Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Chicago, IL


Look out Silicon Valley, Chicago is rising as one of the best cities for tech innovation.

Chicago, IL, known as the “Windy City,” is the third-largest city in the United States as well as the principal city of the nation’s third-largest metropolitan area. In a 2017 survey of the world’s tech leaders done by KPMG, Chicago was named one of the 10 best places outside of Silicon Valley for tech innovation. Additionally, the city ranked 38th in the “Access to Resources” category of WalletHub’s 2017 rankings of the best large cities to start a business. In the 2017 Kauffman Index rankings, the Chicago metropolitan area ranked 27th in entrepreneurial growth, 31st in startup activity, and 14th in established small business activity.

Based on these rankings, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that make up Chicago’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

One of the largest business networking groups for entrepreneurs in the entire Chicago area.

An extensive group that holds regular networking events for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

A community that hosts regular networking events and seminars to support local entrepreneurs and business owners.

A networking group for entrepreneurs and startups in the financial industry.

Chicago is home to a branch of The Founding Moms’ Exchange. A group that brings together mothers that are also active and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Inc Builders created a community of entrepreneurs and professionals in order to support Chicago entrepreneurship.

Network & Social hosts monthly networking events with the goal of creating low-pressure environments for business professionals to connect.

A group that aims to create professional networking events that double as enjoyable social outings.

An organization designed to bring the top entrepreneurs and innovators from around Chicago to meet and make valuable connections.

Venture Connects hosts meetups and workshops with the goal of connecting entrepreneurs with the investors.

As the name suggest, VentureSHOT is a way for entrepreneurs to meet one another and help each other grow their businesses and find success.


Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

Techstars startup week, a weeklong conferences celebrating entrepreneurship, is coming to establish an annual event in Chicago.

Hosted by the University of Chicago, the ETA conference aims to educated and inspire students, alumni, and the entire entrepreneurial community.

An annual conference celebrating the insurance industry, including the investors and startups disrupting it.

An annual conference celebrating technology and tech developers in the Chicago area.


Startup Competitions:

A startup competition held in Chicago in which early-stage medical device and digital health startups compete for cash prizes.

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management holds a number of business and entrepreneurship competitions throughout the year.

Social Venture Partners hosts an annual two-month skills building program and pitch competition for entrepreneurs in and around Chicago.

An annual pitch competition held in Chicago for student entrepreneurs around the country to compete for a prize pool of $10,000.


Co-working Spaces:

In addition to co-working space for startups, 1871 also offers a number of classes and workshops to help educate entrepreneurs.

With several locations across Chicago, Assemble offers members a number of amenities and services, including free coffee and discounts on event space.

An co-working space specifically designed to help technology startups grow and succeed.

Coalition has two locations in Chicago. CO: Impact is space for entrepreneurs in general, while CO: Energy is focused on those in the energy industry.

A co-working space designed to feel like a person’s home, Creative Coworking doubles as an art gallery and offers the ability to pay for intern assistance.

With two locations in Chicago and one in nearby Evanston, Industrious Office offers flexible membership plans to everyone from recent startups to large Fortune 500 companies.

Level Office has four locations in Chicago, each offering a variety of membership plans and local beer on tap.

With several locations around Chicago, Make Offices aims to help businesses grow with networking events and workshops to help educate members.

A co-working space that focuses on supporting and connecting its members so that they can achieve their goals.

A co-working space with a variety of membership plans at different prices that offers 24/7 access and hosts a variety of speakers and workshops for members.

WeWork Offices has six locations around Chicago, each with different price points and options for private offices and shared desk spaces.


Maker spaces:

Provides access to the workshop and education necessary to help people make 3D objects, whether it’s a sculpture or a product.

A small maker space open for free to the public that hosts educational workshops for those interested.

Lost Arts is a workshop and maker space with an emphasis on encouraging the creative community of Chicago.

A large maker space with a focus on woodworking and metalworking that also offers classes on those things.

A hackerspace that offers members access to an 11,000-square foot workshop with a wide variety of tools and equipment to build with.



An incubator focused on the advancement and development of business and entrepreneurs in the music, film/video, and creative technology industries.

A technology innovation center that provides entrepreneurs and startups with space to work and the resources and connections they need to be successful.

An incubator program that provides education and resources to help military veterans become leaders in innovation.

An incubator program and co-creation space for startups that work with the Internet of Things.

The Hatchery is a food business incubator that supports local food and beverage entrepreneurs and startups.

MATTER is an incubation program that educates and supports entrepreneurs looking to solve problems in the healthcare industry.

Organized by the iBio Institute, the PROPEL Center aims to support Illinois-based life sciences startups.

An innovation center and incubator that focuses on physical product development, providing workshop space, education, and mentorship to help its members succeed.



In addition to being a co-working space, 1871 is host to a number of incubator and accelerator programs in a wide range of industries.

Hosted by the University of Chicago, the New Venture Challenge is one of the nation’s largest and most-recognized accelerator programs in the country.

A four-month accelerator program for technology startups in the real estate and housing industry.

A Chicago-based accelerator program that works with medical device startups across a number of developmental stages to help them advance.

A small-scale accelerator program that supports neighborhood-based entrepreneurs in underserved communities.

TechNexus is an accelerator program that provides capital and support to technology companies in a variety of high-growth industries.

An accelerator program that provides tech startups in Chicago with access to funding, resources, and mentorship from some of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs.



The Coleman Entrepreneurship Center at DePaul University provides students with access to resources and connections to some of the major players in Chicago’s entrepreneurial scene.

IIT’s Knapp Entrepreneurship Center provides entrepreneurial education to students as well as a number of services to help support and strengthen student startups.

Loyola University offers a number of educational paths for students, including a minor, major, and MBA degree in entrepreneurship.

Northwestern provides a number of resources and competitions to student entrepreneurs, including both an undergraduate certificate and minor in entrepreneurship.

UChicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation supports both entrepreneurship among both students and the Chicago community as a whole.

UIC’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies inspires and supports student entrepreneurs with classes, workshops, events, and other valuable resources.


Angel Groups/VCs:

With several locations around the world, Baird Capital invests in the healthcare, industrial solutions, and technology and services industries across the United States, Europe, and Asia.

An investment group that provides capital to those in the media and entertainment industries, specifically feature films, series, and new media.

Chicago Ventures invests in early-stage tech-enabled enterprise and consumer businesses in and around Chicago.

A Chicago-based angel group that invests in digital media and technology, business and financial services, and consumer products and services located around the Midwest.

Inspired by Notre Dame but based in Chicago, IrishAngels invests in startups nationwide founded by students, faculty, alumni, or parent at the University of Notre Dame.

A venture capital firm that invests in early-stage technology companies across a variety of sectors.

M25 is a venture capital group in Chicago that invests in early-stage companies in a wide variety of industries, so long as they’re located in the Midwest.

OCA Ventures looks to invest in early-stage companies around the country in the technology, financial services, education, and healthcare technology sectors.

Pritzker Group is committed to supporting entrepreneurs with flexible capital and support through the company’s life cycle.

A cross between an investment firm and incubator, Treehouse Adventures provides capital and support to startups in technology, material sciences, and multidisciplinary design.


Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

The Illinois Innovation Network provides a collection of resources and services to entrepreneurs in the area and offers a newsletter with updates on what’s happening in the community.

A resource to help the entrepreneurial and startup community in Chicago that offers a newsletter.

UChicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation offers a weekly newsletter covering the most important events and news in the entrepreneurial community.


Are you familiar with entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Chicago not included in the article above?  If so, let us know via a comment below and we will add it to the article. 

Interested in Ecosystem Spotlights of other cities in the USA?

San Diego, CA, Augusta, GeorgiaDenver, CO

Article by Quinn Pilkey

Quinn Pilkey

Quinn is a journalism major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He also serves as a freelance author for Hashtag Basketball where he writes about the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and at FundingSage where he researches and writes about entrepreneurial ecosystems.