Chicago's rising impact investing community and 7 new companies you need to know

January 19, 2015

(Photos courtesy of John Timpone, PixelWhipped)

The Impact Engine just wrapped its third accelerator program and has now pumped out 23 impact-making, socially-conscious enterprises. Of those 23 companies, 22 are still active and as of Q3 2014 the program's alumni have generated a combined revenue stream of $2.5 million and raised a total of $15.6 million in capital.

This third cohort saw a shift in leadership as Chuck Templeton, the former CEO, transitioned to Chairman of the Board and Jessica Droste Yagan and Tasha Seitz took the top positions. Along with providing mentorship and resources to seven local and globally-focused companies, The Impact Engine also made the Impact Investment community a priority this year. Their aim was (and continues to) create a movement that closes the gap between interest and action in impact investing.

During “Investor Demo Day” at Untitled on Jan. 14, Yagan addressed the breakthroughs and progression she's seen in Chicago’s impact investing community. She also reflected back to when she first left her job at McDonalds corporation to head The Impact Engine 3. There, she was in charge of the multi-billion dollar corporation’s sustainable sourcing strategy (a $20 billion food and packaging supply chain). While her transition out was met with support, it was also met with sentiments like, “Are you really going to make an impact there? You’ll have no scale.” And “Aren’t these companies just a drop in the bucket?”

To that, Yagan’s responded, “Every little bit counts — if you’re working at scale, even small steps make a big difference.”

There were small and big steps made during The Impact Engine 3 and even more to come next year - including multiple entry points into The Impact Engine.

This Wednesday, you can meet the seven companies in this third cohort and network with others in the social impact space during Community Demo Day at 1871. In the meantime, here are the eyebrow-raising statistics each company brought up when they laid it all down on the line during their investor pitches:



Stat: 70% of households with children have tablets

How Infiniteach addresses this: With an app designed specifically for special-needs learning on tablets. And with 5,000 downloads thus far, they’re making strides in helping the 1 in 68 children diagnosed with autism each year.

SHIFT (formerly Basic Transfer)

Stat: 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25/day

How SHIFT addresses this: With their cash transfer program, they get money directly into women’s hands and are creating a feature in their app that empowers these women to save. Their pilot program launched this year in Uganda.


Stat: Every six seconds someone dies from diabetes.

How PranaDiabetes addresses this: With their app, a user can plan meals using a swipe-and-place feature. This helps them visualize how much sugar and carbs they will injest and encourages them to make smart decisions. They’re launching in India — where, as of 2011, 61 million people were living with diabetes.

Guard Llama

Stat: 1 out of 3 women will be affected by sexual abuse.

How Guard Llama addresses this: With their wearable keychain that alerts police immediately upon being tapped (whereas competitor apps just alert families or friends). The company is about to launch their pilot program on university campuses throughout Chicago and the nation.

Hooray Learning (formerly Story Port)

Stat: Poor writers will earn 50% less over the course of their career.

How HOORAY Learning addresses this: HOORAY Learning has taken what they’ve learned from with 25,000 students in Chicago and designed an app that gets kids excited about writing. The app boasts features like “interactive story starters” and “character creators” and has been met with rave reviews.


Totus Power

Stat: 20% of the world’s population doesn’t have power when they need it (including hospitals and schools).

How Totus Power addresses this: By reusing old car batteries, they’re creating portable electricity solutions. Their pilot product, Jupiter6, is being tested in classrooms in the developing world. They currently have an Indigogo campaign in action — take part in the final stretch here.

ReliefWatch (formerly Project SAM)

Stat: 40% of health centers in the developing world are “stocked out” of prescription medication.

How ReliefWatch addresses this: With an inventory-centered app that monitors inventory and disease. Their first client, Global Brigades, has seen a 90% reduction in perscriptions expiring on shelves.

Have a tip for us or know of a company that deserves coverage? Email us via [email protected]

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