It's been a crazy year, Chicago! As December rapidly draws to a close, we wanted to take some time to look back and consider some of our favorite company and product launches of the year.
Narrowing the list down was hard, because there was no shortage of exciting launches to pick from. But after much consideration, we've settled on five that really stuck out to us. Here's who they are — and why we think they're a big deal.
What they do: A properly diversified investment portfolio is critical to building wealth in the long term. One way to do that is to put all your money into a fund, but if you prefer to keep a closer eye on exactly where your money is going, M1 Finance offers a tech-enabled alternative. M1 lets you create a “pie-based” portfolio, deciding how you want to proportionally allocate your money between different stocks and funds. Any money you deposit is then automatically distributed to fit those proportions.
Why we’re excited: When M1 emerged from stealth this fall, the company had already amassed a whopping $9 million in funding. Moreover, as tech-savvy millennials start getting more concerned about saving for retirement and other life goals, demand for convenient investment options is likely to increase.
What they do: Practice makes perfect, but in the world of medicine, rookie mistakes can have dire consequences. Level EX uses video game technology to let physicians bone up on their skills before performing a real-life procedure. The company’s first practice app for iOS and Android, Airway EX, focuses on difficult airway procedures using endoscopic devices.
Why we’re excited: Gamers have long touted the transferrable skills you can pick up from video games, but as the tools we use at work become increasingly digital, gaming technology can be used to practice the actual tasks you’ll be performing. Level EX is a great example of that.
What they do: After originally pitching its product as “the Keurig for food,” Tovala has since refined its concept and created a super-precise, cloud-connected countertop appliance. The company completed a $256,000 Kickstarter campaign, graduated from Y Combinator this summer and is starting shipment of its first ovens in December. Tovala has also been working on a menu of pre-portioned meals that can be cooked just right by scanning a QR code with a reader on the front of the machine.
Why we’re excited: We got to try out a dish cooked in a Tovala prototype, and it definitely exceeded our expectations. If you’re looking to save some time on cooking in 2017, Tovala might just be the gadget you’re looking for.
What they do: Most of us don’t even know what many local elected officials do, let alone which candidate is most qualified for every job. BallotReady helps voters cast a more informed ballot. The civic tech startup does so by gathering information on candidates for every level of government in a single place, allowing voters to create a custom ballot guide they can take with them into the polling booth.
Why we’re excited: With a tool that streamlines researching and keeping track of candidates, voters can get some much-needed context before making a decision. BallotReady was in several states, including Illinois, in time for the primaries in 2016. We’re excited to see what the team has in store for the 2018 election.
Launched: March (beta)
What they do: Infiniscene is the startup behind a cloud-based live video broadcasting studio. Its platform lets gamers set up a stream with cloud backups and customizable graphics in minutes, reducing the need for expensive equipment and technical expertise. Infiniscene supports all the biggest streaming platforms, including Twitch, YouTube, Facebook and Hitbox.
Why we’re excited: Live streaming has exploded in popularity over recent years, but the technical challenges of setting up a professional-grade stream is still a major barrier to entry. The Techstars Chicago 2015 graduate landed $1.8 million in funding in February and recently made its service available to the masses.
Images via listed companies.