The Future 5 of Chicago Tech, Q4 2021

Here are five up-and-coming local startups to watch.
Gordon Gottsegen
Written by Gordon Gottsegen
October 19, 2021Updated: October 20, 2021

Sure, the latest initiatives from the Teslas, Apples and Googles of the industry tend to dominate the tech news space — and with good reason. Still, the big guns aren’t the only ones bringing innovation to the sector. 

In an effort to highlight up-and-coming startups, Built In is launching The Future 5 across eight major U.S. tech hubs. Each quarter, we will feature five tech startups, nonprofits or entrepreneurs in each of these hubs who just might be working on the next big thing. You can check out last quarter’s round-up here.

* * *

In this big city there are always numerous small startups trying to create something new. While it’s easy to highlight the Chicago tech unicorns with name recognition, the smaller players often go unrecognized.

That’s why Built In has rounded up five early-stage tech startups doing interesting things. Just because they’re small now, doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way forever.

 

Cravosity team photo
Cravosity CEO and founder Malvi Hemani (middle) with team. | Photo: Cravosity

Cravosity (Foodtech)

Cravosity was born out of an experience that many of us have gone through. We all have that one group chat we share with our friends. It’s a fun way to keep in touch, but chaos ensues whenever someone tries to actually plan something. Suddenly a dinner plan turns into a fight over dietary restrictions, who can make which days and who’s willing to put in the work to actually make things happen.

Malvi Hemani had been through this exact scenario too many times, so she decided to launch Cravosity to make sure it didn’t happen again. The company makes planning dinners with your friends easy. Users create a social group and add their friends to a list. Then each friend inputs their availability, food preferences, how much they are willing to spend, dietary restrictions, and so on. From there, Cravosity will find bars or restaurants that satisfy everyone’s requirements and suggest them to the group. The app will even make reservations on the behalf of the group.

“The vision for Cravosity was to use technology to make the planning process more efficient and effective, ultimately leading to larger and more frequent group dining experiences,” CEO and founder Hemani told Built In. “Cravosity flips the normal planning experience on its head, by putting the outcomes first. The goal was to merge one’s cravings for food and friends with one’s curiosity for new experiences; hence the name Cravosity.”

The app is available for download on iOS and Android. Currently, it only operates in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, but Hemani says that the startup is actively looking for where to launch next. Eventually, Cravosity hopes to launch nationwide.

“We believe connection truly happens around the table so we want to bring us all together more often and easily. A streamlined process will encourage large group sizes and bring those groups to restaurants to bolster the industry while encouraging exploration,” Hemani said.

 

Lava app on smartphone
Image: Lava

Lava (Social Media)

Instagram lets you share your photos, Twitter lets you share a quick message via text, TikTok lets you share short videos and now Lava lets you share your voice.

Lava is a new social media platform designed for sharing audio. With Lava, people can connect with friends, share audio posts or follow audio-based creators. The platform aims to be the TikTok for podcasts, allowing people to create audio content and get discovered organically.

“Audio is one of the most authentic forms of communication. When you listen to someone’s voice, you feel connected to them even if you’ve never met. And when you express yourself through speaking, you can get into a natural rhythm of thought,” Lava CEO and founder John Allen told Built In.

I believe that Lava — and social audio in general — will evolve the internet to be more in tune with the authentic experience of being human.”

Allen describes Lava as a way for anyone to create audio content similar to that of a podcaster, without the barriers to entry. In order to have your audio content gain a following on the internet, you need to invest a lot of time and money into creating that content. Lava gives audio creators a method for creating that’s a lot more grassroots. 

“Combining the authenticity of audio with the reach of social media seems obvious. People should have the ability to tell their story on the internet and social audio grants them that opportunity. Other social networks are built to slap filters on photos, convey the perfect Tweet, or craft a trendy video whereas Lava focuses on highlighting your personality through your voice,” Allen said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love the many forms of social media and use them often, but I believe that Lava — and social audio in general — will evolve the internet to be more in tune with the authentic experience of being human.”

The Lava app is currently only available on iOS through its beta program. A larger launch and Android version is coming some time in the future. Until then, the Lava team is building more features for the app to make it something people will want to listen to.

 

thoughtful automation company graphic
Image: Thoughtful Automation

Thoughtful Automation (Software)

Think about the job you have. You probably have a number of responsibilities that directly relate to the job you were hired to do. And then you probably have a number of repetitive tasks that you have to do on top of this.

Thoughtful Automation wants to make your workday easier by taking away those repetitive tasks through automation. The company has built intelligent automation software that can identify those repetitive tasks, learn them and then do them automatically. This type of software isn’t exactly new, but it’s often only available to large enterprises. Thoughtful Automation provides this software at a cheaper rate than the competition, so it’s accessible to more businesses.

“We realize that business automation technology is essential for businesses’ growth, but it’s expensive. Existing solutions completely price out middle market companies. We want to help this underserved segment of companies scale faster, reach their full potential, and keep their employees satisfied,” Thoughtful Automation CEO and co-founder Alex Zekoff told Built In. “We’ve seen employees wasting upwards of 10 hours a week on repetitive low-value work, and even though our platform creates digital workers (or bots) — our mission is rooted in supporting the happiness of the human workforce. After all, a company is only as good as its employees.”

This type of software is especially important now, when certain industries are facing labor shortages and people are leaving their current jobs at record rates. By automating certain tasks, Thoughtful Automation takes away from the total amount of work that needs to be done. It frees up workers’ time and allows them to focus on more important things.

 

Sanarai founder Luis Suarez
Sanarai founder Luis Suarez. | Photo: Sanarai

Sanarai (Healthtech)

Mental health is extremely important, but sometimes it takes a global catastrophe to remember that.

Luis Suarez got married in March 2020, just as the world was starting to realize the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic. The stress of planning a wedding and then pulling it off just as the world was beginning to shut down led him to seek out mental health resources. As he was looking, he discovered how difficult it was to find a mental health professional who spoke Spanish. This pointed towards a larger problem.

“Only 5 percent of mental health professionals in the U.S. speak Spanish, versus the 13 percent of the population that speak Spanish at home. Treatment rates are 10 percent below the average for the Latinx community,” Suarez told Built In. “The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem as the Latinx community has been disproportionately impacted.”

Sanarai's mission is to improve the Latinx community's access to high quality mental health services.”

This is what led him to launch Sanarai — a platform that connects Spanish speakers to mental health professionals. Sanarai aims to be the one-stop shop for self-care resources and mental health services for Spanish speakers in the U.S. and Latin America. After launching in 2020, the company has already facilitated over 1,000 sessions on its platform. On top of that, the company has partnered with other businesses and community centers to offer individuals mental health services.

Sanarai recently received support from Visible Hands and LongJump, two VCs that invest in early-stage startups led by underrepresented founders.

 

Storybolt founders
Photo: Storybolt

StoryBolt (HR Tech)

Documentaries have always been a powerful way to tell a story, so StoryBolt uses the medium to tell stories about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Here’s how it works. Companies pick a topic surrounding diversity and inclusion — whether that’s implicit bias, gender equality or something else. Then, StoryBolt finds a short film about that topic on its platform, schedules a screening for the company and facilitates a Q&A with the director. This helps start a conversation around what can sometimes be an uncomfortable topic, hopefully leading to workplace change.

StoryBolt was co-founded by Nassim Abdi, who has both filmmaking and academic teaching experience, and by Babak Shahmansouri, whose past work using education and entertainment to scale learning experiences brought him to StoryBolt.

“StoryBolt’s mission is to mitigate bias in the workplace and make the workplace a psychologically safe and productive space for every individual,” Abdi told Built In. “By using documentary films and guided conversations, StoryBolt’s proprietary Mpathi active learning model activates the empathy center of the brain to create common ground and understanding amongst participants. The discussions are thoughtful and engaging and are proven to drive real attitude change.”

She continued, “Once this attitude change is in place and sessions are curated across a variety of topics (mental health, implicit bias, LGBTQ+ and more), real inclusion can happen. In fact, research has shown a correlation between empathy and perceived inclusive behavior. It is not enough for the workforce to be diverse. A diverse and inclusive workplace is shown to increase both employee satisfaction and business performance.”

StoryBolt has been around since 2018. In 2020, the company won an Industry Disruptor Award from business incubator 1871.

Chicago startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Offices in Chicago Tech
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Perks at Chicago Tech Companies
LOCAL GUIDE
Women in Chicago Tech