Wow! 19 Chicago Startups Raise $265M In Q3 2013

Builtinchicago, startup news, Chicago startup fundingOn Friday Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, in conjunction with Built In Chicago, announced that 19 startup and technology companies in Chicago’s Tech Sector raised a collective $265 million dollars in Q3 2013. This is an  amazing testament to the success of Chicago’s startup and technology ecosystem.

“Capital investments like these in Chicago’s growing companies are solid proof that what is happening for our technology sector will have a lasting and substantial effect on Chicago’s economy,” said Mayor Emanuel. “These companies are creating jobs and the technologies they are developing will shape the future of the city’s economic landscape. I am proud of their success and I look forward to working with all of these companies as they continue to grow.”

The biggest raisers were Network Merchants with $100 million, Cleversafe with $55 million, and Avant Credit with $20 million. Additionally, the breadth and depth of Chicago’s growing digital economy was evident in this fiscal quarter with nearly 40 startups receiving funding, 19 of those raising more than $1 million or more. 44 new startups came online.

builtinchiq32013Matt Moog, founder and chairman of Built in Chicago added,  “The growth of funding and new digital technology startups being created combined with the breakout growth of companies founded in the recent past is helping fuel a job creation boom in the digital sector.  And there is more to come.  We are seeing the benefits of a culture of innovation and risk taking.”

Last week, Built In Chicago released the Top 100 Digital Companies report on the Chicago technology sector, which had some outstanding news for Chicago’s digital technology sector. In 2012 367 startups launched– that is one new startup every 24 hours in Chicago (up from one every two days in 2011). The total employment in the tech sector ballooned to over 40,000 people, up more than 20 percent from the previous year. And more than 1,500 technology companies now call Chicago home.

The diversity of Chicago’s technology companies is also notable.  No sector of the digital economy occupies more than 33 percent, ensuring that all five major sectors (software, ecommerce, agency, consumer web, and b2b web) have a significant share of the digital market. Additionally, 90 percent of the technology companies in Chicago are now more than 5 years old, meaning that there is a level of maturity in the companies as they move into the next stage of their development.

Chicago is preparing for Chicago Ideas Week next week, which will bring together entrepreneurial speakers, innovators, and thought leaders from across the country to Chicago for a week of amazing discussions, talks, lectures, hacking and more. You can find out more about Chicago Ideas Week here.


Chicago Startup Dabble Trying To Save Itself With Honesty

Dabble, Women owned startup, Chicago startup, startup failure

Dabble is a great Chicago-based startup that’s trying to serve as a marketplace for people to take specialty classes on anything from guitar playing to bridge playing to designing websites. The market place for this kind of startup is getting kind of crowded, but the two women behind the wheel, Erin Hopmann and Jess Lybeck are doing whatever they can to chug along.

In all fairness Dabble is doing a little better than just dabbling. Mashable reports that they’ve raised $500,000 in two angel rounds. They’ve received a bunch of good press locally and regionally. In fact they are often compared to other startups with similar ideas as one of the first to market.  Add to that the fact that they are on pace to double sales in 2013 and you may be wondering why the need to “save themselves”.

Well at one point, after closing their angel rounds, Hopmann and Lybeck took on a few more employees and salaries for themselves. At this point they’ve cut back down from 7 employees to 3 and also stopped taking a salary. It would seem sales aren’t sustaining the company and they are looking for another big round of funding to get it over the hump.

So they’ve decided to try something a little different. Both Hopmann and Lybeck are penning a blog called “30 Days of Honesty.”  “What do you do when you’re struggling with a company you love” is the headline at the top of their blog. In it they talk about the trials and problems they are going through right now as they run out of runway.

The hope is to help other entrepreneurs, and at the same time maybe find that special investment that will get them to the next level.

The women told Mashable that they’ve already received responses from customers who offered to pay more to keep the startup afloat. Other entrepreneurs have written in with encouragement, ideas, and words of wisdom, and they also just set up an appointment with an investor who had read the blog.

Today (September 10th) marks day 16 of their quest.

What comes next? Hoppmann says she may have to find work if the company doesn’t turn around. “If it’s a month from now, and there’s not some hope for taking pay out of Dabble by the end of the year, I will go and seek out something that is a source of income,” she said in the interview

They aren’t the first ones to talk about a startup failing. There was an anonymous Tumblr called “My Startup Has 30 days to Live,”  and even our good friends at WorkForPie penned a thought provoking post as they were running out of runway earlier this summer.

What happens next for Dabble? You can keep up with their plight here. Hopefully they will find both the knowledge and the money they need to continue. If not, hopefully they’ll dust themselves off and start again.

What’s it like to fail? Lucas Rayala, the founder of Minnesota startup Altsie, who chronicled the failure of his startup in TechCrunch will speak on that topic at Everywhere Else Cincinnati.

Chicago Startup Personify Merges Human Interaction With Digital Content to Make Presentations More Personal

Personify, Chicago Startup, Immersive Video,startups, startup interview

We’re still far away from teleporting technology. In the meantime a Chicago startup called Personify has found a way to make remote presentations more personal.

Using depth sensing camera’s like the one found in the Microsoft Kinect, the company’s product called Personify Life, puts someone giving a presentation as close to being in the room as possible.

“Most remote presentations, including webinars and PowerPoint slideshows, lack the personal component that make in-person communication successful and keep audiences engaged. Personify Live brings those critical elements back by seamlessly merging human interaction with digital content,” a company spokesperson told Nibletz in an interview.

Personify boasts an incredibly well educated team of founders who are working on something that will make boring old meetings much more engaging. It’s almost like a hologram of the presentation giver is in the room.

We got a chance to interview the team from Personify. Check out the interview below.

What is your startup called?

Personify Inc.

What does your company do?

Personify is an immersive video communication company that bridges the gap between communicating remotely and talking face-to-face. Personify products create a deeper sense of presence while remote by seamlessly merging human interaction with digital content.

Personify Live, the flagship product from Illinois-based Personify, uses a virtual-green screen technology called User Extraction to visually immerse the individual in the content they are presenting, enabling the presenters’ body language, passion, enthusiasm and visual persona to dramatically enliven the experience.

With Personify Live, an individual can lead a virtual presentation from anywhere, in a one-to-one or one-to-many setting, and all presentations can be recorded and stored in the cloud. Users simply connect a depth-sensing camera, such as a Microsoft Kinect or ASUS Xtion Pro Live, to his or her PC. Personify Live’s technology was developed for sales and marketing professionals, however, its clients operate in industries ranging from online education to medicine. Personify Live has been adopted by hallmark enterprises and institutions such as SAP, Oracle, LinkedIn, Marketo and the University of Illinois.

The product’s technology is beneficial to a variety of industries, backgrounds and use cases.

Clients across all industries are reporting shorter sales cycles and more engaged audiences. One study found a 60 percent improvement in sales closing rates when online demos were used. In another case, a Personify Live client noted that 90 percent of webinar attendees reported being “more engaged” than with a traditional webinar. Furthermore, studies show a 400 percent increase in perceived learning using Personify Live vs. traditional online education tools.

By using Personify Live, organizations see a substantial increase in its business metrics, including close rates and ROI. Additionally, Personify Live works with WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype and other traditional Web conferencing solutions for ease of use.

Who are the founders, and what are their backgrounds?

Personify might have the most well-educated group of co-founders of any startup on the planet. Of the five co-founders, four have Ph.D.s and one has a Master’s degree. Three are professors of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois.

Although academics do not have a history of correlating with entrepreneurs and startups, the University of Illinois, and its engineering department, is bucking that trend. The U of I is well known for startup and entrepreneurial successes including Netscape and YouTube. Personify is one of its most recent.

Sanjay Patel, Personify’s CEO, began his career as a chip designer in the 1990s, later becoming the CTO of Ageia Technologies, a company that developed chips to improve the graphics in video games. In addition to his CEO duties, Sanjay is also a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the U of I. Two other cofounders, Minh Do, Personify’s co-founder and chief scientist, and Wen-mei Hwu, one of the world’s foremost experts in parallel computing, are both professors at the U of I as well.

The depth-based rendering of video utilized for Personify’s two products, Personify Live and zChat, slated to be released this fall, was constructed based on Minh and co-founder Quang Nguyen’s research.

Personify’s fifth co-founder, Dennis Lin, holds a Ph.D. from UIUC, specializes in computer vision and is a leader on Personify’s development team.

Where are you based?

Personify, which is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, also has offices in Champaign and Ho-Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

What’s the startup scene like where you are based?

Personify benefits from the location in Chicago thanks to the city’s burgeoning tech scene. Chicago is home to 1871 and TechNexus, some of the most active and innovative startup incubators in the United States.

Why now?

Personify was founded in 2009 after the technologies needed, including depth-sensing, had developed enough to utilize in-product. Personify Live uses various types of cutting-edge technology to connect people instead of distancing them. The field of perceptual computing, thanks to a movement lead by Intel, has developed significantly and will continue to do so in the coming years. Personify, in fact, is a proud participant in Intel’s perceptual computing movement and was showcased on stage with Intel at the 2013 International CES in Las Vegas, Nevada back in January. Personify Live also utilizes gesture recognition technology which allows a presenter to advance a slide on his or her PowerPoint with just the swipe of a hand.

What are some of the milestones your startup has already reached?

Personify was named a finalist for the Illinois Technology Association (ITA) CityLIGHTS Trailblazing Award, which recognizes companies that have developed or introduced an ingenious, non-traditional and innovative way of doing business or creating a culture that produces significant value and growth for the company.

Personify Live has been adopted by a number of Fortune 500 companies that range in industries from healthcare to education.

Additionally, within six months of launching, Personify Live earned a position as an emerging market leader in the Web conferencing Industry by G2 Grid, a service of G2 Crowd. G2 Grid rates products and services algorithmically in real-time based on user reviews and analysis. Personify Live is currently considered an innovator in the Web conferencing segment, a category that includes Cisco’s WebEx, Citrix GoToMeeting and Skype – all products that integrate with Personify Live.

What are your next milestones?

Personify recently opened their new headquarters in the River North neighborhood of Chicago and announced plans to increase full-time staff by 50 percent in the next six months.

Personify’s consumer-facing immersive video chat tool, zChat, is slated for release this fall, which will bring perceptual computing to consumers and allow users to stay connected like never before.

Finally, in the near future, Personify hopes to be adopted by more companies, both large and small, across the world. Personify Live will hopefully be used to improve communication for these corporations, both internally and externally.

Where can people find out more? Any social media links you want to share?

More information about Personify can be found at



GiveForward’s Ethan Austin To Try Burritos In Cincinnati At Everywhere Else

Ethan Austin, GiveForward, Chicago Startup, Everywhere Else Cincinnati, EECincy

Correction: We originally reported that Austin was the COO of GiveForward and that he would be speaking on raising money outside of SV. He is actually the President of GiveForward, and he plans to speak on the importance of culture in your startup. Corrections have been made below.

Ethan Austin is the President and burrito-eating champion at GiveForward, a Chicago startup he co-founded as a way to help people do personal fundraising.  As a child Austin lost his father to colon cancer, and over the years he looked for ways to help people with cancer. Then, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon in DC to raise money for Memphis’ St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. During that race, Austin had an idea.

Through his personal web page, Austin, who was trained as a lawyer with a BA from Emory and a JD from American University, raised small amounts of money from people all over the world. This was the precursor to GiveForward.

It was obviously fate when he met co-founder Desiree Vargas Wrigley because she had already written a business plan similar to the Austin’s idea. The two collaborated and cofounded GiveForward.

The company accelerated at Chicago’s Excelerate Labs (now Techstars Chicago), and raised $2.5 million dollars in venture capital to bring the crowdfunding-with-a-purpose site to life. It’s now extremely popular.

During is Everywhere Else Cincinnati speech, Austin will talk about the importance of building culture as we build our companies.

Austin should be a great enough reason to get your discounted attendee or Startup Avenue ticket today, but if not here’s 42 more reasons.



Chicago Startup DoggyLoot Gets Just That

DoggyLoot, Chicago Startup, startup news, funding

Doggyloot, an internal project at Chicago’s Sandbox, a startup incubator of sorts, has just closed a $2.5 million dollar round. The company was founded in 2011 and already has 700,000 subscribers according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Doggyloot subscribers get access to flash sales on products they need for their animals. It’s a modern day complete with all of the things that are making e-commerce startups successful in 2013. To add to that success the company is led by former Orbitz guy Jeff Eckerling.

Eckerling said they will use the money to “crank up the company’s technology, especially mobile apps and more personalized targeting of its offers, and to step up advertising to attract more subscribers. ”

Although was one of the biggest victims of the dot com bubble, the pet industry is stronger than it’s ever been. It’s a $50 billion dollar a year industry with that doubling over the last decade. closed in November of 2000.  “There are over 50 million households in the U.S. with dogs. That’s more than have kids under 18,” Eckerling said.

He’s no stranger to the flash sales market either. He developed the flash travel site BonVoyou which was acquired by HauteLook.

Peter Krasilovski, an analyst with BIA/Kelsey told Crain’s “Newspaper sites get thousands of visitors from pets. We have a luxury culture for pet owners. There are dog biscuit stores popping up all over. But we all saw the big flameout of Is it time to revisit, maybe? It might be a good niche opportunity.”

Check out DoggyLoot here.


The Evolution & Future Of Chicago’s Startup Ecosystem

FoundersCircle, Chicago, Chicago Startups, Guest PostIn the past decade, Chicago’s technology community experienced incredible growth. Much  of the community’s success was driven by the strong history of big business in Chicago and the emergence of key stakeholders in the startup ecosystem.

While the Chicago startup scene is still relatively young in comparison to some other U.S. cities, the community’s key stakeholders are in place to drive long-term success. Chicago start-ups have already built amazing technology and will continue to build on the city’s big business roots, ensuring long-term sustainability and growth for this ecosystem.

A strong historical foundation

Chicago’s place as a home to startups can be traced as far back as 1928, when Motorola was founded in the city. Motorola went public in 1943 and its legacy lasted through the early 2000s before being acquired by Google in 2012.

A vibrant business community has set the foundation for sustained growth. Companies like Sears, Montgomery Ward, and McDonalds—and the recent relocation of Boeing—highlight Chicago’s strong history as a home for large businesses.

Recent tech successes

The technology foundation set by Motorola and others provided an ecosystem ripe for innovation in the 21st century. Orbitz, the leading online travel company, was founded in Chicago in June 2001 and subsequently went public in 2003 before being acquired for $1.25 billion.

Careerbuilder and Groupon, two startups founded a decade apart from one another, also exemplify recent Chicago-based technology successes. Careerbuilder receives more than 24 million unique visitors per month and ranks as one of the largest online career sites in the United States. Groupon, on the other hand, has already closed over 20 acquisitions, has 2,000 Chicago-based employees, and went public in 2012.  The paths of Careerbuilder and Groupon are emblematic of the rapid growth and success that Chicago-based companies can achieve, and the marketplace is listening.

Critical components of the ecosystem are in place to drive future growth.

The successes of Orbitz, Groupon, and Career Builder, to name a few, have sparked the explosive growth of startups in Chicago, but no start-up community can thrive without a certain set of valuable components.

Traditional elements of Chicago’s business-community—strong corporate and civic engagements and world-class universities—have anchored the technology infrastructure and community.  For example, after purchasing Motorola Mobility, Google decided to relocate 3,000 employees from the suburbs to downtown Chicago. Also, newer education-focused groups like the Starter League and Chicago Tech Academy are creating a strong base of technology talent.

However, the clearest sign of a sustainable ecosystem and a platform for future growth has been the number of new Chicago-based investors, industry groups, and incubators.

Chicago couples a strong angel community with co-working spaces and incubators for early stage companies. For example, 1871 launched in Chicago in 2012 and TechStars created a formal, local presence in Chicago earlier this year. VC funds like New World Ventures, Lightbank, OCA Ventures, Sandbox Industries, and i2A provide a local, institutional base for capital and operational support.

The result of this rapidly expanding ecosystem has been an incredible amount of new Chicago-based startups and early success stories.

In 2002, only 11 digital startups were launched in Chicago. By 2012, that number was 197 and the startup community received over $391 million in funding.   Companies like GoHealth, Braintree, Belly, SilkRoad, and many others are showing early promise of not only achieving success, but also creating meaningful, sustainable businesses.

Successful exits and the reinvestment of gains back into Chicago will fuel future growth.

As the Chicago technology community develops, the reinvestment of capital and talent into the local ecosystem will be critical to sustain long-term growth.

In 2012, Chicago saw more exits than any previous year. As this number continues to rise—and the value of these events grows—Chicago entrepreneurs, angels, and venture capitalists must invest those gains back into the community to successfully continue the evolution of Chicago’s startup community.

Chicago’s unique culture will shape the future.

With cheaper cost-of-living and office space than cities like New York and San Francisco, Chicago maintains a reputation as a livable city for technology companies and their employees. Chicago’s Midwest heritage, its big business history and its separation from the influences of Silicon Valley and New York set the tone for a unique founding and operating environment. This change in perspective can often be valuable for start-ups and others in the ecosystem.

The duality of a city with strong, historic business roots and a young, thriving technology ecosystem has made Chicago a fantastic place to live and start a business.

Chicago’s recent growth as a legitimate technology hub has created a palpable energy in the city. The technology scene is young and on the upswing: start-ups, incubators, educators, and investors all are able to play a meaningful role in its development.

As this ecosystem continues to gain traction, the sky is the limit for companies and entrepreneurs who call the Windy City home.

Gregory Grossman is a Partner at DLA Piper who works with venture capital firms and emerging growth companies, from the earliest stages of formation and seed capital through the entire company life cycle, including exit events.  He holds a law degree from The George Washington University and an accounting degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Marina Dedes joined Lightbank in April 2011. Prior to Lightbank, Marina was a Senior Associate in the Valuation Group at Duff & Phelps. Marina holds a BS in Materials Science and Engineering with a concentration in Biomaterials from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Greg and Marina are both among the founders of the Chicago Founder Circle, a new Peer-to-Peer networking group for founders and CEOs of emerging growth companies in Chicago. More information can be found at:

Check out some of our great Chicago startup coverage.


Chicago Startup WeDeliver Puts A Winning Spin On Deliveries

WeDeliver, Chicago startup,startup interview, Chicago TechWeek

At first glance WeDeliver, a Chicago startup, looks like a hybrid between your typical delivery service and a courier service. That’s probably because it is, with a twist.

WeDeliver connects local businesses to their customers by providing same day delivery of products and goods. Sure delivery and courier services aren’t new, but crowdsourcing the service is.

WeDeliver takes on and vets delivery drivers who are looking for a little extra money delivering anything from clothing, flowers, and knick knacks, to small appliances, bicycles and other goods. The drivers use their own vehicles and are properly vetted by the company. Because they have a fleet of drivers with their own vehicles, WeDeliver is able to offer a wide range of delivery services from people who need something that will fit in a truck or a passenger seat, to something that needs a small van or small truck, and everything in between.

What sets them apart and positions WeDeliver for success is the hands on approach their founders and staff are taking. Where there are some apps that are trying to automate the process, they know that some human interaction needs to be involved for vetting, dispatching, and matching up deliveries, customers, and drivers.

Earlier this summer when we were at Chicago TechWeek, the crowd was buzzing for WeDeliver. They had about ten people with them and you could spot a WeDeliver shirt anywhere. They all talked up the service very well, to the point where it won the startup contest!

We got a chance to interview them, check out the interview below.

What is your startup called?


What does your company do?

WeDeliver connects local businesses (small and medium sized) to their customers by providing same-day delivery of products and goods.

Who are the founders, and what are their backgrounds?

Kirk Lashley, Co-Founder, CTO

Kirk, a native of Trinidad and Tobago and tech entrepreneur determined to solve real world problems, was a grad and Dev Engineer at University-West Indies. Kirk has more than 15 years of professional software development experience and was the owner/operator of a Web design company in Trinidad. Currently, he’s an organizer for Startup Weekend Trinidad and Tobago and Startup Weekend Chicago. Kirk’s passionate about sharing his technology and entrepreneurship in these startup ecosystems.

Jimmy Odom, Founder, CEO
Jimmy is founder/CEO of WeDeliver and is responsible for the vision and business development of the company. He gained experience working for five years at an Apple store, as owner/operator of a gourmet pizza delivery service and at The Starter League. Jimmy is a serial entrepreneur at heart, and his mission is to build a brand whose primary focus is to create more transformational experiences rather than transactional ones.

Daniela Bolzmann, Co-Founder, CMO

Daniela, an entrepreneur with expertise in community development, was most recently Director of Product Marketing at SymbalooEDU. She grew it from a startup to a successful 200k community of engaged educators worldwide. Daniela is a graduate of the Miyahlo School of Business at CSUF and founder of SocialSkoop, a digital marketing agency. As co-founder/CMO at WeDeliver, she uses her powers to help businesses of Chicago connect with the local community.

Where are you based?


What’s the startup scene like where you are based?

Chicago is truly an amazing city with the unique ability to have both the intimacy of a small town and the “hustle and bustle” and power players of a large metro area. The Chicago tech and startup scene is underrated and can sometimes be overlooked in favor of the traditional startup cities. This has been an advantage to us though it is rapidly changing due to organizations like 1871, TechStars Chicago, The Starter League and people like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, JB Pritzker and Troy Henikoff, to name a few.

What problem do you solve?

We believe that our same-day on demand delivery technology will help local retailers gain a competitive edge against big box E-retailers, like Amazon, while also creating jobs and spurring local economic growth.

Why now?

Why not? The time is now for same-day delivery. The technology we are using for same-day delivery was not available previously. We are simply applying newer technology to an outdated courier industry that still runs off nextels and bad service.

What are some milestones your startup has already reached?

  • We won 1st place at Startup Weekend, November 2012
  • IBM Global Entrepreneur Mentor Day Winner, June 2013
  • We won Techweek Chicago LAUNCH, June 2013

What are your next milestones?

We are on track to have more than 250 merchants and more than 100 drivers by year’s end.

Where can people find out more? Any social media links you want to share?



Former Lightbank Associate James Dickerson & Founder Rob Woodbridge Added To Everywhere Else Cincinnati Line Up

You see we weren’t kidding when we told you that Everywhere Else Cincinnati was going to be the place for startups everywhere else. We’ve made a top tier conference affordable for bootstrapping startups all over. Our nearly 30 speakers are the caliber of speakers you would find at tech events in San Francisco, New York, and London.

Today we have the privilege of announcing that Lightbank associate James Dickerson and mobile guru and founder Rob Woodbridge have joined the lineup of amazing speakers for the conference.

jamesdickersonJames Dickerson, Former Lightbank Associate, and founder of Leap

James Dickerson is the founder of Brandery alumni startup Leap. Starting a company is nothing to him, though.

Immediately after college he spent 30 days in the desert with just a blanket, a knife, and a poncho. He then cut his teeth in the sales world as a beer salesman, and anyone who’s ever done that knows how hard it can be. He created a startup called Wellthy that was accepted into The Brandery and then came out as Leap.

Dickerson wasn’t content with being a startup founder. He wanted to make a difference and an impact so he used a pitch deck to get his current position as an associate at LightBank.  Lightbank is no stranger to startups everywhere else. Built on the success of Groupon, their portfolio reads like a who’s who of startups from everywhere else: Belly, BenchPrep, Zaarly, SpotHero and Contently don’t even scratch the surface when it comes to their top tier portfolio companies.

robwoodbridge2Rob Woodbridge, founder

To tell you the truth we were scared to book Rob Woodbridge. By his own admission he “never stops talking.” It’s good talk, though, and he’s preaching the entrepreneurial gospel and the gospel of mobile rockstars.

His technology story starts in 1993 the year before Netscape released the first mass market web browser. He started one of the first internet service providers in Ottawa, the kind that you dial into their servers (Never mind you may not know what I’m talking about, but this was a big thing before you ordered internet from your cable company).  That company started building custom software applications by 1998 (if you’re keeping score that’s when Mark Zuckerberg was 14).

In 2000 Woodbridge founded a company called getHOW. Soon after the internet bubble burst, and Woodbridge then linked up with SystemScope. After that, he joined OCRI’s Entrepreneurship Center to run the Ottawa Capital Network.

Now he’s the founder of which is dubbed “Casual Conversations With Mobile Rockstars.” He’s also the three time emcee of uxcamp Ottawa.

That makes 23 awesome speakers we’ve announced so far, with a couple more big announcements next week. Now would be the time to get your early bird discount ticket or your startup’s early bird Startup Village booth. Here’s the list of speakers we’ve announced so far.

  • Blair Garrou, Managing Director Mercury Fund
  • Joe Medved, Partner SoftBank Capital
  • Naithan Jones, Founder AgLocal
  • Derek Flanzraich, Founder Greatist
  • Andrew Warner, Founder Mixergy
  • Andy Sparks, Co-Founder MatterMark
  • Wil Schroter, Founder Fundable
  • Jake Stutzman, Founder
  • Jonathon Perrelli, Managing Director, Fortify Ventures
  • Justin Gutwein, Filmmaker and Entrepreneur
  • Mark Hasebroock, Founder Dundee Venture Capital
  • Jason Healy, Founder Blu
  • John Bracken, Founder Evite and Speek
  • Dave Knox, CMO Rockfish, co-founder Brandery
  • Patrick Woods, Managing Director a>m ventures
  • Sarah Ware, Founder Markerly
  • John T. Meyer, Founder
  • Raghu Betina, Managing Partner The Starter League
  • Ryan O’Connell, VP Influence & Co
  • Blake Miller, Managing Director Think Big Accelerator
  • Michael Bergman, Founder Repp


5 Digital Leaders In Chicago Combine Forces For Ensemble An “Excubator”

Ensemble, Chicago, Excubator, startup accelerator

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the success rates of both incubators and accelerators. While incubators can go long term, one of the biggest themes among people who doubt the accelerator model is what happens next.  Accelerators want to continue to churn out new companies, and some suggest they do it at the expense of previous cohorts.

A lot emphasis is put on the few companies that get follow-on funding and move to the next level, and no one takes into account that most of the companies in accelerator program don’t make it 3-6 more months down the road.

Andre Fowlkes, the co-president of Memphis based Start Co, the organization that puts on the Seed Hatchery accelerator now in it’s third year, recently told the Commercial Appeal that programs with a 3 month bootcamp-style program and 6 additional months of curriculum and training would be a more effective model.

Many agree with that idea, including Jeremy Vaughn the co-founder of Atlantic Beach, Florida’s The Factory accelerator. They take companies through a quick intensive program and then continue to work with them for a year.  The Brandery, Cincinnati’s accelerator that often comes in the top 20 in rankings, puts a cohort through the summer and then the companies are welcome to stay around, keep office space, and continue working with the mentors in the community until the next class moves in a year later.

Now, 5 digital services leaders in Chicago, including successful social startup Social Katy, have teamed up to form Ensemble, “a symphony of digital experts.” The concept was called an investment firm by the Chicago Tribune, an incubator alternative by other sources, and an excubator in a press release.

Ensemble is actually a combination of all three.

Red Rocket Ventures (business consulting & capital raising), Ora Interactive (technology development & design), Loud Interactive (search engine optimization), Walker Sands (public relations), and of course SocialKaty (social media marketing) have teamed up to offer startups and rampups a suite of focused services in a one-to-one relationship vs cohort based. All five together encompass most of everything a startup would need outside of technical expertise, which most startups have.

If you were to combine the cost of working with each of the five companies individually to reach a company’s common goals and grow a business, the services would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Through the Ensemble group, services in a combined suite will be discounted to startups. They will also offer their services at a substantial discount for an equity stake in the companies they are working with.  This is commonly referred to as “creative capital” and is a growing trend across the startup landscape.

All 5 companies will play a part in managing Ensemble with Rocket Ventures Managing Partner, George Deeb, serving as the day-to-day General Manager.

“We created Ensemble to fill a void in the market for entrepreneurs desiring do-it-for-me solutions from a one-stop team of digital experts who have proven they know how to quickly and efficiently scale up digital businesses,” Deeb said in a statement. “The Ensemble alliance structure will best serve clients, given our domain experts’ focus and expertise within their respective niches, and the fact we are all entrepreneurs ourselves. Ensemble is by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, which you would never get in a big conglomerate agency.”

Ensemble is based in Chicago but plans on offering their services to a nationwide roster of clients. You can find out more about Ensemble here at


We Talk With Chicago Startup SimpleRelevance About Simple, Personal Email

SimpleRelevance, Startup Interview, Chicago startup

Chicago startup SimpleRelevance has been on the startup radar for quite some time. Back in May the company, founded by Chicago serial entrepreneur and founding team member of iContact Erik Severinhaus, raised $1 million dollars. While there are several companies out there vying for the position as your mass emailer, SimpleRelevance has found a way to make mass emails personal.

Just the other day I received an email pitch from someone that was obviously sent out using a mass emailer without much preparation and about zero relevance. With SimpleRelevance you don’t need to worry about that.

“Using data intelligence, we combine your customers’ demographic, social, and previous purchase data with our data intelligence to create emails that are individually personalized down to the subject line, product recommendations shown, and time of day the email is sent,” Laura Boring, the companies Head of Marketing and Program Management told us.

According to the company, this degree of customization can increase conversion by 51%, while increasing click through’s by as much as 29%. This can lead to an increase in revenue for companies using SimpleRelevance of as much as 400%, reported VentureBeat.

SimpleRelevance is one of many awesome startups currently housed at 1871, the startup and technology epicenter in Chicago. We talked with Boring about that and more. Check out our interview below.

What is your startup, what does it do?

SimpleRelevance make it easy for companies to personalize, target, and automate their email marketing using data intelligence. We combine your customers demographic, social, and previous purchase data with our data intelligence to create emails that are individually personalized down to the subject line, product recommendations shown, and time of day the email is sent.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds

Erik Severinghaus is a Chicago based serial entrepreneur and business leader. He was a founding team member of iContact, a leading email service provider which was sold to Vocus in 2012. He later joined IBM, where he spent six years as a consultant in IBM’s IT Optimization Practice before founding SimpleRelevance.

Where are you based?

Chicago, IL – currently based at 1871, the tech-startup hub in the Merchandise Mart.

What is the startup culture like where you are based?

We couldn’t ask for a better working environment. At 1871, we are surrounded by some of the top startup talent in Chicago. So far, I haven’t seen any direct competitors here at 1871. Everyone is willing to help each other out.

What problem does your startup solve?

Companies now have access to massive amounts of customer data from various sources,

However, few companies know how to combine this data and make it actionable, especially from an email marketing perspective. Email marketing is one of the easiest and cost effective forms of marketing; however it is still significantly behind from a technology perspective. Our goal is to not only give companies the ability to upgrade to customer focused, data driven marketing, but to make it completely seamless on their end. Firms of all sizes using SimpleRelevance now have access to sophisticated technology that was once only available to firms with million dollar data analytics budgets.

What is one challenge that you’ve overcome in the startup process?

One key challenge for SimpleRelevance’s startup process was finding a viable product-market fit.  We found ourselves with a fantastic piece of technology that basically created an intelligent inbox, highlighting of-interest emails.  We weren’t getting sufficient traction operating as a B2C company and found that our tech would be much more relevant as a SaaS for B2C companies – we made a huge pivot from a B2C to a B2B company.

What are some of the milestones your startup has achieved?

To date, we are personalizing emails for over 25 million email addresses. Since January, we’ve seen double digit month over month growth in both our small and midsize businesses as well as our enterprise solutions. We’ve set up partnerships with top Email Service Providers and E-commerce platforms. Our recent round of funding and acceptance into TechStars has been great external validation of our concept, however, the biggest form of evidence for us is the internal validation – which is the significant increase in revenue we are creating for our clients.

What are your next milestones

Our next key milestone is to find a scalable customer acquisition model.  We’ve found that batch-and-blast email marketing, or sending the same email at one time to a massive group of people, is still a very prevalent marketing strategy.  It’s also completely archaic.  To find a scalable customer acquisition model, we basically have to 1) educate the market about the benefits of sending an email with personalized product recommendations (think Amazon Recommendations) at the time the customer is most likely to be checking their inbox and 2) let B2C companies know it’s actually possible to have a one-on-one conversation with every customer on their email lists.

Who are your mentors and role models?

As part of the TechStars Chicago program, we have amazing access to brilliant mentors in the Chicago area.  There has been a lot of momentum in the Chicago startup community and we are very excited to be in the middle of the action.

What are some of the advantages/disadvantages growing your startup outside of Silicon Valley.

One of the advantages of growing SimpleRelevance outside of Silicon Valley is that the Chicago startup community holds itself to standards equal to, if not greater than, those of Silicon Valley.  After all, it is one of the hot new startup hubs of the Midwest.  We’ve found this results in an environment that demands very defined and validated business models.

One of the disadvantages is that Chicago is still some time away from having the support and rapport of Silicon Valley.  Being a Chicago startup is cool, but it’s not yet Silicon Valley cool.  Undoubtedly, this is changing as companies like Groupon and SurePayroll call Chicago home.

What’s next for your SimpleRelevance?

Next on our agenda is to end the era of batch-and-blast email marketing.  We will not rest until every company is sending personalized and relevant email.  You can look at it from this perspective; we want every company to send every single email with a personal mailman who will deliver only relevant mail at the most appropriate times.

Where can people find out more, and what is your Twitter username? (@simplerelevance)

Check out more startup stories from 1871 here at


Chicago Startups Raise $146 Million In Q2 2013

Chicago, Startups, Startup Funding, BuiltinchciagoWow! has published their latest Digital Startup Report for Q2 2013. As expected the Chicago startup community has performed extremely well. 37 startups raised $146 million dollars in the second quarter of 2013.

If you’ve ever been to visit Chicago’s startup and technology scene you would see for yourself the creators, the innovators and the synergy that surrounds the third largest city in the United States. Two weeks ago we were in Chicago for Chicago TechWeek 2013 where over 100 different startups were showing off their stuff. In addition they hosted a job fair, where over 1000 engineers, developers and designers pined for jobs from over 100 Chicago based technology companies.

Chicago being a focal point for technology in the midwest is nothing new. Big Marker published this infographic in celebration of Chicago TechWeek highlighting some technology companies like CDW,, and Groupon that have become household names.

In the second quarter of 2013 Chicago saw 26 new startups launched, 37 companies funded, and 4 exits to the beat of $396 million dollars.

These Chicago companies raised money in Q2 2013:

  • AvantCredit
  • Blitsy
  • Blue Health Intelligence
  • Care Team Connect
  • CareXtend
  • Civis Analytics
  • ClaraStream
  • Fandium
  • Fooda
  • GreenPSF
  • Healthation
  • Inventables
  • Narrative Science
  • Neohapsis
  • OptionsCity
  • Optyn
  • Pangea
  • Pervasive Health
  • Project Fixup
  • Purple Binder
  • Resultly
  • Rocketmiles
  • SimpleRelevance
  • SocialCrunch
  • Spare To Share
  • Supply Vision
  • Target Data
  • Total Attorneys
  • uBid Holdings
  • walkby
  • Whittl
  • Whoozat Inc
  • YCharts Inc
  • Purchasing Platform
  • Zipfit

These are the companies that made an exit in Q2

  • Textura (IPO)
  • Acquity Group (Acquired)
  • Spooky Cool Labs (Acquired)
  • Cartavi (Aquired)



Kurfuffl Because Everyone Keeps Score


Competition is everywhere. Of course competition is found in sports, but even in your everyday interactions there is always someone challenging you to do something.

“I can eat more hot dogs than  you.”

“I go to Starbucks more than you.”

“I can drive that golfball further than you.”

The challenges are countless and come from every direction.

It’s no surprise that a startup with a colorful name and based on social competition comes from Chicago, an extremely competitive city. With four major sports franchises (five if you count the Cubs), men, women and children are challenging each other everywhere.

That’s the basis of Kurfuffl, an app for both iPhone and Android.

“Do you score more than your friends? Now you can prove it. Kurfuffl is an app that helps you keep score in everyday social competition. Anyone who’s competitive can tap Kurfuffl to throw down, track points and talk smack. Whether settling a longtime dispute or just making a night more interesting, there’s nothing like a good fuffl.” Kurfuffl says on their website.

If you’ve been following me since TheDroidGuy days then you know the one thing that I really look forward to at every event is good chocolate chip cookies. During TechWeek, Zach Zimmerman the founder of Kurfuffl, had the cookies at his booth, so we chilled out with him and listened to what he had to say. I’m easily bought.

Competition apps are getting more popular. At SXSW we saw Alabama startup NotIt labs which is also social competition but focused on the last man standing or the person who’s “not it”.

Kurfuffl on the other hand is all about keeping score. Is it how many men or women you can pick up, how many cigar smoke rings you can make, or any other social challenge? Keep the challenges alive, keep score, and more with Kurfuffl. Find out more here and watch the video below.


We’ve got more from Chicago TechWeek Here.


How We Built A Successful Startup Across 10 Cities

Flik, Chicago Startup, Startup Tips, Guest Post

At the turn of the millennium, the technology world was a far different place compared to today. Social networking didn’t exist, streaming video was a pipe dream, and collaboration took place during late nights at the office or on napkins at bars. Building a startup from the ground up is a difficult venture at any time, but today’s collaborative tools have opened the door to working together from pretty much anywhere in the world.

That’s how we had to build flik, our social media app. My wife Tracy and I co-founded flik together, and during the early days, we received plenty of advice regarding the right way to approach a startup. A lot of it came with wisdom applicable to any ground-up project, such as building a house: have a solid foundation, plan ahead, use the right materials, and so on.

The problem was that my wife and co-founder Tracy and I lived a bit of gypsy lifestyle. Since we got married six years ago, we’ve moved 30 times, from city to city, region to region, and sometimes country to country. How can you build a startup when you don’t even have a house to call home?

That’s where collaboration tools come in. Of course, technology is only as good as the people that use it, and our most valuable lesson over the years came from finding the right balance between technology and practicality. flik’s first eight people collaborated across six different cities, and while we faced some early communication hurdles, it was only a matter of time before we overcame the challenges of remote business.

All startups have countless moving parts and ours is no exception: advisors, attorneys, operations, marketing and PR. By organizing our communication needs while using both cloud and local tools, we’re able to transform moving parts into a well-oiled machine,

It took a little bit of trial and error, but with our communication challenges in the proverbial rearview mirror, we can focus on the task of making flik as successful as possible. Today, flik professionals are a team in the truest sense, except our diverse locations are now an advantage. With our focus on strong communication, we have one big advantage over our competition — not only do we collaborate with the efficiency of a local team, we also have the broader reach and exposure that comes exclusively with our collective locations. It’s simply the best of all worlds, and a situation that couldn’t have been possible without the right technology and the right people.

Chris Hayes is the co-founder and CTO of flik, a social mobile app where users share products and places they love through short videos. Chris holds a BS in computer science & economics from Northwestern University, was a national chess champion at the age of 12, and is a submarine-pitching professional baseball player.


Check out nibletz’ interview with Flik here.


Turn Your Blog Into A Book With Chicago Startup BlogIntoBook

BlogIntoBook, 1871, Chicago startup, Startup,startup interviewEarly next year we’ll be publishing our first book about startups everywhere else, chronicling our two year sneaker strapped startup road trip.  We were fortunate enough to be commissioned by a publisher for this particular book, but it’s not typically that easy. For actual book writers and authors, there are great startups to help get self published, like Memphis startup ScrewPulp.  But what about bloggers and journalists who may want to memorialize their writings in an actual book, well e-book?

Well BlogIntoBook, currently incubating at Chicago megahub, 1871, is helping bloggers turn their work into books.

BlogIntoBook is an easy-to-use platform that helps bloggers curate and publish their blogs into books. Then they help get the book distributed by Amazon, Apple’s iBookstore, and Google Play. The best part is it’s free, and BlogIntoBook issues a royalty to the author.

We got a chance to talk with the founder Zack Price, check out our interview below.



What is your startup called?

What does your company do? turns Bloggers into Authors by curating and publishing their blog as a professionally published ebook distributed to (Kindle), Apple iBookstore (iOS), Google Play (Android), and BN Nook. We provide this service completely free to the blogger and pay them a royalty every time their blog is downloaded.

Who are the founders, and what are their backgrounds

Zack Price is a serial entrepreneur who has been starting businesses since age 11. He founded Price World Publishing in 1999 at age 19, and that company still stands strong today. Zack also founded College Auctions LLC in 2004 and successfully exited with a sale in 2007. Already a 14 year publishing veteran, Zack just started up which launched at Techweek on June 27th.

What problem do you solve?

Bloggers have very few ways to make money from their passion. Many refuse to host ads on their site, and while they would like to be book authors, they just don’t have the time or patience to self-publish. gives them a completely risk-free opportunity to earn passive income without any investment of time or money, while also gaining new fans from the e-bookstores who may have never found their blog through the web.

Why now?

A few years ago this would have been impossible. The Kindle was in it’s infancy and the iPad didn’t exist. Ebooks have been around forever (as PDF files) but reading a book on a computer screen is not pleasant. Here in 2013 we have a variety of Kindle devices, iPads, Nooks, and android devices … all perfect for reading on the go. Now that these devices are flooding the mainstream there is no better time to publish to them.

What are some of the milestones your startup has already reached?

We just launched at Techweek, but we have signed on BJ Mendelson (@bjmendelson) who has over 750,000 twitter followers. Once we publish his blog into an ebook he’ll be tweeting out the link and it should lead to a flood of sales.

What are your next milestones?

Publishing 100 blogs into books in the second half of the year, and 1,000 blogs by the end of 2014.

Where can people find out more?