On Thursday, the 10 companies participating in the 7th cohort of Techstars Chicago debuted their work at the House of Blues to an audience chock-full of Chicago-heavy investors, mentors and business leaders.
2,300 sundry startups applied to participate in this year’s class, a number that’s skyrocketed since the 400 or so that applied for the program’s inaugural group. With a .4 percent acceptance rate (that’s more competitive than the likes of Stanford and Harvard, folks), the 10 companies selected represent a new generation of high-potential, high-growth tech startups brewing in Chicago, the Midwest and afar.
The theme of the day was clear: to some of the founders, Demo Day might feel like a graduation, but in reality, it’s a new chapter of a journey inevitably marked by hard decisions and even harder work.
Chris Gladwin, the celebrated Cleversafe founder who recently sold his company to IBM for $1.3 billion, delivered the keynote, relaying to the budding founders his own entrepreneurial journey — and the perseverance, grit and talent required to pull his company through the slog that is startup building. Gladwin said the Chicago tech environment is uniquely positioned to prepare companies for that reality.
According to Techstars co-CEO David Brown, Demo Day also acts as an initiation to a network of more than 800 alumni companies across the globe. Brown said 80 percent of those alumni have gone on to raise capital after participating in the program, with deals averaging $1.5 million.
In aggregate, Techstars companies have raised $2.5 billion in funding — $1 billion of which was raised last year alone, he said.
There was a bit of pomp and circumstance (including a brief cameo by R2D2), but in a presentation that typifies the accelerator’s Midwestern mentality, the companies got quickly to business. CompleteSet, a “treasure map for collectors,” kicked things off with its marketplace for buying, selling and discovering collectibles — a $100 billion industry fueled by more than 200 million collectors around the world.
Razorfish veteran Julie Roth Novack followed suit, debuting her solution to a marketing pain point felt by millions of professionals in the $112 billion events planning industry. PartySlate doubles as a search and discovery platform for party planners and a marketing avenue for event professionals like caterers, designers, florists and venues owners.
A crew of B2B solutions also took the stage, including ConvertFlow, a tool to help convert recurring website visitors into customers; Brightwork, a platform that helps backend engineers develop, support, and scale applications; and LogicGate, which helps enterprises bring automation and process to unorganized risk and compliance operations.
Signal co-founder and former CEO Jeff Judge also unveiled his new company, Bright, a tool designed to give business owners a forward-thinking tool to understand their company’s health and growth projections.
Fitbot, a tool that helps personal trainers optimize their schedules to make more money, and Arena, which gives sports fans a place to chat and watch videos during live events, also made their cases to the audience.
Crowd favorites included Jio, an “always on” wearable device designed to give parents a way to keep track of their kids, and EatPak’d, an on-demand food startup that wants to bring healthy, customizable lunches to school kids across the country.
At the end of his keynote, Gladwin delivered a piece of Chicago-centric advice to those in attendance: “The talent is here. The culture is here. The opportunities are here. Now, you just need to make it happen.”
Techstars Chicago's community Demo Day will take place on October 4th.
Image via Shutterstock.