Take Note: 21 Chicago Companies to Watch This Fall

From fast-growing startups to established firms with hefty benefits, here’s a rundown of Chicago’s most noteworthy people-first organizations to keep an eye on.

Written by Cathleen Draper
Published on Sep. 28, 2022
Take Note: 21 Chicago Companies to Watch This Fall
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Autumn is unfolding in Chicago. Whether you’re strolling the leaf-strewn lakefront, visiting firepit-laden local breweries, or searching for pumpkin patches and apple orchards in the surrounding suburbs, it might also be a good time to catch up on the movers and shakers in your local tech scene — and Built In Chicago has curated 21 noteworthy companies to get you started.

With $151 million raised by Chicago startups in August alone according to HirexHire’s VC Fundraising Summary, many of the city’s tech employers are unveiling upgrades to the breadth, depth and inclusion of their culture and perks.

The Chicago-based companies we featured are special in many ways, but all 21 have one thing in common: They are unique, people-first organizations well worth keeping on your radar in the fall season ahead.

 

A view of city buildings.
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What they do: Revantage is a high-growth service provider that serves Blackstone’s real estate investment portfolio. Revantage hires talent and provides a platform for them to deliver corporate services, from finance to tech to people and culture, to its partners and portfolio companies. 

 

The perks:

  • Up to $1,500 reimbursement for qualified adoption expenses
  • Employee Resource Groups, including Women in Network and Grassroots, a cultural awareness initiative
  • Mental health benefits like Headspace and a no after-hours meeting policy
  • Internal training and development programs like the Team Leader Effectiveness Program
  • Up to 6% 401(k) match

 

Some things stay the same: Revantage might be supported by one of the largest real estate private equity investment managers, but it remains connected to its startup roots. “Our offices, technologies and teams have changed over time,” President and CEO Matt DeMonte previously told Built In. “But many who formed the foundation for Revantage are still with us, and our values remain central to everything we do. As we grow, we’ll continue to be connected by a culture of excellence and celebrating successes.”

 

 

 

What they do: Zoro is an e-commerce website that sells everything businesses and consumers need to make their work happen. Launched in 2011, Zoro started with just 20 employees and 180,000 products on its site. Now, it lists more than 10 million products from thousands of brands, from raw materials to lab equipment to farm animal supplies. On top of its continued growth, Zoro boasts an award-winning culture focused on transparency, collaboration and innovation.

 

The perks:

  • Award-winning adoption assistance program
  • Pet insurance
  • Commuter benefits
  • Recreation clubs, like softball, bowling and dragon boat racing
  • Tuition reimbursement plan 

 

    Hiring spree: Zoro is on a major hiring push. Its open roles are in the double digits, and the company is looking for data and analytics and marketing professionals, new team members in operations, and developers and engineers.

     

     

     

    What they do: Life Fitness’ started its journey to inspire healthier lives over 50 years ago with an exercise bike. Today, Life Fitness offers a range of cardio, strength and group training products, and workout accessories, plus digital fitness solutions like on-demand workouts and a virtual library of exercises.

     

    The perks:

    • Flexible work schedule, including summer hours and flexible start and end time
    • On-site gym
    • Health and wellbeing benefits
    • 401(k) with company match
    • Continuous learning reimbursement

     

      Who they’re hiring: Life Fitness is hiring for more than 15 open positions, including for its operations and marketing departments. But its biggest push is for developers and engineers — especially software engineers. 

       

       

       

      What they do: project44 is a visibility platform for shippers and logistics service providers. The company connects, automates and provides visibility into transportation processes, all to accelerate insights and shorten the time to turn those insights into actions that reduce costs and improve efficiencies and performance.

       

      The perks:

      • Unlimited vacation time
      • Robust parental leave and return policy: Birth mothers receive 16 weeks paid leave; primary caregivers receive 12 weeks paid; and secondary caregivers receive eight weeks paid with flexible return for all
      • Company equity
      • Fitness subsidies
      • Flexible work schedules

       

      Girl power: At project44’s monthly town hall meetings, employees are updated about hiring and diversity, and there’s a sense of accountability. Beyond the desire to meet certain equity and diversity metrics, those metrics are tracked and followed through on. “Once you join the company, it stays that way; it’s not just a catch to get you to join because we say we’re diverse,” Emily Jenkins, senior product manager II, previously told Built In. “There are opportunities for women continually. I think the first week I started, the company sponsored a Women in Tech conference in Chicago and all of the women were encouraged to go and attend the conference.”

       

       

      A smart phone shows stock trading buy and sell options.
      Shutterstock

       

       

      What they do: Typically, stock trading is done manually by human operators. Hudson River Trading (HRT) brings a scientific approach to trading — one where technology leads. HRT’s algorithms saw success in the markets, and HRT has built a computing environment for research and development of algorithmic trading.

       

      The perks:

      • Family medical leave
      • Wellness programs
      • Performance bonus
      • Flexible spending account
      • Commuter benefits

       

      Collaboration = growth: At HRT, projects require interdepartmental collaboration. For Derek He, those were an opportunity to develop leadership skills, and he frequently offers to coordinate project deployment and be a point of contact between teams. “I have had the opportunity to oversee projects through the finish line, and this helped develop my collaboration skills,” He previously told Built In. “I also looked for opportunities to take on more responsibilities in shaping the projects themselves and to become the domain expert in my field of work.” When most engineers were starting out with implementation, he was designing subsystems as he became more experienced. 

       

       

       

      What they do: Mastery Logistics’s transportation management system is built to support the logistics and supply chain world. Its cloud-based SaaS technology solution, MasterMind™, provides interconnected automation, visibility and productivity across organizations’ supply chains.  

       

      The perks:

      • Flexible work schedule with no-meeting Fridays and no Slacking after 7 p.m.
      • Mental health benefits including a coaching program
      • Up to 4% 401(k) match
      • Unlimited vacation
      • Casual dress code

       

        Phase in: “Whats exciting about this phase of Mastery is that every day were both pushing forward our initial product as well as building out the company itself,” Chris Wallace, vice president of engineering, previously told Built In. “So a typical day involves defining upcoming features, prototyping, interviewing candidates and working with the team to establish our processes. Everyone gets to contribute in multiple ways.”

         

         

         

        What they do: Cooler Screens is reimagining the cooler aisle at grocery and convenience stores. They’re making the door between you and your frozen pizza digital with IoT-enabled screens, linking e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores. The digital screens create new marketing and analytics opportunities for brands.

         

        The perks:

        • Remote work program
        • Commuter benefits
        • Company equity
        • Performance bonuses
        • 529 college savings

         

          Who they’re hiring: Cooler Screens has already partnered with major retailers like Walgreens, Kroger and CVS and brands like Pepsico, Chobani and KraftHeinz. Ads displayed on the digital screens reach about 3 million people per day. That’s all to say Cooler Screens is growing quickly, and the company is looking to hire tech talent, especially developers and engineers and operations professionals.

           

           

           

          What they do: Citadel Securities is a market maker that trades at the intersection of global markets. Citadel Securities uses predictive models and sophisticated tech to execute trades at scale and solve market challenges so investors can reliably access the markets. 

           

          The perks:

          • Tuition reimbursement
          • 401(k) match
          • Mental health benefits
          • Flexible spending account
          • Partnerships with nonprofits

           

            New partnerships: Citadel Securities recently partnered with Charles Schwab, Fidelity and other industry leaders to launch a cryptocurrency and bitcoin exchange. The exchange is the first of its kind and was formed to enable safe and compliant digital asset trading through established and trust intermediaries. 

             

             

             

            What they do: Fishawack Health is a global commercialization services partner for the biopharma, medical tech and wellness industries. The company works end-to-end across the product and service lifecycle to solve healthcare challenges in an evolving environment.

             

            The perks:

            • 12-week, 100% paid maternity leave and two weeks of parental leave
            • Pet insurance
            • Customized development tracks
            • 401(k) match
            • Unlimited PTO

             

              Remote-first, always: “We’ve worked hard to create a robust virtual culture, with an emphasis on collective care,” Marketing Manager Kathryn Morgan previously told Built In Chicago. That emphasis starts on day one with a virtual onboarding process, and all meetings and staff events are designed for a remote-first audience. “Our entire staff gathers for weekly coffee talks — meetings that provide notable updates about the company, new business, client launches and updates, promotions, new hires and more.” 

               

               

               

              What they do: BCG Digital Ventures is the corporate innovation and digital business-building arm of Boston Consulting Group. The company combines the scrappy and rapid-growth startup world with the resources of major corporations to invent, build and scale new ventures.

               

              The perks:

              • Child care benefits
              • Adoption assistance
              • Relocation assistance
              • Fitness subsidies
              • Tuition reimbursement

               

                Going global: BCG has centers and labs in major cities in 12 different countries: Berlin, Chicago, Dubai, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Riyadh, and Saudi Arabia. In June, BCG expanded to India, the third-largest startup environment in the world, and Morocco, an up-and-coming innovation hotspot. New centers opened in New Delhi, Mumbai and Casablanca.

                 

                 

                Three people look at two smartphones and a tablet
                Shutterstock

                 

                 

                What they do: OpenX is a fully cloud-based exchange that makes digital advertising markets and technologies that deliver optimal value to publishers and advertisers. It operates on the Google Cloud Platform, which has helped reduce time to market for new products and features by more than 50 percent.

                 

                The perks:

                • Flexible work schedule
                • Mental health benefits
                • Home office stipend for remote employees
                • Unlimited vacation
                • 401(k) match

                 

                  Who they’re hiring: OpenX is looking to fill roles across six departments, but especially in sales and engineering. Open roles include UI developer, senior full stack engineer and senior account executive.

                   

                   

                   

                  What they do: Is it possible to have an artificial intelligence and machine learning-powered platform that still has a human touch? XSELL Technologies says yes. Its platform provides real-time coaching for contact centers; the solution learns the behaviors and knowledge of top agents and provides tailored strategy maps, verified by a human, to other agents to enhance rapport and trust-building.

                   

                  The perks:

                  • 401(k) match
                  • Performance bonus
                  • Commuter benefits
                  • Paid industry certifications
                  • Employee Resource Groups

                   

                    Core opportunities: Before Ishu Jaswal was promoted to head of data science, she was a core member of the data science team. XSELL gave her the chance to develop leadership skills and be a stakeholder at the organizational level. “It also gave me the ability to be a decision-maker in defining the department’s strategy and developing ideas that can make an impact on the business,” she told Built In in April. “I knew the gaps that needed to be filled and the bottlenecks that needed to be resolved. This opportunity motivated and enabled me to solve these challenges.”

                     

                     

                     

                    What they do: Crisp is a risk intelligence company that protects brands, assets and people from reputational damage, security threats and online harms. Its artificial intelligence tech has been trained for 16 years to discover and track risk signals within online conversations, both on the surface and in the deep web.

                     

                    The perks:

                    • Mental well-being portal
                    • Access to an in-house clinical psychologist
                    • Flexible working opportunities
                    • Employee perks like discounts, rewards and giveaways
                    • Critical illness insurance

                     

                      Who theyre hiring: Crisp is looking for motivated problem-solvers to join its sales team. It's an exciting time for SaaS or product sales professionals to apply: Crisp has grown 70 percent in the last three years.

                       

                       

                       

                      What they do: Hireology helps its clients put people first. Its platform brings all the recruiting and hiring steps into one place, making it easier for companies to attract, hire and onboard new team members.

                       

                      The perks:

                      • Child care benefits
                      • Remote work program
                      • Employee Resource Groups 
                      • Mental health benefits, including a monthly paid mental health day
                      • Company equity

                       

                        Working toward work-life balance: “We often hear the importance of work-life balance, but I have never seen this concept truly practiced like it is at Hireology,” Dina Fox, people business partner, previously told Built In. “A core belief here is that our health and families are more important than our jobs, and our CEO recognizes the importance of family and personal time. This acknowledgment motivates our employees to go all in during work hours with the understanding that we can close our laptops at the end of the day and unplug.” 

                         

                         

                        Four hands hold up various forms of currency around a smartphone that shows the word “donate”
                        Shutterstock

                         

                         

                        What they do: ShoppingGives is on a mission to democratize social impact. With ShoppingGives, socially conscious brands and retailers of any size can give back. Customers can choose how much and to where they donate, make a flat donation or round up their total with the difference heading to charity. Companies can also select exactly what nonprofit(s) they’d like to support through customer donations.

                         

                        The perks:

                        • Flexible work schedule
                        • Mental health benefits
                        • Pet insurance
                        • Company equity
                        • Office Crocs

                         

                          Fun facts: ShoppingGives is backed by the G.O.A.T. herself: Serena Williams. Her venture capital firm invested in the company before it was a Certified B Corporation, which means it meets the highest standards for social and environmental performance. That’s good for ShoppingGives, because 83 percent of millenials think it's important for the companies they support to share their values.

                           

                           

                           

                          What they do: HR tech company SilkRoad offers software and services that span the employee lifecycle, from recruiting and onboarding solutions to performance management and learning. SilkRoad’s solutions help companies attract and retain employees and ensure team members are aligned on strategy and standard company knowledge.

                           

                          The perks:

                          • Flexible time off
                          • Employee stock purchase plan
                          • Pet insurance
                          • Mental health benefits
                          • 12 weeks of family medical leave after one year of employment

                           

                            In the news: SilkRoad won a bronze Brandon Hall Group Excellence Award in September for Best Unique or Innovative Learning and Development Program. The award recognizes SilkRoad’s Commit to Your Craft Learning Journeys, which provide personalized training and learning exercises, knowledge checks, mentoring and hands-on experiences for employees. The program rolled out with Silkroad’s own employees and is now used by its clients to create proficiency programs for new hires.

                             

                             

                             

                            What they do: PerkSpot is e-commerce and HR tech company that provides meaningful savings and recognition for its clients’ employees through exclusive discounts to brands like Target and AMC Theaters. Employees can browse deals, search by a brand or category and discover personalized discounts through PerkSpot’s Discount Portal 

                             

                            The perks:

                            • Pet friendly
                            • Home office stipend for all employees
                            • Mental health benefits
                            • Flexible work schedule
                            • 401(k) match

                             

                              Be yourself: At PerkSpot, employees come as they are, and there’s no feeling of needing to fit in. “Everyone can be who they are and the entire PerkSpot community embraces that,” James Herold, director of business intelligence and analytics, previously told Built In. “Feeling comfortable being myself frees up my time and energy to focus on the important work of analytics. I also know that when I show up for work each day, I’ll be spending my time with others who value inclusivity, which really helps me feel like I’m part of a community.”

                               

                               

                               

                              What they do: Vibes mobile engagement platform enables marketers, e-commerce professionals, loyalty specialists and data technologists to acquire, engage, transact with, service and retain customers.

                               

                              The perks:

                              • Flexible work schedule
                              • Pet insurance
                              • Mental health benefits, including meditation and mindfulness trainings
                              • Charitable contribution match
                              • $300 annual reimbursement for wellness activities and purchases

                               

                                Mentorship moments: Through the mentoring program at Vibes, Senior Director of Mobile Engagement, Launch and Technical Services Elyse Cress got paired with Brian Garofola, the chief technology officer. “He continues to be a great coach for me as a manager, as well as an inspiration in my quest to always be learning, which is a core value of Vibes,” Cress told Built In in May. “One of my favorite experiences with Brian was working together to launch a Smart Response Engine pilot for one of our customers using machine learning to respond to incoming messages on a short code.”

                                 

                                 

                                A graphic showing a tablet and all the tasks it can do
                                Shutterstock

                                 

                                 

                                What they do: Hologram envisions a future where millions of devices are connected to the internet, from heart monitors to bike sharing systems, and that’s possible through its global cell global cellular platform and network.

                                 

                                The perks:

                                • Unlimited PTO with a mandatory two-week minimum
                                • Flexible work scheduling
                                • 14 weeks of paid family medical leave with full benefits and continued equity vesting 
                                • 14 weeks of parental leave for both the primary and secondary caretaker
                                • Employee stock purchase plan

                                 

                                  R-E-S-P-E-C-T: “I have never before encountered a place where people were so celebrated as individuals, and I felt like my thoughts and ideas were valued even on my first day,said Becki Blumer, software engineer. “It makes for an incredible collaborative environment, and I learn so much from my colleagues every day.”

                                   

                                   

                                   

                                  Who they are: ShopRunner’s marketplace connects consumers to the brands they love. The members-only service allows customers to select ShopRunner as their delivery service, and they receive free two-day shipping.

                                   

                                  The perks:

                                  • Flexible work schedule
                                  • Fitness subsidies
                                  • Quarterly hack weeks to focus on new ideas and projects
                                  • 401(k) match
                                  • Continuing education stipend

                                   

                                    Work hard, play hard: “ShopRunner allows me to bring my whole self to work, whether that be serving up challenging ideas or pulling in trivia wins,” Andrew Abeto, director of marketplace integrations, previously told Built In. “I’m given the opportunity to pave my success.”

                                     

                                     

                                     

                                    What they do: Spark Hire is a video interviewing platform used by more than 6,000 companies to connect with new job candidates. Its platform makes hiring efficient and effective with interview scheduling software and an outbound video messaging tool.

                                     

                                    The perks:

                                    • Fitness subsidies
                                    • Flexible work schedule
                                    • Health insurance benefits
                                    • Job training and conferences
                                    • Parking lot on premises

                                     

                                      Together, but apart: Spark Hire has seen its own growth with a successful remote-first hiring approach, and it has employees in 12 states, the U.K. and Australia. Alexa Velasco, HR generalist, credits its culture club committee with keeping employees engaged and connected. “The club includes members from each department who meet monthly to craft cross-departmental activities and find creative ways for the whole team to contribute to local charities,” Velasco previously told Built In. “It’s provided us with a strong sense of community, even though we’re not physically together.”

                                       

                                      Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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