The Future 5 of Chicago Tech, Q1 2022
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 launched 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 year’s round-ups here.
Chicago has a number of big name corporations and well-known companies that over the years have helped shape the identity of this Midwestern metropolis. In the same vein, the city has welcomed an abundance of early-stage tech startups looking to make their mark. Of the many young hopefuls that call the Windy City home, Built In spoke with just a few that are breaking ground with unique innovations.
BUILT IN’S FUTURE 5 UP-AND-COMING CHICAGO STARTUPS, Q1 2022
- AutoCloud (Software)
- The Cumin Club (Meal Delivery)
- Dirt (Fintech)
- STIGMA (Mental Health)
- SupplyHive (Software)
Having moved to the mainstream in recent years, the cloud has become widely adopted as a convenient and limitless space for companies and individuals to store their data. However, as more systems have moved onto the cloud, companies are tasked with building increasingly complex infrastructures to house it all. For growing organizations without a foundation in tech, the job of establishing a cost-effective and secure environment can prove especially taxing.
Built to solve this challenge, AutoCloud works to help companies keep an eye on all their cloud environments. Its solution is a GraphQL API and visualization layer for cloud infrastructure. Founded in 2019, the platform was created to equip developers with the abilities of a senior cloud architect. Additionally, AutoCloud makes the job of DevOps professionals easier by providing them with access to the data they need in a format they want, according to Evelyn LaTour, the company’s CPO and co-founder.
As humans, we’re predisposed to spot patterns and outliers visually.”
As organizations grow and migrate to the cloud, visibility across their systems decreases, and configuration errors become more frequent and are more likely to go unnoticed. AutoCloud created a tool for querying and visualizing multi-cloud data, and its goal is to streamline and standardize organizations’ access to the data across their infrastructure.
Helping companies move beyond manual documentation, AutoCloud generates interactive 3D visualizations based on the data it gathers from their accounts through Visual Service Discoveries. Its solution supports cloud providers AWS, Azure, GCP and Kubernetes. From there, it provides an overview of their cloud infrastructure and automatically produces insights into things like connections between services, security and compliance issues and more.
“Our aim with taking this novel approach is to reduce both complexity and time to insight by visualizing what matters in a human-readable way,” LaTour told Built In. “As humans, we’re predisposed to spot patterns and outliers visually, not by parsing through thousands of lines of logs.”
The Cumin Club (Meal Delivery)
Growing up, Ragoth Bala became accustomed to enjoying the rich, diverse flavors of authentic Indian food. During his time studying abroad at Chicago Booth, nothing in the local grocery stores or Indian restaurants matched his expectations of what Indian cuisine should be. On top of that, healthy and flavorful vegetarian options were just as scarce.
As Bala continued to crave nutritious and balanced meals that tasted like home, his mother in India sent curated ingredients to him overseas. The gesture inspired him to create a way to share those flavors with others in a convenient way without sacrificing authenticity. Thus, The Cumin Club was born.
We strive to provide authentic and clean Indian food to customers around the world.”
Operating a subscription-based platform, the company creates authentic Indian meal kits that customers can prepare at home in just five minutes. Grown significantly since its launch in 2019, The Cumin Club now offers a variety of recipes that use freeze drying to maintain shelf life, rather than preservatives. It also launched a virtual restaurant brand called The Cumin Bowl that lets customers build their own bowl packed with wholesome ingredients.
“Vegetarians around the world, especially Indian expats, struggle with finding balanced meals throughout their day,” Bala told Built In. “Cuisines of India offer a wide range of lentil-based protein-rich vegetarian dishes, but there are no established clean-food brands at retail stores and the local buffet-style Indian restaurants lack simple and healthy meals.”
This reason incited the company’s mission to make preservative-free, authentic Indian food readily accessible around the world. Hoping to eventually make its brands synonymous with “clean ethnic food,” The Cumin Club delivers ready-to-cook meal kits directly to a customer’s doorstep starting at about $5 per meal, while its virtual restaurant brand delivers fast-casual style bowls starting at about $10.
“We strive to provide authentic and clean Indian (and other ethnic cuisine) food to customers around the world, and play our part in making vegetarianism, flexitarianism and reducetarianism a mainstay in the future.”
For most of us, financial literacy likely wasn’t taught as a class in high school. Despite this, people are expected early on to make significant financial decisions that could impact the rest of their lives. Hoping to prepare younger generations for the responsibilities that await them, Jayson Dombele founded Dirt, a platform that aims to make learning about finances as trendy as TikTok.
Dombele recalled an old friend of his that faced just the kind of financial predicaments he now hopes to prevent. His friend had a full-time job yet had difficulty growing his net worth. With factors like student loan debt and eating out frequently, his friend had a negative balance in his bank account. He also wanted to take on a new loan to finance a car. Noticing signs of poor financial management, Dombele extended a helping hand.
...a place where everyone, everywhere can learn personal finance from A-Z.”
“I taught him simple financial concepts such as budgeting and saving, [and] it already became difficult for him to adapt to these practices because he hasn’t been exposed to financial literacy,” Dombele told Built In. “That’s when I noticed that there’s a gap in the market. Financial literacy is not taught to the youth. The core fundamental problem here is that the media and the form in which younger people digest financial content is significantly different from how previous generations were conditionally trained to learn.”
One of the most popular ways people digest information today is through vertical short-form media platforms like TikTok, and Dirt encompasses several similar features. For starters, users have a main feed that displays the app’s most popular finance videos. In addition, users can also view categorized feeds based on specific topics like investing, credit, financial psychology and others. Dirt also has B2B services that allow advertisers and brand partners to get their financial products and services recommended to their target users by creators on the platform.
“We are all about teaching from the ground up and ultimately we want to do that,” Dombele said. “We want our app to be a place where everyone, everywhere can learn personal finance from A-Z. We are working directly with creators to provide that promise.”
STIGMA (Mental Health)
No one should have to go through life feeling as if they’re alone, but oftentimes, individuals living with mental illness feel isolated because of the social stigma that keeps them from talking about their experiences. In a world filled with misconceptions, there’s an app working to create a community where people can feel safe to express themselves, and its name is STIGMA.
Ariana Gibson, STIGMA’s founder and CEO, is the daughter of a father with schizophrenia and someone who lives with anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Growing up, she felt there was no one with whom she could talk about it. After releasing a short film on the subject and hearing that hundreds of others shared her sentiment, Gibson built a place where people could share their lived experiences and understand one another. Founded in 2020, STIGMA aims to reduce loneliness and the stigma associated with mental illness.
We believe we can ... [give] people a safe space to see living proof that they are not alone.”
“Loneliness is an epidemic, and the rates of depression, anxiety and suicide, especially among young people, demand that we take action to try to support people who are struggling in silence,” Gibson told Built In. The company found that people tend to live with mental illness for a decade on average before ever seeking treatment. “We believe we can meaningfully reduce the time it takes to get treatment by giving people a safe space to see living proof that they are not alone.”
Serving users aged 13 and older, STIGMA is a private community that enables people to share their stories about conditions they have first-degree experience with. Its mobile app allows people to watch clips of others who live with mental illness, as well as connect with each other without the pressure of having a live conversation. Users can communicate asynchronously over text, audio or video, depending on what level of vulnerability they’re most comfortable with. They can also send and request messages using any of those options to uplift and support one another.
STIGMA’s goal is to normalize conversations surrounding mental health and instill people with the courage to ask for help. Gibson specified that it is not meant to be a replacement for therapy or treatment, but rather to increase a person’s readiness for those things.
In any organization, it takes a team to accomplish a common goal, and that team extends beyond the employees that make up a company’s internal workforce. Behind most organizations is a network of suppliers that helps that workforce get their jobs done. Given the important role suppliers play, it’s imperative that businesses manage their suppliers’ performance regularly to ensure the company keeps thriving.
“In a honeybee colony, the survival of the entire colony depends on the coordinated actions of individuals,” Lou Sandoval, president and CEO of SupplyHive, told Built In. “We believe the same to [be] functionally true for a supplier network: leveraging the power of a supplier network for the benefit of all, [and] using the insights gained to improve performance and return on investment.”
SupplyHive is a software platform that helps corporations rate, review, and score their suppliers. Its solution leverages AI, machine learning and natural language processing to help companies centralize, standardize, scale and automate the supplier performance process. The early concept for the platform was for it to be like Yelp for suppliers, but with access to deeper and more insightful analytics.
The company works to help businesses increase the value of their supply chain through collective awareness of performance data, results and relationships. Users can choose or create a review template and invite their teams to submit a review. That data is then processed with AI into a qualitative and quantitative report that shows the business how that supplier performs for it as compared to other companies.
With the current enterprise resource planning market dominated by systems-based software providers, SupplyHive is looking to disrupt the sector by delivering clear and tangible value as a point solution that integrates with other like-minded product-first platforms. The end goal? A holistic user experience, Sandoval said.
Founded in 2018, SupplyHive brought on its first seven enterprise customers in 2020. Today it serves names including McDonald’s, Nike, Meta and Mars.