Techstars Chicago 2020

After joining Techstars Chicago last year, we set out to showcase the power of Chicago as a major technology hub. For months we connected with hundreds of founders across the country, with an emphasis on companies located in the Midwest.

The founders we’ve selected for Techstars Chicago 2020are passionate, embody a #GiveFirst approach in their leadership, are deeply connected to their customers, and are committed to leveraging Chicago’s unique startup ecosystem. They’re fun, hardworking, and incredibly diverse. We couldn’t be more excited for you to meet them.

Over the next 13 weeks, I’ll be posting updates on Twitter and YouTube so you can see (and at times participate in) our journey. Whether these founders choose to bootstrap or raise millions, we need your support to help evolve each of these 10 companies into sustainable businesses we’re all proud to claim as Chicago-made.

Our Demo Day is on April 21st, 2020. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for more information and registration. With no further ceremony, here are the companies we hope you’ll join us in welcoming to the Techstars worldwide network!


Bottlecode blends technology with human expertise to help men discover personal care solutions that best suit their unique goals. 

Bottlecode is an online platform that aims to provide personal grooming solutions by curating and selling the best products to each individual man, while focusing on education and expert guidance to help men stick to the healthy habit. Men need a trusted curation source to navigate a crowded ecosystem of brands. Bottlecode is building the solution that addresses the real job to be done: giving guys confidence that they are doing the right things to take care of themselves.

Havoc Shield

A fast and effective cyber security program for startups. 

Havoc Shield is a fast and effective cyber security program specifically for startups, a bit like what Clerky or Gust did for company incorporation. Startups get a professional action plan and are guided, step-by-step, through a prioritized security program, provided with accelerating tools and automation along the way, all of it presented in an experience that’s actionale by non-security types.


Pairi makes it easy for freelancers to get booked through social media and manage their business on-the-go via text messaging. 

Pairi helps freelancers build a professional booking website within minutes and get booked for their services directly through social media like Instagram. Pairi’s software saves time and earns more money for freelancers by automating repetitive business logistics many of them face like scheduling, payment, appointment reminders, travel fees, and more so they can focus on their passion and be able to serve more clientele on their own time, anywhere they choose.


A personalized, AI powered, nutrition coach. 

NutriSense is an A.I. powered, personalized nutrition coach that helps users select a diet that works with their unique physiology. NutriSense enables users to change their habits and reduce the likelihood of developing metabolic disorders (such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease), shed unwanted pounds and optimize athletic performance. NutriSense leverages Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) technology that provides users with real time biometric data while expert nutritionists teach users how to interpret that data.

Elite Personal Chefs

Mobile App that provides in-home dining and personal chef experiences

Elite Personal Chefs is a revolutionary mobile application platform for high level hospitality industry professionals to provide culinary experiences for an array of clients. Unlike traditional restaurants, EPC allows culinary professionals to choose their own schedule, sell tickets to events, create menus, and set custom pricing.


ReelCrafter is a service to create and share trackable audio demo reels.

Reelcrafter is an online tool for artists to easily create personalized, single web pages to showcase their work to potential employers. Demo reels are shared via custom web links, and artists can track detailed listening activity for each shared link on their ReelCrafter dashboard. Artists can then apply insights from existing listening metrics to continually refine their pitch with each reel sent.

Visual Feeder

Dynamic ad-campaigns on vacant storefront windows using projection mapping.

Visual Feeder provides a marketplace that connects landlords with an opportunity to monetize their vacant space by projecting branded visual experiences on their windows space. Using projection mapping technology, Visual Feeder offers brands the ability to display dynamic, quality content that engages their consumers while providing key metrics to track performance and ROI.


The easiest way to hire local students to help with outdoor tasks.

ToDoolie is a marketplace where homeowners can hire local students for hourly tasks such as yard work and household maintenance. 


Building the future of childcare management, logistics, and safety.

GoNanny is a B2B SaaS Platform revolutionizing the childcare industry. What Mindbody did for the wellness industry, GoNanny is doing for the childcare industry. Currently the platform provides two distinct product offerings: 1. Trademarked Care Rides Platform: A fully automated platform providing safe pickups and drop offs executed by the childcare center’s staff members. 2. GoNanny Safe – the gold standard employee vetting system for childcare professionals.

Contract Cloud

Making government procurement simpler through design and accessibility.

Contract Cloud’s intelligent, automated workflow and content management platform reduces the time spent on each solicitation by 45%. Contract Cloud streamlines the contracting process through an intuitive, guided user experience. With a concept similar to TurboTax, Contract Cloud’s guided experience will allow users to answer plain english questions and get help from real experts, building their proposal or RFP with the responses as they go. Using AI/ML, Contract Cloud provides intelligent recommendations, suggestions for content using natural language processing, shortcuts, and document generation.


Neal Sales-Griffin Joins Techstars as Managing Director of Techstars Chicago

Today, I couldn’t be more excited to announce that I’m officially joining Techstars as the Managing Director for Techstars Chicago. The Chicago accelerator program has played a part in my life dating back to my undergraduate days at Northwestern University. There, I met Troy Henikoff – Techstars Chicago’s first managing director – who taught knowledge-hungry students about the world of entrepreneurship.

Troy was more than just a professor – he was my first true mentor – who pushed me into the world of tech and eventually turned me into a mentor myself. I was so inspired that I took on a teaching assistant role for his entrepreneurship course and eventually saw my close friends start a successful business under his wing. Their company, Next Big Sound, joined Techstars Boulder in 2009, and went on to have great success. Seeing the impact of mentorship, both in my personal network and through Techstars, inspired me to carve my own path in the tech startup world.

With the impact of Techstars and mentorship in my early college days, I jumped into the startup world as soon as I could, co-founding my first company, a healthcare media startup, during my freshman year in college. I caught the entrepreneurship bug and went on to open a few barbershops in my local Chicago neighborhood, and eventually went on to work in the world of venture capital. Through my work co-founding The Starter League, the first coding bootcamp in the country, I helped galvanize the Chicago startup ecosystem and pushed my local community to learn the skills they needed to succeed in the technology space.

Before Techstars was in Chicago, we had Excelerate Labs, which eventually was acquired by Techstars (be sure to listen to this episode of the #GiveFirst podcast on the inception of Techstars Chicago for more details). I was the official photographer for the first-ever Excelerate Labs Demo Day where I got a sense of what an accelerator program looked like first hand. When Techstars officially came to town in 2013, I linked up with Troy to become an official mentor and have held roles within the accelerator ever since. 

I have to give thanks to Logan LaHive for his work as Managing Director. Logan and I have been friends since 2010, around the same time that Excelerate was getting started. We’ve shared a similar entrepreneurial journey. We’ve been in the trenches together and learned a lot from our friendship. Logan called on me as mentor #1 during the 2018 program. I even had the honor to address the class and audience as keynote speaker for Demo Day this past year. Logan will still have a part to play within the Chicago program and will be stopping by in a mentorship capacity to help continue to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in our great city.

Most recently, I hit the campaign trail to run for mayor of Chicago. Many had noticed that I ran my campaign like a tech startup, building and implementing software for efficiency. Throughout this experience, I learned that most people need one simple thing – a good, well-paying job that provides them with meaning and purpose in their work. As Managing Director of Techstars Chicago, I’m excited to help foster innovation within the city to create successful companies that drive more jobs to our community, and hopefully, help more people find meaning and purpose in their work.

My mission is to showcase the power of Chicago as a major technology hub by fostering even more innovation within the city limits. There are a few components that will be very important to applicants for this program:

    • We want founders who are beyond passionate about their work and about the community their business thrives in. At Techstars, it’s all about the founding team. We prioritize finding the right people over the right ideas.
    • We have a #GiveFirst mentality at Techstars. We’ll be investing in founders who embody this approach in their work.
    • We’re looking for founders who have a deep and intimate understanding of who their customers are, what they need, and how to reach them. At Techstars Chicago, you’ll get intensive training on customer acquisition and sales.
    • We’re also interested in companies committed to leaning into the uniqueness of the Chicago technology community. We have a special blend of mentorship, camaraderie, and investment culture that will be a competitive advantage our founders.

Chicago’s culture has a unique level of #givefirst mentality. We’re not boisterous, or braggadocious, and our hard, disciplined work ethic coupled with good work-life balance allows our culture to be more collaborative than competitive. The Chicago tech ecosystem is also one of diversity, an important differentiator in today’s world. The Chicago tech and entrepreneur community has welcomed me with open arms since I was just a kid. Most people from the community didn’t look like me or come from where I’m from. Being a black and latino man growing up on the South Side of Chicago with no real understanding of what it means to start a business, I was welcomed and enabled to flourish as an entrepreneur and investor.

Whether you’re from Chicago, or see these qualities in yourself and business partners, I invite you to apply to the next Techstars Chicago program. As a non-profit founder teaching kids how to code, a Techstars mentor since day one and following in Troy’s footsteps as both a professor at Northwestern University and now, Managing Director of Techstars Chicago, I’m ready to push Chicago’s innovation even further by bringing the best of the best to our city. Techstars Chicago will be opening applications for our 2020 program on July 22nd and will be accepting applications through October 13th. The program begins on January 27th, please visit the Techstars Chicago page on the 22nd to apply.

10 Companies In The Same Boat

You start a company. You’ve got a great idea, a great team… you apply to a Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator program. And you get in! Congratulations! Now you’re probably wondering: what’s the beginning of your program actually going to look like?

Fortunately for you, Techstars Class 134 in Chicago has documented their exciting first days in the program.

On July 16, 2018, 10 startups began this year’s Techstars Chicago program. They’re all at different stages in their businesses, but during their first week of the program, they were all in the same boat—literally!

Chicago Architectural Boat Tour, Wednesday, July 18th

While up to their elbows in customer acquisition and product development, the companies attended a vigorous schedule of orientation week activities, jam packed with strategies to get the most out of Techstars.

On day two of orientation, Suzanne Muchin stopped by to give our teams a branding reality check.

Brands that Matter with Suzanne Muchin
Brands that Matter with Suzanne Muchin

Day three, they dove into team dynamics with Whitney Capps and Thea Polancic, followed by an architectural boat tour to see the city the founders will be living in for the coming months. That night, our very own Logan LaHive shared his founder story.

The following morning, on day four of orientation, product roadmapping expert Cody Simms and networking expert John Hill flew in to prepare the teams for the craziness of mentor madness. That evening, we had our annual Mentor Kickoff, where the companies pitched to over 200 mentors!

Much to the joy of the guests, both the food and beer was sponsored by well-respected local Chicago brands. Techstars Chicago partnered with Food For Thought, which provided guests with high quality hors-d’oeuvres and finger food. In addition, guests could enjoy locally brewed beer from Burnt City, served by the fine people of Burnt City themselves.

While we work hard to put on top programming and content, mentors are what make this program so amazing.

Want to help out? The best thing you, the startup community, can do for founders is share the companies with your network or introduce them to prospective customers or investors.

2018 Techstars Chicago Class

2ndKitchen2ndKitchen enables businesses without a kitchen to serve food seamlessly using restaurants around them.

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

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

KaiKai is a fitness coach that communicates 100% via text message.

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

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

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

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

Trala: Learn ViolinTrala is an app that teachers beginner violinists how to play violin. Learn violin online with Trala.

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

Demo Day

Now that you know what the beginning of a Techstars mentorship-drive accelerator program looks like, here’s a sneak peak at the end of one: Demo Day!

At Techstars Chicago, the investor/mentor only Demo Day will be held on October 4, 2018. Interested in attending? Qualified investors and Techstars Mentors can email Rachael Feuerborn for an invite. The Community Demo Day will be October 1, 2018.

Having trouble receiving communications from Techstars Chicago? Email Rachael to be added to future updates.

About Our Partners

We love our Chicago partners, and we bet you’ll love them, too.

Food For Thought enterprises is a family of food and hospitality services, each with a shared vision of creating exceptional moments—wherever you celebrate, wherever you work, and whenever your moment matters most. Founded as a catering group 35 years ago, Food For Thought has grown to serve more than 2.5 million people annually through special events catering, in cafés within corporate and cultural institutions, and in offices and homes throughout Chicagoland. Use offer code techstars2018 and get 10% off of your first order at Food For Thought.

In 2012, Burn City Brewing opened a brewpub on the north side of Chicago. Here, they brewed great beers, hosted some pretty epic events, and made some good memories. Since then, they’ve expanded and now serve high-quality beer in multiple states in bars and groceries stores.

Silicon Valley Bank helps innovative companies and their investors move bold ideas forward, fast. They provide a full range of financial services to companies of all sizes in innovation centers around the world.

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 an 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.

Global Applications for the Techstars Worldwide Network are Now Open!

There’s an often-repeated stat that 90 percent of startups fail. Not sure the source is, but no doubt that it scares entrepreneurs. At Techstars, we see the reverse in our accelerator portfolio – 90 percent of our startups are active or have successfully exited. Which statistic reflects your business? If you’re ready to succeed, take the next step and apply now to the Techstars worldwide network with more than 10,000 mentors, partners, investors and founders.

At Techstars, we are on a mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. Our mentorship-driven accelerator programs invest in founders to help them do more faster. Over the past 10 years we have helped over 1,274 companies grow and raise over $4.4 billion in funding, with a market cap of $11.4 billion. Now, we are excited to start the search for the next wave of companies to join our worldwide network!

We are reaching new regions and verticals around the world with our newest mentorship-driven accelerator programs. Applications are opening for five new programs:

Take the next step in your journey and apply to join the Techstars worldwide network with more than 10,000 mentors, partners, investors and founders.

This is more than a three month program, the Techstars worldwide network is for life. Listen to stories about our founders from Techstars alumni companies like SendGrid, ClassPass, and DigitalOcean.

Application deadline is April 8, 2018 for most programs. We will be announcing details for information sessions and online events where you can connect with Techstars founders and team, as well as mentors who have the experience and proven track record to help you succeed. Be on the lookout for more details soon!

When you apply, you can choose from any of the following locations and verticals:

For tips and resources on the application process, check out our Application Toolkit.

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. Custom promo products that people actually want to keep.

Founders: Joshua Orbach, Jeremy Parker

Twitter: @PromoteWithSwag 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.

Demo Day Round Up: Fall 2016

Fall is in full-swing here at Techstars with the addition of 64 new companies! Techstars recently had seven Demo Days across the globe, including Berlin, Mobility in Detroit, Barclays New York, London, Techstars Retail in partnership with Target in Minneapolis, New York City and Chicago. Phew!

Here’s a quick round up of the highlights:

Berlin Class of 2016


Techstars Berlin’s second Demo Day, held at the iconic Kino International, showcased 10 companies from six different countries with products ranging from machine learning and AI, to SaaS and mobility.

Techstars Managing Director, Rob Johnson, opened the event and Executive Director, Greg Rogers, provided welcoming remarks. It was an exciting day to celebrate the 2016 class with investors, mentors and other founders from the Berlin startup community!

Congratulations to the Berlin Class of 2016!


Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit Class of 2016


Techstars Mobility hosted its second annual demo day in downtown Detroit on September 8. It was a showcase of the growing collaboration between startups and the automotive industry.

Over 2500 attendees from 12 different countries watched as 12 startups pitched their businesses impacting the future of automotive and transportation. These startups were building businesses around autonomous, connected vehicle, shared services, mapping, and big data and analytic technologies. Three of the 12 companies announced partnerships with the program’s title sponsor, Ford Motor Company.

The entire demo day was live streamed and that video can be watched on YouTube here.

Managing Director, Ted Serbinski, announced that Techstars Mobility has brought two additional high-growth startups to Detroit: Mapbox and Polysync, the latter of which is a Techstars Ventures investment. These companies will be opening their Detroit offices out of the Techstars Mobility space, joining Oblong who opened their Detroit office last year.

Bob Caza, Director of Communications at the North American International Auto Show, expanded on Techstars Mobility mission to expose more startups to Detroit by announcing that  we’re opening applications to bring 50+ mobility, automotive, and transportation startups to the 2017 Detroit Auto Show.

To capture this growth of the startup community, coupled with the entrepreneurial resurgence in Detroit, we debuted a trailer for Long Haul Films who is developing the documentary Restarting the Motor City. This is a feature-length documentary about the creators, innovators and entrepreneurs who are reimagining Detroit. They are breaking free from the shackles of 20th-century thinking to create a new model for cities across the globe.

Congratulations to the Mobility Class of 2016!


Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in New York Class of 2016


Techstars Barclays NYC’s second Demo Day Event was held at the Edison Ballroom in the heart of the Theater District. Ten cutting-edge FinTech companies showcased products solving problems in real estate, capital markets, security, banking and the freelance economy.

Joe McGrath, the CEO of Barclays Americas, opened the evening with a warm welcome and recognition of the impact of Barclays’ programs around the world, which have seen collective valuations rise 190% from their pre-accelerator valuations.

Greg Rogers, Executive Director at Techstars, introduced the companies to the 600+ attendees including investors, mentors, Techstars alumni and community members. Jenny Fielding, the Managing Director, closed the event with a special thank you to mentors and Jon Zanoff, Entrepreneur in Residence, for their tireless devotion to this class and role in these companies’ success.

Congratulations to the Barclays New York Class of 2016!


London Class of 2016


Led by Max Kelly, the Managing Director of Techstars London, the 2016 program kicked off with new offices, a new fund and a great new class. Within the class, one-third have PhDs and there are 19 separate nationalities! The variety of industries is astonishing – from grease to graph databases, from aid to artificial intelligence.

Each company presented their pitches to a packed venue during Demo Day, which took place on September 20 at the Royal Institution in London.

It is always exciting to be in the front seat of this kind of innovation.

Congratulations to the London Class of 2016!


Techstars Retail, in partnership with Target Class of 2016


Techstars Retail’s first Demo Day, held at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, showcased eleven companies with products ranging from voice search, machine forecasting, visual registries and retail experience bots. More importantly, all these teams were able to demonstrate their accomplishments they achieved over the summer.

Techstars Managing Director, Ryan Broshar, welcomed almost 1,000 attendees then opened the evening with an inspiring message and fun facts about this year’s class. Target’s Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Casey Carl, shared welcoming remarks and reflected on his experience as a mentor. It was an exciting day to celebrate the 2016 class and the broader Twin Cities startup community!

Congratulations to the inaugural Techstars Retail Class of 2016!


New York City Class of 2016


For the 2016 class, Techstars NYC experimented with a new take on Demo Day. Rather than live pitches Managing Director, Alex Iskold, introduced Exclusive Investor Preview and Investor Only Demo Day.

As with our previous classes, this was a diverse group of founders solving a wide range of problems. In addition to six teams from NYC, we had teams from Rochester, Atlanta, San Francisco, two teams from Philadelphia, a team from the UK, a team from France and two teams from Canada. Of these 15 companies, five have women CEOs.

The new Demo Day format was a hit among founders and mentors, and aligns with the spirit of innovation at Techstars.

Congratulations to the New York City Class of 2016!


Chicago Class of 2016


Techstars Chicago’s seventh Demo Day, held at House of Blues in Chicago, showcased the latest ten startups selected from a pool of thousands of applicants. Companies ranged from a wearable hardware device enabling parents to keep track of their kids to enterprise and B2B software solutions, and showed both the diversity and high potential of the midwest startup ecosystem.

Techstars’ Managing Directors, Troy Henikoff and Brian Luerssen, along with Excelerate Labs co-founder, Sam Yagan, welcomed a packed house filled with notable investors and entrepreneurs. Chris Gladwin opened the afternoon with a keynote on the need for grit in operating his business to the recent 1.3 billion dollar sale of Cleversafe to IBM. It was an exciting day to celebrate the 2016 class and the broader Chicago startup community!

Congratulations to the Chicago Class of 2016!


Get a head start on your own entrepreneurial journey. Apply to an accelerator program. Applications close on October 15th.

Techstars Chicago Demo Day

Info Session: Techstars Healthcare (Chicago)

Who: Startups interested in applying for the Techstars Healthcare Accelerator

What: Info session

When: September 19

Where: Matter – 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza Suite 1230, Chicago, IL 60654

Details: Click here to register for the event.