America’s third largest city has shed its traditionally corporate image for a more entrepreneurial look – with wildly successful ventures like Groupon and Grubhub leading the way. The grassroots startup movement has been supported by groups like 1871, the city’s most prominent tech startup hub. World-class universities like Northwestern and the University of Chicago make top talent plentiful, while the legacy of Motorola permeates the city with tech expertise. However, the youth of the startup environment and the relative scarcity of capital, perpetuated by a kind of Midwestern fiscal conservatism, still makes funding more difficult than in top-tier cities. Finally, the lack of media coverage impedes recognition and branding for Chicago startups.
These businesses offer industry expertise and are a source of startup talent and potential customers. They help fuel the local startup community.
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Kevin Willer helped jumpstart the Chicago tech scene in 2000 when he helped establish a Google office in the city. He led the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, which oversees one of Chicago’s biggest entrepreneurial resources, 1871. He currently works with Chicago Ventures, one of the city’s top startup investors.
J.B. Pritzker is deeply connected with Chicago’s tech community, leading investment through Pritzker Group Venture Capital. He helped lay the foundation for startup success by building community anchors like 1871, TechStars Chicago and the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center. He serves as Chair of ChicagoNEXT, which aims to further innovation in the city.
Howard Tullman is a longtime entrepreneur who currently leads 1871 - one of Chicago’s most significant entrepreneurial resources. 1871 provides co-working space, mentorship and other forms of support for the city’s founders. Tullman's management and tech expertise have served him well in expanding 1871’s programs and developing it as the center of Chicago’s startup community.
Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky helped put Chicago on the entrepreneurial map by co-founding Groupon. While Lefkofsky currently serves as CEO of Groupon, the co-founders have also established Lightbank, a major Chicago VC fund. Due to the pair’s connections through academia and government, there are few figures better poised to grow Chicago’s entrepreneurial environment.
Matt Moog is a major architect of Chicago’s startup scene. In addition to founding and leading incubator Wavetable Labs, he co-founded Built In Chicago, an organization to convene the city’s entrepreneurs, as well as the FireStarter Fund, a major source of capital for Chicago’s tech startups.
Troy Henikoff is a tech industry veteran responsible for constructing much of Chicago’s startup scene. In addition to his teaching role at Northwestern, Troy is also Managing Director of TechStars Chicago and recently announced Math Venture Partners, a new $25M venture capital fund.
Jeff Carter is a major architect of Chicago’s VC networks. He co-founded Hyde Park Angels, now the Midwest’s foremost angel network. He currently leads West Loop Ventures, a fund to further grow and develop the region’s population of entrepreneurs. Jeff frequently writes on entrepreneurship through his blog, Points and Figures.
Brenna Berman is leading Chicago’s move toward data-driven governance. As head of the Department of Innovation and Technology, she oversees the data collection and analysis platforms SmartData and WindyGrid. A policy and tech industry veteran, Brenna is also at the center of the city’s efforts to form partnerships with its growing startups.
Bryan Johnson is an entrepreneur who founded one of Chicago’s biggest success stories – Braintree, a payment platform that eBay purchased for $800 million in 2013. In 2014, Johnson founded the OS Fund, which aims to invest in companies developing revolutionary technologies including artificial intelligence and asteroid mining.
Maria Christopoulos Katris currently leads Built In, consisting of three sites designed to develop entrepreneurial networks in major cities. Though it now also operates in Denver and Los Angeles with plans for further expansion, Built In was originally established in 2010 as the premier venue for connecting Chicago’s startups, a role it retains today.
One of the seminal moments for Chicago startups, the program went on to churn out major successes like GrubHub and Braintree.1997
One of Chicago's most prominent early stage VCs, Sandbox operates multiple funds, including one in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Additionally, Sandbox operates the accelerator Healthbox, an accelerator program for healthcare-related companies.2003
Hyde Park Angels created one of Chicago's strongest networks for angel investing and access to early stage capital.2006
The media outlet helps unite the Chicago startup community through news, startup profiles, and more. Its local success has allowed it to expand to other cities in the US.2010
Chicago Ventures is one of the biggest early-stage VC's in U.S. and was a notable addition to the Chicago venture community.2011
TechWeek is a major annual conference for Chicago technology and entrepreneurs.July, 2011
A pivotal moment for Chicago entrepreneurship, Groupon's IPO garnered national attention and minted many new investors.November, 2011
1871 is a major anchor for the Chicago startup community. It's home to many startup events, investment and mentoring resources, and space for entrepreneurs.2012
Braintree founder Bryan Johnson commits $100M of his personal money to form the OS Fund, a venture fund that will back audacious ideas aimed at making "quantum-leaps" for society.October, 2014
Coworking space WeWork opens four locations between 2015 and 2016, signifying the attractiveness and desire of Chicago as a startup ecosystem.2016