A Round of Applause Please for Chicago-based Tech Start-Ups

Four Chicago Startups to Watch in 2017

In early January of this year, Crain’s predicted several Chicago-based tech companies would be movers and shakers to watch over the next 12-24 months.  What could possibly happen in only 10 months? You might be surprised.  We did the homework to share an update on 4 of these fast rising tech companies:

  • SMS Assist
    • What do they offer? The company uses software to manage maintenance services from landscaping to electrical work for companies with multiple facilities. They connect property managers with outside vendors, such as snow removal services, landscapers, and window washers to support everything from work validation, to invoicing, to service performance reviews all in a single cloud base application.
    • How did they start? According to the founder Michael Rothman, they launched in 2003, and used the “boot strap” method which means they did it through grit and hard work and little outside support.
    • What’s happened in 2016? After raising $62M over 3 years, they successfully added another $150M in new capital from Goldman Sachs in June of this year.  The new round sets this shining Chicago tech star at a valuation of over $1 billion, or double the valuation that was set in 2015.
  • AvantCredit
    • What do they offer? An on-line consumer lending firm including mortgages, car loans, home-equity loans and even credit cards in addition to the unsecured term loans.  This Chicago rising tech star has been widely praised to be the next great Groupon according to a February, 2015 article in
    • How did they start? This is the third launch for founder Al Goldstein, who grew up in Uzbekistan, and immigrated to Skokie with his parents. One of those companies, an online payday lender called CashNet was launched in 2004 and sold in 2006 to Cash America International.  It now holds the esteemed position of being one of the largest publicly traded of its kind, under Enova International.  Goldstein partnered with former Enova colleagues John Sun and Paul Zhang to form AvantCredit in 2015.
    • What happened in 2016? Fortune Magazine, Crain’s Chicago Business and several other business publishers reported the online lender not only delayed plans for expansion, but also laid off about 60 people or 7% of its workforce. Although, the setback was unforeseen, the company hasn’t waned from a positive outlook, stating “We’re at an inflection point as an industry, and we believe Avant will emerge the leader of Credit 2.0: a more refined, adaptable and sustainable business model that aligns consumer, investor and regulatory interests for good.”
  • ContextMedia
    • What do they offer? ContextMedia delivers hyper-targeted information to patients at the point of care, during the most actionable moments of their treatment.  According to their website, their mission is to improve the health outcomes of patients by delivering industry-leading innovations that facilitate a more robust dialogue between patients and their physicians at all points of the patient care process.
    • How did they start? The founder Rishi Shah, launched 10 years ago working out of his dorm room at Northwestern University and an Argo Tea shop. According to a 2015 Crain’s Chicago article, “He borrowed his mom’s car to haul video equipment to doctors’ offices in the hope of persuading them to install waiting-room TVs that showed educational videos about diabetes instead of soap operas or game shows.” Today, they are one of Chicago’s fastest-growing tech companies.
    • What happened in 2016? This innovative tech company has stayed the course in expanding the executive management team, strategic partnerships including the American Lung Association and The Heart Rhythm Society this past September. In August they earned a place on the Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Companies.
  • Raise
    • What do they offer? A simple concept that’s proven an explosive high demand—Raise is a Chicago based gift card marketplace where users can sell or buy gift cards online at a discount.
    • How did they start? Another start-up entrepreneur, George Bousis, who has an immense amount of tenacity and grit. He launched Raise in February 2013 and struggled to find the needed investment support. By 2015, he was able to raise a $62M Series B funding round. He built the company through trial and error, and a bit of amazing luck when the gift card category realized several changes that supported his concept including the 5-year expiration.
    • What happened in 2016? In less than 3 years, Bousis success moved his tech start-up into the loop and won over several A-list investors who’ve injected the company with over $80M in capital. In August, the company announced a lay off 45 staffers or about 15 percent of its staff that grew to 300 in less than 7 months. Not great news, but the company has achieved an estimated value of $615M which continues to hold a bright future.

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