Startup Competition Guide


Top Chicago accelerators and incubators

Chicago's up and coming tech scene aided by numerous accelerators

Innovation series by Steven Loeb
June 29, 2013
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We here at Vator have recently been taking you on a tour of some of the biggest accelerators and incubators around the country. We've, of course, covered some of the biggest areas, like the Bay AreaLos Angeles and New York City. But we have also covered some of the smaller, and up and coming, areas around the country as well, including Austin and Boston.

For our next stop, we are going to take you to Chicago, home of Wrigley Field, Willis (formely Sears) Tower, and the original Pizzeria Uno. Its a city I have never actually been to, but if it was good enough for Ferris Bueller to take his day off there, then it must be pretty cool!

Its also a city with an emerging tech scene, with startups that have raised money, including Sprout Social, which raised $10 million in 2011; Cloudbot, which raised $1 million in 2011;  Target Data, which raised $1 million this past August; and Elevate Digital, which raised in May of last year. 

So, if you are an entreprenuer, and you're looking to get off the ground, Chicago has plenty of accelerators and incubators to help you out.

Healthbox launched in Chicago in January 2012 with an inaugural class of ten startups from around the United States and Ireland. It is a platform that companies that are looking to change the healthcare space. There are also campuses in Boston and London.

Investment amount: Healthbox startups receive $50,000 to fund their development over the course of the program.

Program benefits:  A 16-week program that includes

  • A two week boot camp concentrated on strengthening value proposition, building a business model and understanding how their solution fits into the larger healthcare system.
  • Healthbox startups receive training on best practices for initiating, structuring and executing pilots and beta tests. Our extensive industry network creates unique opportunities for collaboration.
  • Mentorship
  • Office Space
  • Healthbox works closely with each startup to develop individualized fundraising and growth strategies.

Mentor makeup: Jim Denny, founder and CEO of Navicure; Jake Arnold-Foster; co-founder of Healthbox Europe; Jill Prevost, co-founder of Bloom Health; Ambar Bhattacharyya, Vice President of Bessemer Venture Partners; and Brad Fluegel,  Chief Strategy Officer at Walgreens.

PartnersAscension Health, BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners II, California Healthcare Foundation, HLM Venture Partners, Merge Health Care, Merrick Ventures, Ridgeview Medical Center and Clinics, Sandbox Industries, and Walgreens.  

Portfolio companies:  Carehubs, DermLinkHomeTouch, and SwipeSense.


Startup Front started as a tech-focused lunch amongst tech leaders and business owners that has since blossomed into a tech startup accelerator with the 10-year plan of cranking out at least two companies that will prosper to the point of IPOs.

Investment amount:  Startup Front takes a small (6-10%) amount of equity. The entrepreneurs are not charged to be in the program.

Program benefits: 3 month long program,  with no more than 10 companies at a time

  • Office space
  • A network of local investors and mentors

Mentor makeup: Accelerators provides access to 40-80 mentors.

Partners: BackedFinn, Ideas in Motion Media, #nwitweetup, and My Mobile Fans. 

Portfolio companies: Alumni include Cender and Company and American Business Dynamics.


Platform Venture partners with academic institutions to be a "new accelerator," one that encourages the individual as well as the team.

"We believe, that entrepreneurs supported by our 'Platform' with adequate initial capital, plus, hands-on & experienced functional resource providers will deliver a result that merits the next stage of financing from high quality venture capitalists."

Investment amount:  Platform Venture provides seed round funding.

Program benefits:

  • Internet technology and software development teams – Platform Venture has over 80 individuals who are expert coders and server administrators.
  • Mobile application development teams
  • Legal experts who have structured, drafted and negotiated hundreds of startup deals.
  • Mentors from the funding, operating and  academic community, including domain experts, assist in bringing a project or service to market.
  • Experienced project managers actively assist portfolio companies productize their value proposition
  • Venture Capital Introductions

Mentor makeup: Will Gardenswartz, CEO of Life Carrot; Mohanbir Sawhney, co-founder of Kellogg Innovation Network; Greg Shannon, of HBI Solutions; and Anita Brick, Director of Career Advancement Programs.

Excelerate Labs had its first class in 2010. It recently joined forces with TechStars to become TechStars Chicago.

Investment amount:  TechStars puts $118K in each company, through $18K in seed funding and an optional $100K convertible debt note.

Program benefits:

  • 10,000 Business ExtrAA points, which can be redeemed for up to 5 Plan AAhead Awards for round trip Economy Class tickets within the Continental U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
  • Up to $10,000 in hourly fee discounts to all Techstars participants. For Techstars companies selecting Cooley as primary counsel, low fixed-fee C Corp formation services and comprehensive, high quality start-up document packages, with 100% of the legal fees deferred until you raise capital; as well as free help with financing strategy, investor introductions and aseed round term sheet.
  • Free banking, as well as heavily discounted 409a valuation services, and strategic financial consultation.
  • Up to $60,000 off Windows Azure over two years: Free the first year and 50% off the second year
  • $2,000/month for 12 months in Rackspace hosting credits, as well as fanatical support.
  • $2,000/month in hosting credit for 12 months (toward both Dedicated Servers and/or Cloud),aswell as expert help and advice from SoftLayer's Innovation Team.
  • $20,000 in hosting credit is awarded to all TechStars companies
  • $25,000 in AWS hosting credit when you are accepted into TechStars.

Mentor makeup:  Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter; Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of WarbyParker; Fred Wilson, Partner at Union Square Ventures; Hayley Barna, co-Founder of Birchbox

Backers: TechStars is backed by over 75 different venture capital firms and angel investors

Portfolio companies: Of 211 graduates, 79% are still active, 9% were acquired and 10% failed. Alumni include Foodzie, which was acquired by Joyus last year; Postmaster, which recently raised $600,000; Bizible; 10Sheet; and Cloudability. Some of Excelerate's porffolio companies include GiveForward; Cureeo; and Alltuition.

University Technology Park at IIT was founded in 2011 is an incubator that was built specifically to launch successful startups in life sciences, biotech, engineering, materials, and chemical research.

Program benefits:  The facility at y Illinois Institute of Technology is meant to house more than 30 startup companies, the Incubator features 19 wet labs and 9 dry labs, and 6 offices.

  • Furnished office suites are approximately 300 square feet
  • Dry labs range in size from 300 to 900 square feet and have one 120V receptacle with emergency power backup and one 208V receptacle
  • The wet labs have adjacent, furnished offices and they range in size from 750 to 2,000 square feet. Labs can be slightly modified to fit the complex needs of life science, engineering and chemistry-based companies, and the Incubator's sophisticated infrastructure comes standard:
  • Sink with hot and cold water, RO water, and eyewash
  • Natural gas, compressed air, and vacuum on bench top
  • Two bench-top spigots for other gases, piped to tank rack
  • Drying rack and stainless steel shelf
  • Fume hood with variable volume control and cup sink
  • Shared equipment rooms with autoclave, glass washer, centrifuge, freezer, refrigerator, and ice maker
  • Conference and break room
  • 120V receptacle with emergency power backup and one 208V receptacle

Lightbank was founded in 2010, and specializes in early stage companies. It has started 10 companies, invested in 50+ startups, and have created over 15,000 jobs.

Investment amount: 50/50 partnership with Lightbank. Investment can be anywhere from $100,000 to $5 million, or possibly more.

Portfolio companies: It has started 9 companies, invested in more than 50 companies, raised over $1.5 billion and created over $10 billion in equity value. Alumni include EventupBetterfly, BeachmintCentzy, E La Carte, and DoubleDutch.

Impact Engine  will be running its second program from September 30th to January 31st.

Investment amount: $25,000 of upfront cash in exchange for 7% equity in the company.

Program benefits: A 16 week program.

  • One-on-one mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and thought leaders. Whether you’re addressing issues within the United States or abroad, we’ve forged relationships with partners who have staff members on the ground in India, Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia.
  • Get equipped with effective tools and best practices for running an impact company. Every week we bring in speakers and educators to teach you about the fundamentals of starting an impact business.
  • Pitch your company to hundreds of qualified angel and venture investors at the program’s capstone event in January.
  • Free office space in downtown Chicago. You’ll be amid the city’s startup community, with easy access to professional services, public transit, Chicago culture, and more.
  • As you approach potential funders after Investor Day, we’ll be there to guide you through the hard and time-consuming process of fundraising.
  • Your company will receive increased recognition through Impact Engine’s community events, press outreach, and marketing efforts.

Mentor makeup:  Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals; Troy Henikoff; Managing Director of TechStars Chicago; Bernhard Kappe, CEO of Pathfinder; and Matthew McCall, partner at New World Ventures.

Portfolio companies: PangeaRaise5Azadipads, and LUA.

Have we missed your accelerator or incubator? Let me know which ones I've missed in the comments section!

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