Announcing the Class of Techstars Chicago 2018

We are thrilled to announce the 10 companies and founding teams honoring us with their participation in Techstars Class 134! When I started as Managing Director last year, I said that we’d be hyper focused on recruiting companies with Bad Ideas 

  • Non-consensus ideas with a vision that raise eyebrows
  • In markets that are bigger than outsiders perceive
  • Elite in either engineering, product, or design
  • And, most importantly, founding teams that turn us into fans

After having a full year of learnings under the belt, we remain steadfast to this thesis and our commitment to ensure Techstars Chicago is primarily known for being Intensely Founder Focused.

We also continue to believe that Midwest markets are undervalued, underserved, and filled with talent, so this year we really honed in on local recruiting…

  • We visited 15 Midwest startup hubs, including Indianapolis, Bloomington, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Pittsburg, Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, Champaign, and local university entrepreneurship programs
  • Reviewed/screened 2,243 companies
  • Interviewed 408 founders/teams
  • Brought 22 finalists into Chicago for final screening

The final result is 8 companies from the Midwest, with participation also coming from Toronto and NYC. We’d love to have you come see them in-person and will be hosting our Demo Day on October 4th in the Auditorium @ 1871.

Without further ado, the Techstars Chicago Class of 2018:

2nd Kitchen: 2nd Kitchen allows businesses to serve food from nearby restaurants.

Founders: Arik Gaisler, Jon Elron, Nick Anastasiades

2ndKitchen enables businesses without a kitchen to serve food seamlessly using a custom menu from nearby restaurants. Because of short distances and order bundling, food is delivered to customers’ seats hot and fast. We have launched the concept with bars that do not have kitchens and we plan to test it with hotels (room service please!), vacation/short terms rentals, co-working spaces, and offices.

Clyde: Clyde is technology company transforming insurance at the point of sale, starting with the underserved and highly profitable extended warranty industry

Founders: Brandon Gell, Josh Scaglione, Nick Scaglione

Twitter: @join_clyde

Clyde allows e-commerce stores to offer extended warranty/product insurance to customers at the point of sale. Our plug-in technology and network of insurance and administrator partnerships enables us to offer online businesses a passive revenue stream and transform a 6-month costly process into a 3-minute setup time. Clyde’s vision is to build the Stripe for insurance, providing businesses with tools and support and transforming the customer’s purchasing experience.

Hurry Home: Hurry Home finances houses through shared ownership, enabling renters to become homeowners and offering a streamlined investment opportunity.

Founders: Jada Mclean, John Gibbons

Twitter: @HurryHomeInc

Hurry Home finances houses through shared ownership, enabling renters to become homeowners and offering a streamlined investment opportunity. Despite there being 3 million houses for sale in the bottom tier market at any given time, banks are unable to profitably originate mortgages for these properties. Hurry Home uses capital from investors to offer a new financial product that enables buyers to earn equity in their home while paying close to or less than what rent would be for the same property, and investors reap a competitive return.

Kai Coach: Kai is a fitness coach that communicates 100% via text message.

Founders: Jonathan Smith, Jane Decker, Dan Rye

Twitter: @MeetKai

Kai is a fitness coach that communicates entirely via text message. Powered by augmented intelligence (humans and machines working together), Kai engages you in daily conversation about your goals and how your doing — physically and emotionally. With Kai, you get goal-setting, workouts, nutrition, and accountability, all for a fraction of the cost of a personal trainer.

Neopenda: Neopenda is innovating medical devices for high-growth emerging markets, starting with a wearable vital signs monitor for critically ill newborns.

Founders: Sona Shah, Teresa Cauvel

Twitter: @Neopenda_Health

Neopenda is innovating medical devices for high-growth emerging markets. We create end-to-end solutions that enable high quality patient care and nuanced data insights for stakeholders. Our first product is a wireless wearable neonatal vital signs monitor designed for resource-constrained health facilities. The affordable system enables more responsive & appropriate care for critically ill newborns, and ultimately helps reduce preventable newborn mortality.

Optivolt: Optivolt Labs develops high efficiency solar powered drones for commercial and military clients to extend flight time by 3–4x.

Founders: Rohit Kalyanpur, Paul Couston

Twitter: @OptivoltLabs

Optivolt Labs is optimizing the utility of efficient solar-powered technologies in drones and other electrical machines. Optivolt Labs has developed a patent-pending power management algorithm which is optimized for solar to lithium ion/polymer battery applications. We are prototyping our technology to solve the battery life problem for commercial drone companies, increase the flight time of drones by 3–4x, and cut costs of commercial drone missions.

Rheaply: Rheaply is a marketplace platform where businesses and professionals can share surplus assets and expertise.

Founders: Garry Cooper, Tyler Skelton

Twitter: @rheaplyinc

Rheaply enables professionals to trade, donate, or easily share surplus inventory or assets within their organization, and better collaborate with their colleagues. For every enterprise, Rheaply’s marketplace creates an internal circular economy which helps save money, reduce unnecessary waste, and increase collaboration. By building a shared economy for surplus resources, clients of Rheaply’s — from Northwestern University to Google X — can transact or donate surplus assets or easily collaborate on Rheaply’s marketplace.

Speeko: Speeko is an artificial intelligence-powered mobile app that brings interactive verbal communication training to your workforce.

Founders: Nico Aguilar , Will Field-Thompson , Anthony Pham

Twitter: @SpeekoTech

Speeko is a public speaking measurement and enhancement tool. Leveraging artificial intelligence and automated voice analytics, Speeko assesses live or recorded presentations and provides speakers with objective feedback, actionable leadership insights and development tools to help them improve their verbal communications.

Trala: Trala is a Juilliard-approved app that teaches users how to play the violin.

Founders: Samuel Walder & Vishnu Indukuri

Twitter: @tralaapp

Trala is a Juilliard-approved app that teaches users how to play the violin. The app uses instant feedback on mistakes, step-by-step tutorials, and daily lessons to teach absolute beginners how to play songs like Amazing Grace in 30 days. Compared to private instructors, the Trala app is 1/25th the price and accessible anytime in the comfort of one’s own home.

Vacation Fund: Vacation Fund is an employer-matched travel savings program for employees, incentivizing them to put money aside and take meaningful vacations every year.

Founders: Erica Pearson, Abhinav Mathur, Britney Mackey

Twitter: @getvacationfund

Vacation Fund is a research-backed benefit for employees. The program allows employees to direct a portion of their paycheck into a separate Vacation Fund Account, and allows employers to match a portion of the contribution. Not only does this make employees’ dream trips more financially attainable, but it encourages them to periodically take time off to disconnect, rejuvenate, and experience something new.








Announcing the 10 Companies Joining the Techstars Chicago Accelerator 2017 Class

After an exhaustive search, primarily focused on the Midwest, where we were fortunate to meet with many companies, we’re now ready to announce the 10 companies in the Techstars Chicago Accelerator class of 2017!

As the 8th program in Chicago, with rich history from days as Excelerate Labs and an incredible alumni and mentor community, I couldn’t be more excited to take over as managing director with our new class.  

We had a clear goal with our incoming class, to be intensely founder focused, to invest in “BAD” ideas, big spaces, and founders that made us fans.

We have four companies from Chicago, three from New York, one from Atlanta (which we met in Cincinnati) and Washington D.C., and our one international team is from Israel.

The missions are hugely ambitious, attacking massive markets, with founders that are awe-inspiring. Read more about them below, check out the sites, founder profiles, try out the products, and share your favorites on Twitter.

And be sure to save the date — October 12th — for Demo Day, and let us know if you want to keep in touch!

I’m truly honored to announce the 10 companies in Techstars Chicago Accelerator Class of 2017:

4Degrees: Helps you build better professional relationships by identifying the right connections and empowering you to strengthen them over time.

Founders: Ablorde Ashigbi, David Vandegrift

Twitter: @4DegreesAI

4Degrees enables you to build better professional relationships. Our platform identifies the right connections to focus on, empowers you to strengthen those relationships over time, and helps you activate your network when you need it. In doing so, 4Degrees accelerates your professional trajectory.

Abode: Redefining home buying by connecting consumers to everything they need to buy a home in one place.

Founders: Kyle Stoner, Carson Junginger

Twitter: @TeamAbode

Abode redefines real estate with an all-inclusive home buying experience. Leaving one-dimensional search engines behind, we ease the stress of home buying by guiding users through the process step-by-step and packaging all services in one user-friendly location.

Abode uses machine learning to match buyers with top professionals, such as realtors, bankers, and attorneys, and offers data-driven insights on housing markets. Professionals use our cloud-based management tools for efficient collaboration with clients. Abode has integrations with multiple mortgage banks and has signed partnerships with brokerages covering 4000+ agents in 10 states.

Allie: A Slack bot for diversity and inclusion at work.

Founders: Emilie Hsieh, Simon Tam

Twitter: @alliebotHQ

Allie is your Chief Diversity Officer – in Slack – that uncovers hidden biases so you can proactively improve culture. Allie allows employees to self-report microaggressions and get tips on how to manage. Companies receive customized insights and recommendations that drive diversity and inclusion strategy. Employees are armed with training and tools so that they can own their culture. Add Allie to your Slack team to make diversity and inclusion accessible for all.

AraJoy: Our AI & Computer Vision algorithms help sports teams by autonomously operating off-the-shelf drones to automatically film and interpret player-action for performance analysis.

Founders: Renji Bijoy, Brady Evans

Twitter: @AraJoyInc

AraJoy gives sports teams insight into their performance by filming with autonomous drones, utilizing AI and Computer Vision. Over 300,000 US teams waste hours every week re-watching film repeatedly in slo-mo to try to analyze and critique performance to win more games. Our technology does this for them. Auto-filming the team’s actions and tracking what’s happening at all times enables technology to perceive the game like never before.

Elemetric: Intelligent insights and automation platform to drive marketing and product decisions based on customer behavior.

Founder: Daniel Mason

Twitter: @Elemetric_Data

Elemetric is a data-driven consumer insights platform, intelligently merging existing customer data sources with customer feedback data (NPS, surveys, etc.) to build smarter user profiles over time. Elemetric, backed by IDEO and Datascope Analytics, enables companies to build intelligent workflows that engage customers at key moments – enabling automated segmentation, reducing customer churn, and saving time on manual follow-up.

Harbor: Guaranteed income to make the most of your retirement.

Founders: Nicholas Moy, Colin Sidoti, William Rueter

Harbor Inc. is bringing back the pension (or something like it). We offer technology and retirement plans that deliver an outcome instead of an uncertainty. We make it easy for anybody to build a retirement portfolio that incorporates guaranteed lifetime income, because we think it’s the best way for every American to build a secure retirement.

Jobeek: We help engineers discover opportunities and skills that will maximize their market value.

Founders: Maor Idan, Stav Sitnikov, Amit Hacohen, David Ben Shushan

Twitter: @jobeekcom

The technology landscape has changed dramatically in the recent years. New technologies are coming out frequently, and engineers are required to be versatile and treat their career as it was a business – they have to be in constant learning mode, and create their competitive advantage among others. Jobeek brings the power of real-time market analytics to help engineers boost their career. We help them unlock their skills potential and discover future opportunities that will maximize their market value. Our solution aims to put every engineer just clicks away from getting valuable and personalized insights about the ever-growing industry.

Omelas: Aiding in asset protection for companies operating in volatile regions.

Founders: Evanna Hu, Ben Dubow

Omelas is a SaaS firm that aids in asset protection for companies operating in volatile regions.

Paladin: Our platform takes the busy work out of pro bono so your team can focus on making an impact in your community.

Founders: Kristen Sonday, Felicity Conrad

Twitter: @JoinPaladin

Paladin is SaaS for legal pro bono. There are 1.3M attorneys in the U.S. with an ABA responsibility to do 50 hours of pro bono per year. However, because the pro bono ecosystem is disaggregated and inefficient, 80 percent of those who need free legal help never receive it–i.e. the justice gap. Legal employers waste millions annually on pro bono programs that are time-consuming and cumbersome, and pro bono spend is on rise. We’re the first software to help law firms, Fortune 500 legal teams, and law schools streamline, manage and track their pro bono engagement and impact.

Swag.com: Custom promo products that people actually want to keep.

Founders: Joshua Orbach, Jeremy Parker

Twitter: @PromoteWithSwag

Swag.com is the best place for companies to buy promotional swag that people will actually want to keep.  95 percent of the products that we tested didn’t make the cut. Our streamlined e-commerce experience significantly cuts the time it takes for customers to find, design and buy quality swag. We work with hundreds of companies including Facebook, Google, WeWork, Bravo, Virgin and Jolly Ranchers.

The new mural in the Techstars Chicago office!







Investing in Bad Ideas in Chicago

I’m excited to announce that I am joining Techstars Chicago as Managing Director.

I’d like to offer deep gratitude and thanks to Troy Henikoff and Brian Luerssen, from whom I’ll be taking the reins. So many great people have been involved in making Techstars Chicago an institution and pillar of the community, dating back to the founding of Excelerate Labs in 2010 (shout out to Sam Yagan, Adam Koopersmith, Steve Farsht, and Nick Rosa!). I’m humbled to have an opportunity to try to fill their giant shoes – and excited to have their support moving forward.

Why join Techstars? Well, because I aspire to be the Erlich Bachman of Chicago. We all have dreams. 

In truth, an important part of being successful is self-reflection. Knowing what you’re good at, what you aren’t, and putting yourself in a position to do what you do best — as much as possible. I’m a better starter than a manager. More Founder than Executive.

I’m passionate about starting technology companies, and I get energy from working with founders and teams. I love getting my hands dirty solving problems. I still believe that I have at least one more “founder” business card to print in my future – but, not right now.

I’ve been an early startup employee at big successful companies (Redbox) and companies that failed (PayByTouch). I’ve been the founder/CEO of Belly, and a mentor to many startups going back to the first Excelerate Labs class of 2010. But, my bio does not tell you what I’ll bring to Techstars.

Here’s what I intend to do:

  • Invest in bad ideas. Non-consensus ideas. “The trouble with innovation is that truly innovative ideas seem like bad ideas at the time.” – Ben Horowitz
  • Be insanely founder focused. The Jim Harbaugh of founder focused. (At Techstars we call it Founder First and it’s a credo we use to make all decisions.) We’re looking for the opportunity to add value to the best founders and teams, and will be honest, frank, and fully invested in your success – above all else.
  • Never lose sight of the simple fact that writing checks is easy, but building great companies is hard. Founders will have our utmost respect, admiration, and focus.
  • Seek tech/product focused teams/companies solving a big problem in a market that is bigger than outsiders perceive it.
  • Be inclusive, actively seeking diversity of teams and ideas.
  • Offer a place for the future of Chicago tech to gather, engage, mentor, and support founders currently in the grind.
  • Accept and embrace that failure is a part of the journey. No fear of failure. You’ll hear us tell stories about founders, companies, missions. Or, when necessary, speaking openly and plainly about why we failed, and what we learned from it.

Chicago is obviously a huge market. It’s a community that has invested heavily over the past 10 years in becoming a better hub for technology companies to start and scale. Chicago offers limitless possibilities. The foundation, the capital, the desire, and the people are all here.

Our goal with each class will be to swing for grand slams. We’ll never bunt. No swinging singles. We will be focused on finding companies that have an opportunity to dramatically advance their market or create an entirely new one. The best contribution we can make to the community is to support the growth and investment in building big companies – those that create jobs, value, exits, and give back to the Chicago ecosystem.

Tech is a people business. And Techstars Chicago is open for business  – accepting applications now through April 9. We hope to have an opportunity to be part of your journey.

Apply today.