Chicago's unicorn club: here's everything you need to know

by Andreas Rekdal
September 13, 2016

In 2013, venture capitalist Aileen Lee introduced the term “unicorn” to describe privately held technology startups valued at $1 billion or more. So dubbed for their rarity — only 39 companies in the world fit Lee’s description at the time — unicorns have since become a bit more ubiquitous. But they’re still pretty special.

Chicago has its own stable of tech unicorns — half a dozen by our count. This is who they are, what they do and when they reached their mythical status.

 

Became a unicorn: October 2015

Data analytics startup Uptake helps industry titans sift through their data to unveil opportunities for growth and increased efficiencies. The brainchild of serial entrepreneurs Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky, the company was founded in 2014 and has experienced a meteoric rise: Uptake reached a $1.1 billion valuation and was named Forbes’ hottest startup of the year within two years of its founding.

 

Became a unicorn: first reported in June 2016

With its online marketplace for discounted gift cards, Raise lets sellers get cash for their store credit and helps buyers save money on the stuff they want to buy. The company recently acquired Slide, a New York-based gift card startup, and is in the process of establishing a presence in the Big Apple alongside its Chicago headquarters. Raise currently sits at about a $1 billion valuation, according to Forbes.

 

Became a unicorn: September 2015

Avant is an online lender that uses machine-learning algorithms to assess an applicant’s creditworthiness. Founded in 2012, the company rose to unicorn status in three short years, reaching a valuation close to $2 billion in the fall of 2015. On the tail end of that funding, the company moved from River North to swanky new offices right across the Chicago River.

 

Became a unicorn: June 2016

SMS Assist makes cloud software that lets property managers and other real estate professionals manage their building portfolios and hire contractors while on the go. The company was founded in 1995, but only started raising capital in 2011. Earlier this year, it reached unicorn status with a $150 million Series D from Goldman Sachs Investment Partners at a $1 billion valuation, which will be used to expand its product offerings.

 

Became a unicorn: February 2013

Founded by former Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Dhiraj Rajaram in 2004, Mu Sigma holds the distinction of being Chicagoland’s very first unicorn. The data analytics firm, which is backed by Sequoia Capital and MasterCard, works with 140 Fortune 500 companies across a number of industries to glean insights and improve operations. Though a large portion of its operations take place in Bangalore, India, Mu Sigma remains headquartered in Northbrook, IL.

 

Became a unicorn: November 2015

ExteNet Systems creates multi-carrier distributed networks that help improve wireless service for smartphone users inside buildings and tunnels and in densely occupied areas. Founded in 2004, the company has done work for Willis Tower and has built out wireless connectivity in CTA’s underground tunnels. When it reached its $1.4 billion valuation in November 2015, ExteNet Systems employed 100 people in Chicago.

 

Images via listed companies.

What's your company's story? Send us a tip or tweet us @BuiltInChicago

Jobs from companies in this blog82 open jobs
All Jobs
Finance
Data + Analytics
Design + UX
Dev + Engineer
HR
Internships
Legal
Marketing
Operations
Product
Project Mgmt
Sales
Project Mgmt
new
Uptake
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
Uptake
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
Uptake
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
Uptake
Chicago
Operations
new
Avant
Chicago
Sales
new
Avant
Chicago
Operations
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Developer
new
Avant
Chicago
Operations
new
Uptake
Chicago
Operations
new
Uptake
Chicago
Product
new
Avant
Chicago
Sales
new
Avant
Chicago
Developer
new
Avant
Chicago
Developer
new
Uptake
Chicago
Developer
new
Uptake
Chicago
Developer
new
Avant
Chicago
Sales
new
Uptake
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Avant
Chicago
Developer
new
Avant
Chicago
Operations
new
Uptake
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Uptake
Chicago
Internships
new
Uptake
Chicago
Operations
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
HR
new
SMS Assist
West Suburbs
Data + Analytics
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
HR
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Uptake
Chicago
Developer
new
Avant
Chicago
Operations
new
Avant
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Uptake
Chicago
Internships
new
Uptake
Chicago
Product
new
Avant
Chicago
Operations
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Developer
new
Uptake
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Avant
Chicago
Product
new
Avant
Chicago
Marketing
new
Uptake
Chicago
Operations
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Operations
new
SMS Assist
West Suburbs
Sales
new
Uptake
Chicago
Finance
new
Avant
Chicago
Developer
new
Avant
Chicago
Developer
new
Uptake
Chicago
Operations
new
Uptake
Chicago
Operations
new
Avant
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Avant
Chicago
Developer
new
Uptake
Chicago
Developer
new
Uptake
Chicago
Sales
new
Avant
Chicago
Operations
new
Avant
Chicago
Developer
new
Avant
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Avant
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Operations
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Marketing
new
Uptake
Chicago
Product
new
Avant
Chicago
Developer
new
Avant
Chicago
Operations
new
SMS Assist
West Suburbs
Design + UX
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Developer
new
Uptake
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Uptake
Chicago
Developer
new
Uptake
Chicago
HR
new
Avant
Chicago
Developer
new
Uptake
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Avant
Chicago
Sales
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Uptake
Chicago
Operations
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
HR
new
SMS Assist
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Avant
Chicago

Chicago startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Software Engineer Jobs in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Offices in Chicago Tech
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Sales Jobs in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Perks at Chicago Tech Companies
LOCAL GUIDE
Your Guide to Healthtech in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Data Science & Data Analyst Jobs in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Marketing Jobs in Chicago