A blend of “The Apprentice” meets “Shark Tank,” FFF drew over 100 people to its event and was covered by NPR, Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. The team running it is planning another and no doubt it will be larger the second time around in 2011
Since being funded by Angel Investor (& co-founder) Chad Lomax, Jack Eisenberg-led MapDing has also been picking up media attention around the country and has seen a spike of users in the Las Vegas metro area. Described as a, “real-time, location-based smartphone application for buying and selling locally.”
If MapDing starts to get a critical mass of users on board, Chicago is going to have another winner in the tech startup world. VCs and Angels would be wise to give this one a look.
Straight out of a joint class from Medill and Kellogg comes Present Bee, a “social wishlist application” with Facebook integration. The trick of it is everyone has their own “wishlist” their friends and family build for them based on how well they know the gift receiver. People don’t get to see the lists built for them, only the lists they contribute to for their friends.
With built in links to merchants, friends can take a gift idea and purchase it for someone through PresentBee. The startup has already started producing a little revenue even as they are looking to secure funding. Present Bee, like MapDing, is going to make whoever invests in it very happy.
Led by the successful Seth Kravitz, Technori is covering the Chicago tech scene with a slick looking site built on the Flint framework and features once a week detailed, in depth interviews of entrepreneurs running tech companies in Chicago. It was a pleasure for me to meet Seth after launching my own news site, Flyover Geeks, and with a strong reception to both brands by the likes of J.B. Pritzker (It’s Chicago’s time to lead in entrepreneurship and innovation) its clear there is a hunger in Chicago for the type of news and reporting Technori is delivering. It’s worth noting everyone on the Technori team runs their own startup as well.
26. Beyond the Pedway
Tim Jahn is the founder and host of Beyond the Pedway, an online video interview show he has been doing for two years now and his audience is growing. One of the early leaders of the Chicago entrepreneurial press, Tim’s coverage keeps getting better as he moves along. His passion for Chicago is clear and he has also cofounded a new speaker’s series called Entrepreneurs Unpluggd that launches in February.
Led by industry veteran David Carman, BNChicago (Business network Chicago) has started hosting well-attended events by people in the industry serious about the startup world in Chicago. Their recent BNC TechPitch was an excellent event and as they host more of these types of functions they help raise Chicago’s profile.
24. Chicago Android
Whenever discussion in Chicago turns to the DROID OS, DROID devices or programming for such devices, once name comes up repeatedly- Uki Lucas. A tireless advocate for the operating system, is almost singlehandedly raising awareness of the capabilities of the devices he clearly is an expert in and regularly hosts excellent events around them.
23. The App House
Chicago Booth graduates Jeb Ory, Kilton Hopkins and “WC” Bill Hope have built a publishing house for mobile applications that continues to put out winners. Their game “Simon Graham” broke the iPad Top 200 list and they just released the fun, mobile version of The Drink Deck for iPhone and according to CEO Jeb Ory, “allows Appreneurs to produce an app and get it marketed to the world successfully.” With a business model that is ‘micro-financed’ for each project they have found a successfully way to carve out a profitable market in the application space for themselves. When asked what their next product launch will be in 2011, Ory says, “We are going to change the way people manage their productivity.”
22. Lean Startup Machine Chicago / Startup Weekend Chicago
Both Lean Startup and Startup Weekend were ideas that originated outside Chicago and exist in cities around the world but under the leadership of Bernhard Kappe of Pathfinder Industries and Marc Betrand of Technori, respectively, both of these groups have managed to put on wildly popular events that allow strangers to meet, form a team and produce a new startup in approximately 54 hours of hard core plotting, planning and coding. It all ends with presentation to judges and winners are announced with some of the startups formed going on to become actual businesses. Both groups are facilitating great things for Chicago
21. Illinois Technology Partnership
A non-profit run by the tireless Linsday Mosher, the ITP is an advocate for, “innovative policies today for the technologies of tomorrow.” Ms. Mosher constantly interfaces with politicians in Chicago and Springfield to get good legislation passed that allows tech companies in Illinois to do business. Thanks to her efforts, Illinois’ Government didn’t use DSL as a standard of what broadband is. Shocked to hear the government is so clueless about current technologies? Then send a thank you to Lindsay Mosher and support the ITP.
Combining Digg and Crowdsourced journalism, WindyCitizen was formed by Brad Flora after winning a grant from the Knight Ridder foundation. Since then it has grown into one of Chicago’s best places for local news submitted by local citizens.
19. SYNC Technology Center
Despite not yet being officially open, the newly formed for 2010 Chicago SYNC Technology Center has seen a number of tech events happen in its 18,000 square feet of open space like midVentures, Funding Feeding Frenzy, Rocked the Recession, BNC Tech Pitch and others. Led by hyper-kinetic Mike Rhodes, the SYNC’s investment fund is rumored to be close to opening and when they start investing in startups it is a sure bet that the SYNC is going to be a major player in Chicago tech
Despite rumors they move their handset division out of Chicago, there is no denying Motorola has risen from the ashes of the RAZR handset and gotten back into the handset game with a plethora of DROID devices. With the upcoming HoneyComb Tablet, it will be interesting to see if Motorola can continue and if they will stay in Chicago.
17. Delivered Innovation
Quiet and steady for the past four years, Delivered Innovation has built into an engine of productivity building ecommerce solutions for clients in the $10M – $100M range on the Force.com platform. They recently were at a demo where in 20 minutes they demonstrated how to build a basic, bare bones app on Force.com against Microsoft and outperformed them. Looking to hire developers in 2011, they are moving to become leaders in the red-hot Force.com development space.
16. Sandbox Industries
With office hours they make available to just about any entrepreneur, Sandbox has a reputation for listening to good ideas and when they like them, funding them. With startups like DashMob and BluelightTapp operating under their roof, Sandbox is an industry champion that will continue to be a positive influence on the Chicago tech scene.
15. Hyde Park Angels
With no shortage of brilliant minds graduating from the Booth School of Business, the Hyde Park Angels have no shortage of excellent companies to invest in and most recently invested in the very interesting Edulender which looks a bit like the FeeFighters of student loans and if they execute anything like FF, EduLender will be another win for them.
14. New World Ventures
Quick- when you think of a family that is a leader in Chicago as well as its son that is a leader in Chicago Entrepreneurialism who do you think of? That’s right, you think J.B. Pritzker and New World Ventures. The Pritzker family has been the ideal philanthropic family practicing the virtues the wealthy have preached since the 18th century; support the community so others may rise as well.
New World has done just that and looks primarily for companies that have established themselves and are looking to take things to the next level, typically investing in rounds of $1M and up. J.B. Pritzker is an active supporter of the community and leader in Chicago business. Like other VC firms, New World is looking for good companies to invest in.
With the tagline, “You’re not in the Valley anymore” Lightbank has made its presence felt all throughout the Chicago startup ecosystem. Having helped spawn the Colossus that is Groupon, Lightbank invites entrepreneurs to pitch to them and is actively making investments in companies they think have a shot at making it. Walking through their offices that occasionally intertwine with Groupon’s you can feel the energy humming in their offices. It’s an exciting place to be and dynamic entrepreneurs tend to pop up around every corner. Erick Lefkowsky and Brad Keywell are making Chicago a great place to launch a business.
Like Lean Startup Weekend and Startup Weekend, SocialDev Camp is not only a Chicago entity but it does an excellent job promoting the birth of exciting startups as well as having excellent speakers. The company to win at SocialDev Camp Chicago went on to become the people’s choice winner at midVentures and turn into CookItFor.Us which is on a rocket shop to success. Led by Tim Courtney and Andy Angelos, SocialDev Camp Chicago is an example of Things That Are Good in Chicago.
11. Excelerate Labs
Chicago’s super exciting, 13 week Business Incubator/Accelerator takes entrepreneurs with an idea and invests $15-$20 and in 13 weeks (hopefully) a business comes out the other side with access to larger investors for those that do well. Excelerate is getting ready to announce its summer 2011 schedule- entrepreneurs, start planning NOW.
10. Illinois Technology Association (ITA)
Formed by Terry Howerton when the Chicago tech community was a smoldering ruin of chaos and the name Filipowski was held in equal parts awe and anger, Fred Hoch built what has become a pillar of the Chicago Tech Community. With some 700 member companies, startup space for rent, events being hosted and the ITA sponsoring nearly everything of value happening in the city related to the tech community, the ITA continues to do good and push for collaboration amongst the city and even state-wide.
Walking into the ITA usually allows someone to run into someone else they want to talk to- the Lean Startup Circle and Startup Weekend both host events there. Located at 200 S. Wacker, the ITA is good for Chicago and if it didn’t exist Chicago likely wouldn’t be as far along as it is.
9. Fee Fighters
Since launch, Fee Fighters has been recognized by technology press around the country as something that not only is a GREAT IDEA, but should have been invented years ago. Thankfully, Sean Harper and Joshua Krall got around to building and have since transformed the way small businesses accept credit card payments. Their totally transparent system doesn’t allow for screwing around on the part of the merchant card processors and they even hold them accountable if they try to be.
Fee Fighters is an example of what can be done to various businesses where sunlight could help entrepreneurs across various industries. By the end of 2011 expect to see Fee Fighters even more successful and influential than it is now.
crowdSPRING’s site claims that, “96% of our customers claims crowdSPRING actually works” and it seems that the industry press agrees. Launched as a way for the little guys to compete for business, crowdSPRING puts proposals on an open market where freelancers, solopreneurs and small shops can compete for the business.
Co-founders Ross Kimbarovsky and Mike Samson both had successful careers before launching crowdSPRING and show no signs of stopping. crowdSPRING is one of the companies that help put Chicago’s tech community in the public eye outside Chicago and does it in style.
Led by Moshe Tamssot, CookItFor.Us was born in a stripped won form at SocialDevCamp, won the People’s Choice Award at midVENTURES Launch and now is being chased by Venture Capitalists eager to fund it. CookItFor.Us is a prime example of how a good idea with a little bit oh help can turn into an exciting business model. CookItFor.Us seeks to transform not only how food is made by the “makers”, or food based entrepreneurs, but also how such entrepreneurs are able to source and buy their ingredients on a transparent market. This is an extremely exciting business that is going to be a household name by 2012.
At times visionary and others downright confusing, midVentures has come into being after fits and starts all throughout the last year with their successful mv25 and midVentures Launch. This freewheeling consultancy/conference organizer/other is clearly still figuring out exactly what it wants to be but has made a major impact on Chicago tech community in 2010. Watching midVentures find their way and emerge as a leader in the tech community is a fascinating game for those that have worked with them. As their staff grows and they open an office in San Francisco, it would seem their plans lie outside being just a hometown Chicago company and cofounder Geoff Domoracki has even been quoted saying he’d like to see midVentures in “India” among other places.
Katy Lynch is the founder of SocialKaty.com, the social media consultancy that is a bonafide, on-fire startup. After flirting with social media and learning the business working for the Facebook App, “Where I’ve Been,” Lynch now is signing up a new client every two weeks and has been hiring staff to keep up. She has only officially been in business since August and while some businesses still haven’t figured out social media , Lynch has signed high-profile clients and offers detailed analytics of social media campaigns. Her business is so successful she expects to hire more in 2011 and hasn’t stopped looking for new help despite adding four new positions.
If she continues on her current rate of growth, SoicalKaty could very well be doing over $1M in revenue by end of 2011 and definitely will be by end 2012.
4. EDL Consulting (Cloud Craze)
Led by company founder Bill Loumpouridis, Chicago based EDL Consulting is one of those companies quietly becoming an industry leader; quiet unless you happen to be one of their clients or one of the many companies that attends the DreamForce conference every year in Silicon Valley where EDL Consulting continues to win award after award as a leader in development on the Force.com development platform.
The Cloud Craze product is recognized in the development community as the gold standard to which other developers hold themselves and they are based here in Chicago. EDL is the perfect example of a Chicago technology company whose services make it easier for other companies to use technology to make their businesses run better. Their success shines a bright light on Chicago all the way from Silicon Valley and beyond.
With their recent $11M round of funding, GrubHub’s founder Matt Maloney and Mike Evans have entered in the secret shadow world of Chicago’s Tech Illuminati, where they decide who will be successful and who will fail with the likes of Andrew Mason and Brad Keywell. In all seriousness, GrubHub is the type of Internet success story that makes Chicago look fantastic. When entrepreneurs think of Chicago as a place to launch a tech startup, GrubHub is one of the companies that they think of as a success story. Their founders are visible in the community and often make themselves available to other entrepreneurs looking for advice and can usually be seen speaking to groups of entrepreneurs at various events where people hang on their every word, looking for insight into how they did it.
2011 will see GrubHub use that new infusion to expand far beyond their current 13 city empire and continue their current success.
What can be said about Groupon that hasn’t been said already? Two years ago, Groupon was a site built on WordPress and now straddles the tech world, turning down $6 Billion dollar offers and has offices with toilets filled with candy. I have been in Groupon’s hallowed halls at 600 W. Chicago and swear the air tasted a little sweeter than it did outside.
With Groupon’s stratospheric rise, Andrew Mason has done two things for Chicago: His company was the first in recent memory to be a massive success and put Chicago on the map as a home of entrepreneurs. Second, he showed how to be a good CEO. By all accounts he has remained humble and is supportive of the tech community in Chicago. He speaks at conferences and does interviews. He encourages other startups and has been heard saying encouraging things like, “Chicago needs its own TechCrunch style site. (Cough, FlyoverGeeks, Cough)…ahem.
Groupon has also sponsored events throughout Chicago and Andrew is sought after by Silicon Valley as a speaker for by no less than TechCrunch Disrupt and Michael Arrington. Imitated by dozens of wanna-bes, Groupon is tied to Chicago and along with GrubHub is really making the city shine. Groupon is Chicago as Chicago is Groupon and it is a great thing for our city.
Many of you are right now thinking, “Wait a minute. GrubHub is #3, Groupon is #2, and…….something called ‘cloudbot’ is #1? What in the world is ‘cloudbot?’”
Cloudbot is the startup startup team led by Colin Young that took first place at Chicago’s Startup Weekend. It was put together over the course of 54 hours and when all the judges got into the voting room (I was one of them) we all agreed, cloudbot was our #1 choice. (It was called UberCmd then but has now become cloudbot.)
I chose cloudbot as the #1 spot on my list of Chicago’s Top 30 In Tech be cause the Chicago Tech Community is all about the up and comers and the startups with ideas of mixing things up and doing it all different. Yes, Groupon is huge- but two years ago it was a wordpress site and I am fairly sure matt lauer wouldn’t have interviewed Andrew Mason back then. In fact, Andrew Mason himself has said (tongue in cheek) that, “I don’t want other people to go work for awesome startups. I want them to stay at Groupon.”
Colin Young and the cloudbot team have invented something special and different and when I saw them demo it I said to myself, “Oh heck yeah- they have something here.” I actually tend to have a bit more “colorful” language than most people, but that was a good approximation of what I was thinking.
In founder (and team leader) Colin’s words:
“My team, ubercmd, worked on an action-bar based interface for getting things done in one window with your cloud apps. We wanted to combine all your windows and tabs into one, taking it from a basic tool to a super-useful (or should I say uber-useful?) product with baked-in revenue models. Startup Weekend helped me take a concept useful only to a limited set and turn it into a full-fledged business, extremely usable to coders and social media users alike.”
Cloudbot is an action bar where you can type commands into it to get things done. For instance, you can type “tweet” and send a tweet out.. or type “mail” and make an email… it sounds clunky in describing but I can say this Chicago: When they officially launch and you see it in action, everyone in Chicago’s tech community will smack themselves in the forehead and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” When I saw it done by Colin and the team, I saw about 15 different ways it could produce revenue and it wasn’t lost on the team members either.
If any members of the Chicago venture capital community are reading this, you are going to be very, very sorry you didn’t invest in cloudbot before it went big. I chose this startup as #1 because of all the startups I have seen this year, cloudbot is far and away the one that has the potential to spread, and fast. I can see Facebook integrating it. I can see the Internet integrating it. Yes, it’s like that.
You’ll notice I saved the Top 10 strictly for entrepreneurs- the Lightbanks and New Worlds of the VC world definitely have more capital to invest in companies than individual companies have in funding, but they are (barring catastrophe and mismanagement) always going to have a large amount of capital to invest. This is why I placed them in the middle- really in my mind, all the VCs and incubators would be lumped together in one group but some tend to stand out more than others.
That’s my Chicago Top 30 In Tech for 2010. No doubt some of you feel I left someone off the list or had someone there that didn’t belong. After all, that’s what these lists are for- conversation starters for people passionate about the community.