6 Chicago tech companies coming into their own this year

Carlin Sack

Often companies that aren't newly launched, aren't recently funded or haven't exited don't get too much coverage. But Chicago's mid-stage tech companies are surpassing some amazing milestones this year internally and externally. Here's just a few of those companies that are currently deep in the trenches of building great products and teams.

 

GiveForward

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What they do: provide an online platform to raise money for loved ones in need. 

How many they are hiring this year: 10

Their biggest milestones this year:

- They recently hit the huge goal of $100 million in contributions on the site: "Last week Troy Henikoff of TechStars joined our board, and Senator Durbin recently stopped by our office to see how he could help grow GiveForward," co-founder Ethan Austin said. "Hitting $100 million in contributions on the site helped a lot with visibility. We started getting a lot more inbound requests for partnership opportunities and it boosted our recruiting as well."

- "Up next, we want to go international and expand deeper into additional verticals. We've already shown that we can create an immense amount of value for our users in the medical vertical. We plan to do the exact same thing in other related verticals like funerals and memorials, disaster relief and adoption."

Their growing pains you can learn from:

"Over the past five years we've built up a lot of technical debt that we've been paying off for the last year. We're nearing the end of a replatform from PHP to Ruby on Rails and I think our entire team is pretty excited to start building in one platform rather than having to build in parallel. Replatforming sucks: avoid it, if you can."

 

Ifbyphone

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What they do: provide a voice-based marketing automation platform.

Their growth this year: They have hired 20 so far and will hire 20 more this year.

Biggest milestones this year:

- Expanding to two full floors (40,000 square feet) at 300 W Adams.

- "The most important accomplishment for us is that our brand is becoming ubiquitous among our client base," CEO Irv Shapiro said. "We now get 50 percent of our new sales from customers going to our site directly by name or from referrals. That’s saying to us that this year we are crossing that threshold that our brand is better known."

Their growing pains you can learn from:

"The hardest thing to do is to attract what we call SWANs: smart, hardworking, ambitious and nice employees. In any economy, hiring is hard. Hiring SWANs is really, really hard. We are now hiring open source software developers, which is hard to find in any city. A way to differentiate Chicago in the future needs to be our talent; we have to be working on it now with our kids and computer science programs."

 

ContextMedia

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What they do: provide patient education solutions for healthcare professionals in the chronic disease care sector.

How many they are hiring this year: 100

Their biggest milestones this year:

- Moved into a new space at 330 N Wabash, which co-founder Shradha Agarwal said "is the first office we have built to represent our culture and workflow."

- "We're excited by the fact that we've doubled our number of physician practices nationwide, in addition to doubling revenue."

Their growing pains you can learn from:

"One lesson we've learned is the importance of leading by goals and outcomes," Agarwal said. "As we grow, the pressure is to set more rules but the way to lead is giving each person ownership over outcomes - defining the destination and empowering each person to get to a common goal by a timeline. Processes that can be automated should be, so that instead of spending our time trying to reinvent the wheel, we can focus on finding new solutions to new problems."


 

Hireology

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What they do: provide a platform enabling companies to organize their hiring process and make better hiring decisions.

How many they’re hiring: 60

Biggest milestone this year:

- Hireology was named the No. 1 Talent Management Platform on the market by industry publication HRO Today this year.

- "In that same survey, Hireology was ranked No. 1 in Quality of Service for the second year in a row," Director of Marketing Erin Borgerson said. "We were ranked ahead of established players like Kenexa/IBM and SuccessFactors/SAP."

Their growing pains you can learn from: "Hireology will more than triple the size of our team in 2014, and we spend a lot of time as a management team making sure that we're enabling scaleability not only of the business, but also of the culture."

 

SIM Partners

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What they do: provide Velocity, which empowers multi-location brands to maximize digital marketing results at a local level.

How many they are hiring this year: 50

Biggest milestones this year:

- Moving the office to downtown Chicago at 30 N. LaSalle from downtown Evanston.

- Enhanced product functionality for Velocity and Velocity Social to continue to align with the market needs within retail, financial services, food and beverage, healthcare and insurance.

- Thier third annual SIMposium this fall, which brings together the top minds in digital marketing for a day of strategizing and sharing best practices.

What you can learn from their growing pains:

"Make sure your entire leadership team is aligned with the process and your goals," CEO Jon Schepke said. "We knew nothing about raising capital when the funding process started, but prepare yourself to hear, 'No' - and do not take it personally."

 

Channel IQ

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What they do: provide online retail intelligence, channel management and brand protection solutions to manufacturers and retailers.

How many they are hiring this year: 60 people, including hires in Chicago, Boise and Madrid.

Biggest milestones this year: 

"We are now launching our first catalog of online prices with up to a quarter billion retail offers tracked. We are finally at a starting point with the massive big data throughput that we started to envision a few years ago."

- "We are constantly increasing the degree of our engineering challenges which in a small way adds to the tech community and makes Chicago a better place to start technology companies."

Their growing pains you can learn from: "As bad as you want to grow, don’t shortcut the recruiting process and ensure you get people that are the right cultural fit."

 

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