Last night Chicago's digital business community came together to celebrate the fourth annual Moxie Awards — Built In Chicago's event dedicated to the hard-working and fast-rising leaders of our booming digital ecosystem.
Maria Katris, Built In's CEO, opened the night, noting that over 22,000 individuals cast votes this year and some of the winners won by less than 1% of the runner up.
All of these companies (and one, quite literally) are helping Chicago see its position as a rising American Tech Hub. These are the companies and leaders that take “Silicon Valley” and “New York City” out of the conversation when it comes to where we land on the national tech scene; they are the companies proving that Chicago is the best place to launch and grow a technology business. And that, like the soil the world’s first skyscraper was built upon, Chicago remains the destination to build truly innovative products, offer first rate services and play home to incredibly hard-working folk.
It's with that great Chicago pride we announce the 15 digital businesses that exemplify just what it takes to be built in this city.
The 2015 Moxie Award Winners
Consumer Web - Opternative
While this was a competitive category, it’s clear to see what Chicago saw in Opternative — a company with a sharp vision with sights set on growth. Opternative is one of those startups that makes you think - “oh yeah, the future is now” and exemplifies how technology will move different industries under the digital health umbrella forward. Here’s how Opternative works: through a smartphone or computer, a user takes an eye exam within 25-minutes (which, for the record, up until Opternative built this technology, eye exams hadn’t changed since 1921). The results are sent to an ophthalmologist who reviews the data, signs the prescription's dotted line and gets a user on their way to seeing clearly again.
Best B2B - SimpleRelevance
SimpleRelevance has a technology that helps marketers send personalized, targeted messages to their e-mail lists. Some businesses have lists with thousands of e-mail addresses — which is great, unless you don’t know anything about the person behind the @domain.com (which is often the case). Sending unpersonalized email blasts are annoying to customers and don’t give the marketer a sense of control over their craft. So they use SimpleRelevance which gathers purchasing and browsing insights linked to an e-mail address and empowers the marketer to create targeted campaigns. They're simple and straightforward — just like the founders Moxie Award acceptance speech, which took one-second.
Best New Startup - Uptake
What has money from Groupon’s early investors and Catepiller, the sixth-largest public company in Chicago? Chicago’s hottest new startup, Uptake. Led by Brad Keywell (founder of Chicago Ideas Week) Uptake found that businesses from all different industries are collecting tons of data and have no idea what to do with it. So, with some data science and smart employees, Uptake started out to help analyze that data to predict and prevent failures, uncover hidden profits and discover new opportunities. And speaking of new opportunities — you can also work for the Best New Startup. They have 35 positions posted on the Built In Chicago job board.
Best Service Provider - VisaNow
During their acceptance speech, the founders of VisaNow asked the audience if anyone had ever run into visa issues trying to hire someone. A surprisingly large number of people in the crowd made some sort of verbal-noise-agreement, affirming that VisaNow really provides a service this rapidly globalizing economy needs. Founded in 1998, VisaNow is in the business of helping individuals and companies process visas online. A 95% approval rate, 24/7 access to an application-in-progress and 30-minute response times to all customer inquiries were enough reasons to make the people of Chicago see the “Moxie” power VisaNow has.
Best Startup Founders - Eileen Murphy and Abby Ross of ThinkCerca
What do you get when you match a seasoned (and super Irish) CPS veteran with an emerging entrepreneur (who might have super powers)? The best startup founders in the city of Chicago - Eileen Murphy and Abby Ross of ThinkCerca. These powerhouse women are changing the face of critical thinking in education from grades 4-12. While they’re taking names, they are chasing numbers no longer - the duo just closed a $3.2 million Series A round on March 11, 2015. The complementary pair truly encompass what it is to have “Moxie” and have earned the attention and money of the Gates Foundation. And what’s better than money? Bill Gates money.
Digital Agency of the Year - Rise Interactive
Rise Interactive was named Digital Agency of the Year by the Moxie Awards in both 2013 and 2014 — it’s third year in a row! Now this is the kind of hat trick we want see from Jonathon Toews in every remaining game of the Stanley Cup show down this season. Rise Interactive has a lot of digital marketing offerings in areas like SEO, Paid Search, Display Advertising as well as a portfolio of internally-built online tools. They also have a pretty rocking thought leadership blog full of interesting industry insights and best practices.
(Note: unfortunately Adam Koopersmith could not make it, his colleague accepted in his place)
Investor of the Year - Adam Koopersmith (The Pritzker Group)
You usually just look to VC's for their money — not their Moxie. But when it comes to Adam Koopersmith of Pritzker Group Venture Capital, you’re looking at him for both. Adam joined the Pritzker Group in 2004 and has focused on SaaS applications, interactive marketing solutions and health applications. Adam is all over the Chicago business scene, from his time at Kellogg to now with a portfolio that features investment in Shiftgig, Food Genius, Give Forward and, fittingly, the 2015 Startup Of the Year who you’ll read about later. He also sits on the board of organizations like TechStars, Sittercity, Advantage Optics and Firm58.
Woman in Tech - Beth Birnbaum (GrubHub SVP Product)
In what has been quite a year for women in technology, it is exciting to celebrate a Chicago-based woman who is out there kicking down walls and forging new paths with an unliteral tech sabor. The 2015 Moxie for "Woman In Tech" went to Beth Birnbaum - the Senior Vice President of Product at GrubHub. Beth spent the majority of her career building and managing online travel technology platforms. She has worked with Expedia and Travelosity and within her investment portfolio are Jetpac, TravelPost, Limos.com and Realself. In addition to making the food delivery industry soar with technology, Beth also sits on the Board of Playworks - a organization that helps children learn through play.
CTO of Year - Brian Lanier (GrubHub)
The 2015 CTO of the Year has made it possible for you to order Pad Thai from your watch. Seriously. In just 10-months as CTO of GrubHub, Brian Lanier has led the build out of The Seamless App for Apple Watch and is currently developing the wearable GrubHub app. Before GrubHub, Brian worked with Comcast as the Vice President of Engineering where he managed the design and delivery of the X1 platform. It’s clear that Product Development and Management is Chicago's brightest CTO forte.
Best Software Company - Jellyvision
Meet ALEX - the best software in the city of Chicago. ALEX is Jellyvision’s brainchild and notch in the company’s mission to humanize the Internet. Jellyvision is one of Chicago’s most successful digital communications firms with an acclaimed leader (who is also the 2015 Moxie Awards CEO of the Year...for the third year in a row). In 2009, after eight years of producing interactive marketing products, the company launched ALEX - which is an employee engagement platform that communicates matters like health benefits to new hires and current staff. The software is used by over 300 companies, 52 of which are Fortune 500 and many have hundreds to millions of employees. The launch of ALEX has been instrumental in Jellyvision’s recent growth - see for yourself by how much they're hiring on the Built In Chicago job board.
Startup of the Year - SpotHero
If you haven’t heard of SpotHero yet then you’re super late to the party (or maybe it’s because you’ve been wasting time looking for a parking spot). SpotHero is Chicago’s Startup of the Year for so many reasons. They have incredible leadership with a focused expansion plan that constantly hits the mark. Since graduating Excelerate Labs (now TechStars), the company has moved into 15 markets and there seem to be no STOP Signs in ahead.
Best Company Culture - Jellyvision
Take a moment to scroll through the Employee Page of the 2015 Moxie Award Winner for “Best Company Culture” . Yes, you want to be friends with every single person who works at Jellyvision. When CEO Amanda Lannert talks about company culture, she speaks about the importance of collaboration and treating people with respect and kindness. And one common thread of the people that make up Jellyvision’s culture: a sense of humility. And unsurprisingly, we’ve also heard their internal GIF game is off the charts.
Best Enterprise Web - SMS Assist
90,000 client locations, a network of over 20,000 affiliate subcontractors, 400 employees, Pritzker Portfolio backing and a fresh $45 million in the bank. That’s the 2015 Moxie Awards Best Enterprise Web, SMS Assist. SMS Assist helps clients gain and create operational efficiencies with their cloud and mobile technology. They’ve helped tons of clients reduce onsite costs through their facility tracking and management solutions and improve service quality and delivery speeds.
Breakthrough Digital Co of the Year - Avant
Avant is growing at an unprecedented rate and putting up numbers that could make big wig bankers weep tears of joy. Avant’s mission is to lower the barriers and costs of borrowing, taking the loan request process online and using special algorithms to match borrowers with the best loans for them. They announced earlier this year that over $1 billion in loan originations were accrued and expect to hit $2 billion by the end of this year. Avant started in 2012 and in just three years has grown to over 670 employees, acquired a San Francisco-based company and opened up offices in LA and London. By the end of 2015, Avant projects to have over 1,000 employees.
CEO of the Year - Amanda Lannert (Jellyvision)
Amanda Lannert is a CEO who has doubled her company’s revenue three out of the last four years, has built the most “Millennial Friendly” office in the city of Chicago and who, through the hustle and commotion, still notices when you get your haircut. That is, according to an employee of hers at Jellyvision. This is the third year in a row Amanda has taken the coveted “CEO of the Year” title at the Moxie Awards making us think it’s time to call the dictionary and have them change the definition of from “Moxie: force of character, determination, or nerve.” to “Moxie: Amanda Lannert.”. Much is to be said about her energetic leadership and outlook on building a company culture of people with work ethics that rise in community opposed to singularity.