Chicago’s  Startup  Community  –  New  Reasons  To  Live  In  The  Windy  City 

Troy Henikoff, one of the founders of Excelerate Labs and one of the leaders of Chicago’s startup community sent me an update on what’s going on in Chicago. It’s pretty awesome and is a great example of what happens when entrepreneurs take a long term view to building their startup community. Here are a few of the things going on that Troy mentioned.

BuiltInChicago – just over a year old and has over 6,000 entrepreneurs and 15 – 20 blog posts a day on what is happening in Chicago

Technori Pitch – sells out a 500 seat auditorium each month to hear 4 – 5 startups pitch

TechWeek Conference – a week-long festival celebrating the technology, web and interactive communities

Entrepreneurs Unpluggd – Awesome event each month to hear from 3 entrepreneurs on a variety of topics

CodeAcademy – a 90 day intense in person curriculum that teaches people to be coders

1871 – a new 50,000 sq ft co-working space opening next month it is totally entrepreneur focused and is a 501(c)3

FireStarter Fund – 42 successful digital tech entrepreneurs start an innovative fund to help early stage Chicago companies with capital and access to mentorship

Excelerate – Forbes ranked us the #3 accelerator in the country this year – applications are open until March 16th

The BuiltInChicago site has a great summary of 2011 along with a list of Chicago companies. It seems like it’s time for me to get my butt to the airport, hop on a United flight, and spend a few days in Chicago.

  • Brad, thanks so much for including Built In Chicago-time to book your ticket!

  • Thanks for shining a spotlight onto Chicago’s exploding entrepreneur community. It’s really quite an amazing moment in the city’s history.

  • You guys forgot Dashfire–another awesome young company that helps startups in Chicago.

    (I’m in no way affiliated with Dashfire, but I know people who are. They are great guys doing very cool stuff.)

  • Steven Collens

    Thanks for the Chicago shout-out — looking forward to seeing you here soon!

  • It has been fantastic to see all the positive changes that have happened in Chicago in the last couple of years from the creation of an accelerator in Excelerate Labs, to pitch events like Technori, conferences like TechWeek and more. Back in 2006 in Chicago, the organizations listed in this article did not exist so I co-founded Tech Cocktail and started rallying the tech startup community to better connect and amplify the local tech startup scene. There was a large amount of enthusiasm so we brought together hundreds of entrepreneurs, thought leaders and creatives every quarter to showcase the latest startup innovations built in Chicago. Over five years later we still host such quarterly events in Chicago. Others saw what we were doing in Chicago over the years and reached out, so we expanded our mission help other cities across the country.

    I am extremely happy to see such a transformation to my home town, sweet home Chicago. It is wonderful to see such an array of new organizations and resources helping keep the positive community momentum moving forward. I hope it continues for years to come.

  • It is great to see how much Chicago has changed in the last few years – It has truly become an amazing community supporting startups in a meaningful way that is producing some great results!

  • Brad, it is indeed a fantastic time to be here. When you do get your butt on that plane, please let us know – we’d love to host you here at Local Offer Network.

  • Brad, as I had mentioned to you a couple of months ago in Vegas after my 3-month sprint in Dallas, Chicago’s startup community is active and growing fast. It’s guys like Troy, Seth, Brad and other successful entrepreneurs that give back to the community and makes it grow. In contrast with Dallas, successful entrepreneurs decide to build winning basketball teams :)

  • Thanks @troyhenikoff and @bfeld. Chicago is a great place to do business. Especially in the technology sector. With companies such as Groupon, GrubHub, Braintree, Centro, Sittercity, and the Excelerate Labs accelerator, Chicago tech companies have raised over $1B in the last 2 years alone. The world is just waking up to how diverse the Chicago economy really is, and how easy it can be to grow a solid, revenue-focused business in this city. Here at Techweek (@thetechweek), we’re very happy to call Chicago home.

  • Brad, thanks for spotlighting Chicago and helping to promote the community! It’s really wonderful to see this community take shape – a ton of energy and now we need a ton of talent to keep the fire blazing.

  • Thanks for the Code Academy mention! When you make your next trip to Chicago @bfeld, be sure to come check us out!

  • The community in Chicago is awesome. There are also some other events like the Lean Startup Circle and a lot of other coding meetups that bring not only programmers but also other entrepreneurs. A special thanks to Troy and Seth, and Mark from Spothero for giving me some new perspectives. And CodeAcademy for solving the eternal question: “How do I find a technical cofounder?”

  • We have the fastest growing angel network in the US, Hyde Park Angels.

  • Chicago has a phenomenal and nurturing mentor network that really takes the time to help many young entrepreneurs. This can be seen at all of the resources listed above and others not listed, including Tech Nexus, Illinois Technology Association and Illinois Launch (The University of Illinois Incubator here in Chicago).

  • And we’re just getting warmed up!

  • Chicago is THE place to be for entrepreneurs right now! The #1 reason: people are willing to help one another. Successful entrepreneurs are reaching back to help the up-and-coming entrepreneurs achieve success and this will soon be a perpetual motion machine as the successful new kids on the block return the favor with the next generation and on and on…

  • Hi Brad- Thanks for the spotlight and especially for mentioning Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. We’d love to have you speak sometime!

  • Hey Brad,

    It was great chatting with you about CookItFor.Us at Excelerate Labs this summer — and very exciting to read this post! I had my first internet experience in 1983, and it’s been amazing to see how the industry has evolved.

    Another addition to the list is a fun and novel group I founded a few years, which has been operating below the radar — The Monks of Invention.

    Conceived in Chicago, but with members from around the world, The Monks of Invention is a social experiment in new business creation.

    We’d love to extend an invitation to you, and entrepreneurs around the world building awesome things, to join us at SxSW for our third annual Conclave on the evening of March 11th.

    Check it out at

    Hope to see you there!


    Moshe Tamssot
    Founder, Monks of Invention
    Founder & CEO, CookItFor.Us

  • It’s so exciting to see what’s going on in Chicago. The support that the entrepreneurs and others in the the Chicago start up ecosystem provide one another is amazing!

  • We’ve watched the Chicago tech community grow and flourish with an outstanding influx of VC cash, solidifying Chicago’s place in the national technology scene. Thanks so much for this article, it’s an awesome visual reminder of just how vibrant Chicago is as a technological hub here in the US!

  • Thanks, Brad, for bringing some attention to the amazing work that Chicago’s entrepreneurial pioneers are doing to “giveforward” to the next generation of start-ups. We’re so happy to be part of the growing number of start-ups lucky enough to call Chi-town home.
    ~Desiree, CEO,

  • Thanks Brad! Exciting times and hope you’re back again this year. Your one on one meetings and q&a with the excelerate teams this summer was nothing short of inspiring.

  • Another reason to love Chicago. And Troy/Excelerate has done amazing things for start-ups — we should know!

  • Don’t forget the Chicago Lean Startup Circle – one of the biggest lean startup meetups in the US!

  • I can tell you the Chicago startup community is night and day from when we started our company nearly four years ago. I suppose the same startup wave is probably hitting other spots around the country and not just Chicago, but it’s very palpable in Chicago. Def an exciting time to be in the city.

  • Brad, thanks for giving a shout out to the Chicago tech scene. It is becoming an outstanding place to build and grow a business, and the more people that know this, the better.

  • Great post, and yes, come to Chicago! It was low 40’s today in February – warm enough to run!

  • Great post. Also: the combination of enlightened policy from City government(1), support from philanthropies(2), and a super-active developer community(3) is leading to huge energy in civic innovation that is set to pay off.


  • Having experienced both Boulder and Chicago startup communities I can say the leaders in this community are doubling down HARD to make Chicago a go-to ecosystem for startups.

    What I will always love about Boulder is the tech crowd mixed with the hippie community-vibe of helping others and ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’ attitude. That mix creates an ecosystem for risk and shared resources. That community got me to take the risk on my own startup in the first place.

    What I love about Chicago is that same vibe is emerging now. It can’t be bought, built or branded. It has to come from all the different people in the city (and newcomers).

    It is a feedback loop…and it is happening here too.

  • Thanks for recognizing all the great stuff that’s going on here in Chicago- and the really cool thing is that the companies and entrepreneurs are staying here and not blitzing to the coasts post funding. There’s a real base that’s being built.

  • Phil Nevels’ comment (above) is one to be noted. Being fresh out of college, I particularly notice the high level of support that the Chicago community provides one another. It is something I wish existed in higher education. REALLY smart people openly share their email addresses, respond to Twitter messages, and even are willing to sit down for coffee — if you reach out to them.

  • Chicago is quickly becoming the best place in the country to start a company. We have the entrepreneurs, the universities, the community, the city & state support, the local F500 corporate support, and the capital (both VC’s and Angels) to create the next generation of high-growth startups. And Groupon showed that we can build world-class internet growth companies here. Now our challenge is to build more of them and 1871 will be a great place for these startups to get going. Thanks for the support Brad – hope to see you in the Windy City again soon.

  • Thanks for the Chicago-love! Even though we have a lot more work to do, things are really picking up.

  • Great to read this. Its been a long time since my (Tunes) and days when it was all about Ron May and Divine! Glad to see the base so broad and strong and ‘democratic’. I am also excited about the important role that the universities/researchers and students are playing in the growth. I’ve spent time with some of the professors, students entrepreneurs and investors in the region through my research on universities and high impact entrepreneurship. Again, happy read all this.

  • Brad– thanks for taking a few minutes to recognize Chicago’s startup scene. We’re happy to host you any time you’re in the Windy City.

    -Dan Kuthy, CEO, PVPower (Excelerate Labs 2010 alum)

  • Brad, thanks for highlighting the amazing ecosystem and community growing in Chicago. This fire’s just getting started, so come by anytime for some marshmallows and chocolate. :)

  • Collin Wallace

    Brad – I’m glad that you are taking the time to give credit to the Chicagoland start-up community. As a transplant to Chicago, I have seen more love and support here than in any other city I have ever been. I’m extremely excited to see what comes out of our community here. Stay tuned!

    – Collin Wallace, Founder of FanGo Software Systems (Acquired by GrubHub, Inc., Excelerate Labs 2010 Alum)

  • We’ve loved the Chicago start-up scene from afar, but now we, along with many other technology firms in the Chicago area are seeing how the start-up scene helps everyone. We’re now getting involved more than ever to help these start-ups succeed, and we’re not the only ones.

  • Pingback: Chicago’s Startup Community – New Reasons To Live In The Windy City « Tom Denison's Blog()

  • marc goodman

    It is wonderful to see all the energy and effort in the entrepreneur community. It would be great to see even more associations with our fantasic universities. IIT, University of Illinois, Northwestern, DePaul, etc, give us access to talent that we want to make sure does not go West.

  • Great article, Brad. Thanks for helping raise awareness for all the great startup activity here in Chicago. alone has had the pleasure of meeting over 200 exciting digital entrepreneurs in the last year alone. I really wished we had this ecosystem 10 years ago, while building iExplore. But, thrilled it is here today!!

  • Brad, indeed, there is no better time than now to be involved in a Chicago startup. Hope you’re well.

  • Feels like we are all in on the ground floor of an exciting startup called the Chicago Entrepreneurship Scene. I almost feel sorry for my friends who moved to San Francisco a few years back. ; )

  • Kristen Kopplin @kdkopplin

    Right on target @bfeld. It’s all very inspiring what’s happening here and exactly why I moved from Colorado back to this great town.

  • scheurer

    We also should take note here of Matt McCall from New World Ventures who has been preaching the Chicago Startup gospel for many years, sometimes to skeptical ears.

  • So happy I moved from LA back home to Chicago :) Thanks for the post!

  • Thanks for the post, Brad. It is amazing to see how the community has been coming together in Chicago. A lot of very smart, dedicated people have thoughtfully built a strong foundation with a long term view. It is a great place to be. See you soon!

  • Skip

    There has always been a solid financial services entrepreneurial base in Chicago. The relatively low cost of living with a large concentration of top graduates (from Ivies as well as UC and Big Ten) has provided a great foundation upon which to build. Yes, the suburban engineers might not know of this sector, that dwarfs employment in technology by any measure (including engineering graduates), but it matters. Furthermore, many of us have experience more similar to California/Boston/Manhattan organizations. Perhaps it is school ties (engineers from Columbia/Cornell/Duke rather than Perdue/Illinois/Ohio), but much of it is former employers in the finance/consulting world.

    Perhaps a broader definition of startup would include a greater number of individuals and broaden potential network benefits. Of course, one would not want to dilute a successful community, but there do exist some great startups in asset management/prop trading, insurance brokerage, insurance/reinsurance, consulting, actuarial/insurance/pension services, and even subprime mortgage servicing. Greater connections might give both markets a boost.

  • Great article! I do marketing for internet start-ups in California and just came back from my first trip to Chicago. I fell in love with the city instantly, glad to hear the start-up ecosystem is growing there, I hope to return soon!