50 Chicago startups to watch in 2015

Written by Maura Gaughan
Published on Feb. 05, 2015
50 Chicago startups to watch in 2015

Related: Best Startups to Work for in Chicago

So what’s going on in Chicago in 2015? Just ask the 50 companies listed below. On our list you’ll find bootstrappers, fueled by a dream and 19-shots of espresso, companies that are just on the brink of their funding fantasies and several enterprises led by serial entrepreneurs with tons of cash and capital (all founded within the last 5 years).

From conversations with the 50 companies, we gained some interesting insights into what they predict will happen this year. Eddie Lou, co-founder of Shiftgig, expects to see more billion-dollar companies blasting out of Chicago in 2015. Jail Educations Solutions founder Brian Hill, predicts that women will rule the tech space and that more corporations will become increasingly present in the startup-rich (oxymorons are fun) environments.

So without further ado, here are Built In Chicago’s Top 50 Startups to watch for 2015.

Mac & Mia is an online, custom clothing boutique for kids with soul & style. The company has a team of personal stylists that create looks for newborns to kids up to six. To get started, you create a style profile for your child and then, wait for the magic to happen. Once you decide to make the purchase, Mac & Mia will send you a box full of clothing customized for your child -- if your baby isn’t into the design, tread it right back for free. Another bonus? All clothing is “consciously crafted by artisans and brands that stand for social and environmental responsibility.”


Snapsheet is an all-in-one platform for settling dreaded accidents that need to be run through insurance. From the moment of the incident, Snapsheet guides a user through the process of filing a claim - from taking the photo to submitting it to insurance. They provide the user with an estimate of the damage and then helps them settle the claim -- all in one app. Snapsheet is trusted by seven of the 25 leading auto insurance providers and they also provide resources for users that help negotiate claims. One may be able to say that it is by accident that Snapsheet made this list - but the services they provide are no joke.



Civis Analytics was born hot off President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and ready to use big data to solve big issues for organizations. The company, which exists to “empower organizations to unlock the truth hiding in their own data” creates technologies that integrate into educational, healthcare and non profit companies to identify opportunities that make their operations more efficient. 

Recent Milestone: Founder Dan Wagner recently sat down (fireside chat style) with Amazon’s CTO to talk about “building stuff”. Watch it here.


What sounds better than receiving a box full of fresh food and recipes to your doorstep each week? …...if you’re still thinking then it’s time to get a Home Chef subscription. Along with a big box of food, Home Chef provides you with step-by-step instructions - which can often be prepared in under 30-minutes. Upon signing up, a user is prompted to plug in dietary preferences and how many meals they would like per week. Each week ten new, easy-to-prepare recipes are added to the mix - which include feasts like, Swordfish Steaks, Bangkok Pad Thai and Roasted Chicken Posole Rojo. What’s more? The price is always $9.95 per person.

Make the cut: If you’re a Home Chef active subscriber take advantage of their referral program - when friends & family signup and plug in your e-mail address, the both of you get $30 off your next order.


Knead more dough? Then get dough. Born from the tastytrade family, dough is a options trading software made for first time or veteran investors. The company excels at producing and sharing multimedia - from their video doughjo series, where a user can learn the fundamentals of trading, to their real-time streaming of traders in action, their platform gives viewers tons of options for a variety of learning types.

Recent Milestone: co-CEO Kristi Ross won a prestigious Moxie Award for being the top Women In Tech last year.


Jail Education Solutions is a slammer of a company. They provide prison inmates access to rewards-based educational opportunities through their tablet-technology, Edovo. Jail Education Solutions overall goal is to drive down the country’s re-incarceration rate (which is 50%) by giving inmates educational and vocational tools that will help them succeed once they’re out. Inmates rent a tablet each day and with good “grades” are able to unlock rewards like music, movies or games.

Recent Milestone: The company was a finalist in Microsoft’s Small Business Challenge - a nationwide competition that honors the nation’s brightest entrepreneurs and ideas.


Opternative exists to help the world see better. The company makes eye exams accessible through the comfort of your own tablet or computer - in just fifteen-minutes. Opternative delivers results to ophthalmologists who then write and sign a users perscription. What the company found was that 75% of people across the globe need vision enhancements but due to a variety of constraints, can’t get the help needed.

Interesting Industry Insight: Technology used to conduct eye examines came about in the 1800s and since 1921 has pretty much remained the same. Talk about a clear vision for this company’s future.


Redshelf is an eTextbook company with a software that allows modern students to take notes “the old fashioned way”. They have features that enable students to highlight and mark important information digitally - and don’t require the student to download any plug-ins or applications to do so. Redshelf has partnered with leading publishers and content creators to deliver the best digital assets for courses. So far they’re working with a number of universities - including UCLA, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maine.

Milestone: In January 2015, Redshelf received $2 million in funding from the National Association of College Stores.


Retrofit is where tech and weightloss meet. With a national reach, the company has developed a system that helps a user track and study their behaviors with Fitbit and a Withings scale. But that data isn’t left for the user to interpret themselves - with Retrofit, a user is assigned a personal weight loss team - made up of a registered dietitian, exercise physiologist and behavior coach. Getting this human-centered approach into the tech mix ensures that users not only lose weight now, but develop life-long habits to keep the weight off.


Did you hear that beautiful sound? It’s the sweet beat of a music tech company that just received $4.2 million in funding. Reverb is a marketplace where users can buy and sell music gear. Built on community and great technology, the company has quickly become the best online destination to find and sell vintage, rare, handmade and other used music gear - like a saxophone or volume pedals or Gibson guitar. In what is an incredible marketing move, Reverb has built out quite the successful YouTube channel where they have over 7,000 subscribers and create original, branded content for their community.

Pro Tip: Slide over to Reverb’s Blog which features their videos and is full of content like, “5 Tips to Get Your First Professional Gig”.


Frequent traveler? If you book your hotel accommodations through Rocketmiles there’s a chance to earn an extra 80,000 miles from your favorite frequent flier program per year. Rocketmiles works with both hotels and airlines to make travel points go places - for instance, if you book a hotel in Tokoyo right now for $275 you can earn an additional 5,000 points toward the frequent flier program of your choice. The company has partnerships companies like Southwest, AmericanAirlines, Virgin, Qatar, Hilton, Intercontinential and more.

Recent Milestone: Last year Rocketmiles raised $6.5 million in Series A funding from Chicago-based investors and used those funds to expand globally.

Shiftgig connects service industry professionals with businesses needing to make a hire, short or long term. Industry professionals from servers to bartenders to cooks can sign up, create a profile and apply for jobs. A Shiftgig professional portfolio includes elements like recommendations, education and work history but also leaves room for that hostess with the mostess to demonstrate personality and social influence. 

Recent MilestoneShiftgig raised $10million from Chicago-based investors last fall. 


Telnyx is operating with the Internet to take charge and change up the telecom industry. The cloud-based platform facilitates online communication platforms that help businesses connect more directly (and personally) with their users. Telnyx is a TechStars alum and was built because CEO David Casem recognized the inefficiencies of call centers were due to carriers. So, Telnyx was born to become the carrier itself.

Financials: As of November 2014 the company raised $2.1 million in capital.


UrbanBound believes that relocating for a job should be exciting - not stressful. This is why they created a web-based Relocation Management Software that gives companies the ability to assist their new hire with the big transition. Within the software, future-employees can plan, organize and monitor budget and deadlines throughout the whole relocation process. UrbanBound also has an exclusive group of suppliers with fees negotiated by group buying. The company serves many Fortune 1000 companies and has been getting nationwide attention from the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Fortune.


UpRight Law is a consumer web company enabling consumers access to high quality, convenient legal services over the web. We are on a mission to increase consumer access to justice through the use of cutting edge technology, world class customer service and proven legal strategies never attempted at scale.


Related: Best Startups to Work for in Chicago




Whoa, all your kinetic energy is turning me on!

...said your cell phone. Sorry, we’re not hitting on you - but we are introducing you to AMPY, a product that puts your daily motion in charge. The device (which was 300% funded in it’s KickStarter campaign) generates “smart power” that charges phones and/or wearables that connect to USB devices. Don’t plan on moving much? AMPY can also be charged off your body as a backup battery. Another bonus is product’s app - see how much wattage you generated and calories you burned each week. Strap it anywhere on your body and get that power pumping.

Ready to get AMPY? Pre order today.

Need a website or app developed? AppDevy is a great place to start. The company is made up by creatives with flexible processes that go beyond web and mobile development - they really step in and help you define your brand and create strategy around your online efforts. AppDevy takes on limited clients at a time - a strong indication of dedication to their projects. The company recently built the website for West Loop restauresident, TÊTE Charcuterie - which looks as delicious as the menu sounds.



Blitsy is an online marketplace where creative crafters can buy their supplies - at up to 70% off. What Blitsy realized was that “big box” retailers had knit up the majority of the market and wanted to give people a thriftier outlet to source their supplies. Along with building a mobile and ecommerce platform, Blitsy is creating a strong community of people who knit, weave, sew, hot glue, mâché among other crafty activities.



Bolstr is a marketplace where vetted, revenue-generating small businesses meet investors - in a more deliberate and tactical way than, say, Kickstarter. Once approved, a company is sifted into Bolstr’s marketplace. This company can be anything from a local lollipop shop, vintage clothing store or microbrewery. Investors scan the marketplace and select the company they want to fund. From there, the business shares a percentage of gross revenue each month until the predetermined “Investment Multiple” has been met. Companies have found great success - some have even met their funding goals within 24-hours. Tech-driven, this really is “The New Face of Small Business”.

Charlie was one of the most exciting apps to come out of Chicago in 2014. Consider it a personal assistant in your pocket - and not in the way that gets you into trouble with HR. Before a big first meeting, notify Charlie and get a brief on the person you’ll be speaking with. Find out what makes them tick, where they went to college, what they like to drink, past companies they’ve invested in and whatever else Google can dig up. Along with Google, Charlie combs through search collects information from an average 57 searches on that person. Charlie syncs up with your Google Calendar and will soon be locking lips with Outlook.

Recent Milestone: In the fall of 2014 Charlie closed $1.75 million in funding from Lightbank, Hydepark Ventures and others.

DRYV is an on-demand dry cleaning service as flexible as those yoga pants you never end up working out in. The app-based service allows a user to request a pickup when and where it’s most convenient to them. When done, the user is notified via text and then schedule the drop off -wherever they want it. DRYV is opening up to partnerships with local businesses and apartment complexes - giving those establishments the opportunity to provide another amenity to those working and living under them. Additionally, they offer eco-friendly drycleaning and cashless transactions making them the perfect fit for the modern millennial.

Built In Special: Download the DRYV app from the AppStore or  DRYV.com and use promo code BUILT for $20 off your first order.

Think of Everyauto as GPS for finding your dream car. The company has a rev’d up database of new and used cars all funneled into simple, easy-to-navigate web and mobile applications. Founded in August 2014, Everyauto has managed to integrate almost all components of the car-buying process into their platform - they give assistance with financing, unbiased reviews, and are active across the country. 

Earshot captures location-based and real-time social media insights about consumers and provides that information to brands that want to take a smarter approach to reaching their audience. Say for instance, you’re a new brewery in West Town. Within earshot, there are tons of restaurants and bars full of potential new customers. Using Earshot, the brewery can collect data from platforms like Instagram and Twitter and use it for future marketing and outreach initiatives. The ultimate goal of a campaign run through Earshot is to achieve a balance of “reach and relevance”. Earshot has gotten quite a few big players to listen up too - including Spotify, Honda and IBM.


FoxTrot puts a new step in getting fast-food (and booze). The company is an on-demand delivery system with pre-selected items and packages for users to order. A particularly interesting feature is the FoxTrot “Collections” - a grouping of complementary items that go together for brunch or a boozy happy hour. Scanning their site, it’s nice to see local vendors like Koval, Intelligensia and Lillie’s Q. Another plus: they guarantee delivery within one-hour of tapping “Order” in the app.

Milestone: From digital to doorstep, FoxTrot recently opened a store in Lincoln Park.

GeoFeedia is a social media intelligence platform that works with journalists, marketers and law enforcement to capture and analyze social media content, real-time, from an location in the world. Say, for instance, someone got mugged outside of the Merchandise Mart. Police could utilize GeoFeedia to track all social media posts (Facebook check-ins, Instagram photos) and use that data to help track down the perp. In another light, news organizations like CNN can plug into posts around protests or rallies and pull live-photos to help their story.

Recent Milestone: In October of 2014 GeoFeedia raised $3.5million in Series A funding.

Whether you like or hate to cook, KitchIn is a great aid and resource for, well obviously your kitchen. Take a photo of your grocery receipt, upload it to their app and watch your digital pantry fill up. The app keeps track what food you have, when it’s expiring and even offers meal suggestions based on your current roster of food. Missing that sprig of thyme for your roasted chicken breast? Fear not, KitchIn will direct you to the closest grocery store.





Lyteshot is a mobile gaming platform that’s sensor-based and ready to ignite your imagination. The company, which was launched by gaming industry-veterans Mark Ladd and Tom Ketola, is a hardware, software and platform-based company designed to work in the three-dimensional world. A top highlight is Lyteshot’s high tech spin on lazer tagging. The company recently introduced the package which comes with  a Lyter (the gun) a LytePick (the receiver) and an open-source software development kit (where, if you happen to have a 3D printer handy, you can print the guns and receivers for yourself. Boom.)



Interested in taking some extra steps to learn about topics like parenting, entrepreneurship or snowboarding? Then take a look at MentorMob - a website that enables people to build “learning playlists” that are produced by top vetted mentors across all learning areas. MentorMob highly social - it gives user the ability to create communities and track their learning progress. And it’s mobile - the company released a Parenting Guide app that features lessons like “Saving money with a baby” and “What other mothers forgot in their registry”. Another benefit to fostering your digital literacy? It’s free.



If you’re an observant human, then there’s a good chance you’ve noticed a friend or colleague wearing, well, a “wearable”: a typically silicon or plastic band that tracks one’s every step, breath and heartbeat. Mira Fitness recognizes that - but aims to be a little more incognito in their aesthetic. The woman-centric fitness band is beautifully designed to look like a piece of jewelry. Mira Fitness tracks activity such as steps and connects with an app where a woman can later go in and enter other healthy activities like yoga and water consumption. Whatsmore, the app gives doses of positive reinforcement like “The incline button on a treadmill is there for a reason, and that reason is to get you a healthy body.”


MobileX Labs gives you the power to design, gamify and essentially create your very-own app. Three divisions makeup MobileX Labs: 1. Nativ App Builder 2. MXL Apps and 3. MXL Games. The Nativ App Builder is like the SquareSpace for app development - you pick the theme (broken out by industry) and build the customized app that’s fit for your business. MXL Apps are designed by the MobileX team and integrate into social platforms like Instagram and Vine, allowing the user to customize their experience. And for the gamers is MXL Games - it’s a development tool where gamers have the opportunity to design app-based games.


If you’re a recent startup founder, chances are you’ve taken a huge paycut. Well guess what - America was built on innovators like yourself and there are government assistance programs designed to help you while you sacrifice to grow your business. mRelief helps a user determine whether they qualify for Illinois government assistance programs like Food Stamps. Built from three Starter League graduates, the program runs online and via SMS Text - just text “hello” to (773) 377-8946.

Recent Milestones: Late last year mRelief launched it's program en español as Chicago is home to the 5th largest Latino population.




MU/DAI is a design firm that puts humans first. The company works with clients to develop  “here and now” innovation strategies - ones that build up to lofty goals that may be set years ahead. So how does that look? MU/DAI has a high-tech office space, where, for instance, a retail client can come in and see how a store re-design will impact their customer. Their space is full of cameras, gadgets, tablets and devices, and more for clients to experiment with. If it seems confusing, well that may be the intent - in Japanese MU/DAI translates to “an object of importance without name”.

Interesting Project: Recently MU/DAI partnered with XCOR Aerospace and Paramount Pictures for the release of box office hit Intersteller. They created a branded, interactive digital campaign that will send one lucky person into outer space (talk about pushing boundaries).


nspHIRE is where LinkedIn and Tinder collide - it’s a job matching app designed with millennials in mind. Using LinkedIn’s API and Tinder’s smooth judgement factors, the app aims to simplify and bring some fun into the recruiting process. When a company posts a job to LinkedIn it is immediately aggregated onto nspHIRE’s platform. The app is free for job seekers and free for employers - until they want to chat (maybe Tinder should take some nspHIRE-ation from that monetization strategy).


Ever find the perfect flight and think, “Okay, I just have to check with a few people to make sure these dates work.” or simply, “I’ll just come back later to book this.”? And then upon returning, your flight has either gone up by one hundred-or-so dollars or is sold out. It happens. But it doesn’t have to with Options Away. The company holds your seat and price on a flight for either 24-hours, three days, seven days or fourteen days. Right now on Options Away, to hold a Valentines Day weekend flight from Chicago to New York for 24-hours is only $4. It’s cheaper than trip insurance. If you decide to book, Options Away will handle the transaction and make sure you get those frequent flier points.

Pro Tip: You can hold flights for family members or friends.


PrettyQuick is for the urban-working woman, pressed for time but not enough so to sacrifice her beauty needs. Within the app, you can discover new salons and book appointments for pedicures, blowouts, hair removal and more. In an Uber-kind of way, all transactions are cashless and tip is factored in - putting the user at ease from reaching into their purse and smudging those perfectly manicured hands. In the fall of 2014, the company raised $1million in seed funding and is using that money to expand their reach here in Chicago, D.C., Miami and other markets where the working woman rules.

Recent Milestone: PrettyQuick launched a Beauty VIP beta rewards program that gives frequent users 20% off services Sunday through Wednesday.


Public Good Software is potentially the most positive marketplace on earth. The company makes it easy for people to discover and make donations to local organizations that truly matter to them. On the flipside, it gives non profit organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago, Feeding Illinois and Growing Home Inc. a digital platform to spread their message and open up new lines of communication and donations. Public Good Software is an effort led by two of Chicago’s most successful startup veterans, Jason Kunesh and Dan Ratner, who helped found leading online marketplaces like Orbitz, The Point (later Groupon) and Sittercity.com.

Recent Milestone: Already this year, Public Good Software has raised  $1.6 million in seed funding from a list of star investors: Chicago’s Hyde Park Angels, Firestarter Fund, founder of WordPress Matt Mullenweg, founder of OpenTable Chuck Templeton, and Mike Sands, CEO of Signal.


Quxsi exists to get you the best fare on your next cab ride. It was born as a result of Uber’s “Surge Pricing” - you know, when a notification pops up that the ride will be 2.5X more and you have no idea what that actually means. In real-time, Quxsi calculates the UberX fare vs. that of a normal taxi and steers you into the cheapest route.

Bonus Feature: The app is connected to your Uber App - if the fare right, simply tap the “UberX” on the screen and it opens up automatically.


Rentulations is a landlord’s dream come true. All within the platform, a landlord can screen, accept monthly payments, set up meetings and create digital leases. Rentulations connects with popular apartment-finding applications like Zillow, Padmapper and CraigsList - making everything as central as that in-unit air conditioner you installed last summer. On Regulations, managing one unit is free and has pricing all the way up to 30+ units - or “Mougel” status - which is $99/month.


Are you someone who monitors products online like a hawk - just waiting for that pair of shoes to go on sale or for it’s host website to run a 25% off promotion? With Resultly, you don’t need to waste time checking back and back...and back (and back). Think of the app as a personal shopper in your pocket. Resultly aggregates products from over 200,000 retailers and boasts over 55 million products. It also brings in top bloggers and fashion-thinkers, known as  “Influencers”, to help buyers get inspiration and discover products they'll like. In addition, Resulty has partner stores like Adidas, Ann Taylor and American Apparel - ensuring you get notified when your favorite retailer runs that sale.

Fun Fact: Shark Tank’s Damond John is an investor in Resulty.


Want to control your news? Rivet News Radio is on the scene. They give users the opportunity to stream the local, national and international news that matters to them most and make smart suggestions based off of previous choices. Just this past January, Rivet announced a partnership with American Public Media, the second largest producer of public radio in the country, which will give users access to award-winning shows like Marketplace and The Dinner Party Download.


Any interest in having your new big screen television moved by a bike? Schlep is on it. The company is essentially a P2P company - connecting people who need something moved with people (certified, of course) ready and willing to help. Costs generally range from $50 to $150 and are generated from an algorithm that includes factors like weight and distance. Schlepers keep 80% of the price and the remaining 20% goes back to the company.


Scout is a sleek home security system that makes your home or apartment safer - and look cooler. The company found out that 17% of the country utilizes a home security system but an overwhelming majority are dissatisfied with their provider. So, they combined the most updated sensor technology with modern design and invented a home security system that comes in the form of a door panel, access sensor, motion sensor and even HD camera. Scout sends you text alerts if a door is open or it detects unsolicited motion - day or night. Another top feature - they don’t make you sign up for long-term contracts.

Good to know: Scout is just as great for the urban-renter as it is the home owner.


Silver Chalice - which considers itself “no ordinary startup” - is a company that helps sports teams with media production, distribution and monetization. Backed by the Chicago White Sox, Silver Chalice offers a range of services that all come down to helping industry players create strategic digital campaigns ranging from mobile to programming to video and sales. In 2014 they announced the “120 Sports” network -  a first-of-it’s-kind live-streaming service that helps transitions traditional TV viewership onto devices new audiences value the most. Through that network, they offer video on demand and social networking engagement led by a number of hosts.


Make your merchandise interactive with Tangilbee. The TechStars alum has created a solution for retailers that allows a shopper to measure and really visualize a product on the web. Interested in a pair of earrings? On their platform, a viewer can measure it with a ruler and even compare it to familiar items like a nail polish bottle or Apple USB plug. The results? Happy customer and even happier vendors. Tangilbee is proven to increase conversion rates, lift order values and create more interactive user experiences.


Tempo IQ has made it possible to start monitoring sensors with just three lines of code. The backend software allows companies to stream sensor data, create flexible monitoring parameters and push alerts to users. Built through the cloud, Tempo IQ was designed with predictive performance - so as you scale, so will the system automatically. Tempo IQ’s service fits well into the rapidly growing wearable industry too - companies operating within this industry can easily connect the product to Tempo IQ’s code, expanding the possibilities of realtime alerts for users.


There are two things in life we can count on: death and taxes. So why not try to save as much money as you can on those taxes to put back into living the life you want? Enter TurboAppeal - the first to market, patent-pending technology solution that helps you appeal your property taxes. There is no charge if your appeal doesn’t go through and if it does, you pay a percentage of your savings. TurboAppeal launched in Cook County and plans to expand nationwide within the next five years.


WeDeliver runs on a two way street: they work with with both businesses and people to enable safe, quick deliveries from a store to your door. The company launched it’s app - WeDeliver Locally - which enables people to order anything from shoes at Wicker Park’s CitySoles to Belgian Bread from the city’s northside. Startup Weekend Winner and TechStars Alumni, WeDeliver been in the drivers seat of Chicago’s mobile commerce market since 2013.


“Be Smarter. Buy Better.” This is a mantra of Zest Health a healthcare startup that puts the consumer first when it comes to all things medical. Top features of their platform (both in API and mobile app form) are appointment scheduling, clarity around benefits of insurance plans and a 24/7 “Nurse Concierge”.  And then there’s the “Zest Shopping Marketplace” - a place where they’ve negotiated rates on everything  from an x-ray to x-press acupuncture to ensure members get the lowest market-price for their services.



Did you know that it rains metal on Venus? Or that no matter what height an ant falls from, it will almost always survive? Neither did we, until we spent about thirteen-seconds on curiosity.com, a website that aggregates and organizes the most interesting content from around the web. Curiosity features videos, articles, talks, memes and more that are rich in information and quality. The company, which encourages visitors to “Never stop learning”, raised $6 million in Series A last fall.


When it comes to college text books there are a couple truths - 1. text books are ridiculously expensive and 2. publishers are suffering in light of the thriving used-textbook market. Students and publishers have been suffering for years - until four millennials (and Mark Cuban) realized there was a solution. Enter Packback - a company that allows students to rent digital copies of textbooks for $5-a-day. The company was founded by four students from Illinois State University back in 2012 and has been consistently growing in since.

Stats: So far, over 95,000 students have joined what Packback is calling “the affordable textbook movement.”


Related: Best Startups to Work for in Chicago

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