Chicago’s tech scene is vibrant and healthy, but one area where it really stands out is the wealth of female founders who chose it as their startup home. Not only does the third coast boast the highest percentage of female founders of any major tech hub according to a 2015 Compass study, but it’s also seen relatively big rounds of funding for those companies. More than 20 female founders have each attracted over $1 million in funding to bring their products and services to life, with more than $180 million raised by women-founded companies by our count.
Genevieve Thiers, Sittercity, $48.1M
The teenager next door probably isn’t the best babysitter for your child, but that’s often how people search for childcare. Genevieve Thiers knew the internet offered a solution, and founded Sittercity in 2001 to provide detailed profiles of babysitters, nannies and other caregivers so it’s easier to find someone with just the right qualifications in your area.
Gaby Spartz, Dose, $34.5M
Gaby Spartz is the co-founder of Dose, the viral media empire that now includes both Dose and OMGFacts. She serves as vice president of content, helping to spread shareable stories through predictive analysis technology.
Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Pearachute, $1.2M
Desiree Vargas Wrigley could be on this list a couple times. Before starting Pearachute (and raising $1.2 million in just six weeks), she founded charitable giving platform GiveForward, which has raised more than $6 million. But now she’s fully focused on her "ClassPass for kid’s activities," which was nominated for a Moxie Award for the Best New Startup.
Kristi Ross, dough, $29M
The internet is full of DIY tutorials, but learning how to invest your money takes more than just watching a couple YouTube videos. Kristi Ross co-founded dough to make trading stock options as transparent as possible. By letting people watch professionals trade, along with in-depth tutorials explaining why they traded, users can have more control over how their money is invested without going in blind.
Talia Mashiach, Eved, $25.5M
Talia Mashiach knows the event industry. Her first big business, ACCESS Chicago, helped hotels book vendors. Her current company, Eved, offers a collaborative tech platform to handle procurement, marketing and finance details, letting event planners focus on creating great events instead of wrangling information.
Chee-Young Kim, NowSecure, $12.5M
Chee-Young Kim knew that as more and more time was spent on mobile devices, making sure those devices were secure would be vital to some users. She teamed up with husband Andrew Hoog to make sure mobile users understand what their devices are doing. After five years of bootstrapped growth, the company raised a $12.5 million round in 2014 and quickly expanded the team to meet growing demand.
Kathryn Saluke, OfficeLuv, $4.58M
Even if you’ve worked in an office your whole life, you may not realize the effort that goes on behind the scenes to make sure the place is comfortable to work, from keeping things clean to making sure supplies are in stock. While cleaning and supply services have existed for decades, Kathryn Saluke co-founded OfficeLuv to bring the process into the modern era. With a strong tech backbone, the company has streamlined and automated office management.
Maria Christopoulos Katris, Built In, $4M
Every city has a unique tech community and one common problem — finding top talent. Maria Christopoulos Katris took a mission-driven approach to solving the biggest pain point for the tech industry, and she's proven it can scale to other markets. Built In operates the largest online communities for tech companies in Chicago, Austin, Colorado, New York City and Los Angeles with one simple mission: help tech companies tell their unique stories so they can recruit the talent they need to thrive.
Jayna Cooke, EVENTup, $1.8M
Finding the right place to host your event can be a pain. While event coordinators may know all the secret spots, everyday people may not realize how many places are rentable for their next get-together. EVENTup helps users find event spaces as easily as they shop for TVs online with a simple marketplace setup. Jayna Cooke, who previously served as vice president of business development at Groupon, has built the company into a nationwide business.
Brielle Buchberg and Lindsay Segal, Luxury Garage Sale, $8M
Buying used luxury clothes online can be risky. Not only do you have to worry about fit and condition, but ensuring authenticity can also be a struggle. Brielle Buchberg and Lindsay Segal started Luxury Garage Sale to curate only the best consignment options and sell them online, in pop-up shops and at a couple of brick-and-mortar stores. The company has also brought the tech team in-house to build a better shopping experience.
Heidi Brown, Options Away, $4.6M
Awesome flight deals don’t always arrive on schedule. With Options Away, Heidi Brown and her husband built a way to hold flight prices for a small fee, giving users time to reserve deals while they research other trip details. Last year, the company raised $3.5 million to add international flights to the mix.
Eileen Murphy and Abby Ross, ThinkCERCA, $4.7M
Eileen Murphy has first-hand knowledge of the influence technology can have in teaching children as a director of curriculum and instruction for the Chicago public school system. With ThinkCERCA co-founder Abby Ross, she developed a framework for personalized instruction to help students meet Common Core standards.
Jessica Tenuta, Packback, $2.6M
Taking on the $8 billion textbook industry isn’t easy, and Jessica Tenuta went into it without much institutional knowledge. But she didn’t let a lack of experience keep her down and put in a ton of work with her three co-founders to build up the e-textbook rental business. The company has grown to include a new question-and-answer platform as well, which recently became the main source of revenue for the growing startup.
Sonali Lamba and Nicole Staple, Brideside, $1.5M
Sonali Lamba and Nicole Staple founded online bridesmaid dress shop Brideside to serve the nation’s bridal parties. By introducing a tech-driven e-commerce experience, the duo has built a company that offers traditional wedding must-haves to savvy shoppers looking for a modern experience.
Monica Royer, Monica+Andy, $2M
E-commerce and clothing run in Monica Royer’s family. Before starting infant clothing company Monica+Andy, she learned the ropes of the e-commerce clothing industry from her brother, Bonobos founder Andy Dunn. But since starting her company, she has made a name for herself on her own, building Monica+Andy up as a high-quality outlet for baby clothes. She’s also brought on other moms to help test the fabric before it ever touches a baby’s skin.
Kristi Zuhlke, KnowledgeHound, $3.9M
Before co-founding KnowledgeHound, Kristi Zuhlke analyzed massive amounts of market research to try and improve sales of Procter & Gamble’s brands. Except she had trouble really getting to the kind of data she needed to do her job well. KnowledgeHound allows companies to easily distribute market research across organizations, saving them time and money.
Liz Salcedo, Everpurse, $1M
Once you hear it, putting a battery pack into stylish purses seem like a no-duh idea. But Liz Salcedo actually created the modern fashion gadget, which lets users top off their smartphones on the go without packing a separate bulky battery and getting tangled in cords that are too long. Last year, the company she co-founded partnered with Kate Spade to put her tech in even more bags.
Jennifer Morris and Kara Kaplan, GiftBar, $1M
Gift cards are great as long as they're for a store you actually like. But oftentimes, the cards are just big box chains or places you don’t regularly shop. With GiftBar, Jennifer Morris and Kara Kaplan let users buy gift cards from local businesses across the country that can be sent via email, mobile or mail.
Julie Novack, PartySlate, $2.7M
If you’ve helped anyone plan a wedding, birthday or other big event recently, you’ve probably been shown a Pinterest board with great photos, but little in the way of turning those photos into reality. Julie Novack built PartySlate as an “inspiration engine” that links directly to the vendors and creators of those gorgeous setups.
Not every female founder in Chicago has raised huge rounds. Some have bootstrapped their way to success, while others have had big exits or are a Series B away from breaking into this list. Below are some honorable mentions we just couldn’t leave out.
Shradha Agarwal, ContextMedia, Bootstrapped
For Shradha Agarwal, self-funding the healthtech powerhouse she co-founded meant that it could stay true to its mission. While that also meant ContextMedia had to stretch every dollar it earned, it helped keep the company focused on practical, scalable products for the future of healthcare.
Star Cunningham, 4D Healthware, $710K seed round
Star Cunningham has seen how problematic the health care system can be from the inside. Diagnosed with Crohn's disease at 16, she felt that doctors couldn’t accurately keep track of her health even with their multitude of tools and research. Now, she wants to put the patient in control of their health history. 4D Healthware links patients’ fitness devices to an online platform to get a more accurate picture of overall health. The company raised $710,000 earlier this year to bring the platform to market.
Alison Chung, TeamWerks, Bootstrapped
Alison Chung is a Sherlock Holmes for the digital age. A deep fascination with numbers led her to digital detective work, and her technology consulting firm TeamWerks focuses on computer forensics. Clients come to her team to find out what secrets are hiding on hard drives, smartphones and servers.
Coco Meers, PrettyQuick, Acquired by Groupon
Some companies do so well that competitors want to buy them up. Salon and spa booking service PrettyQuick was a perfect fit for Groupon since health, beauty and wellness merchants among Groupon’s most popular offers. Since the 2015 acquisition, PrettyQuick has continued to operate as a standalone service and Coco Meers has stayed on as CEO.
Images via featured companies, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Shutterstock. Article updated March 8, 2017.