Polsky-Supported Startups Honored Among Chicago’s Hottest Innovators

University of Chicago campus

Aerial view of the University of Chicago campus on September 23, 2017. (Photo by Drone Media Chicago)

An annual list spotlighting the 50 hottest innovators in Chicago featured an impressive eight ventures with roots in the Polsky Center or the University of Chicago.

Chicago Inno’s Seventh Annual Fire Awards, which published last week, recognized local startups and entrepreneurial entities that are growing fast or blazing new trails.

The 2021 list is heavy with headline-makers after a year of record-breaking venture capital investment helped add a dozen startups to the city’s population of tech unicorns. Other companies are honored for visionary product launches, influential funds, or ideas set to shape our futures.

The Polsky Center, the hub for entrepreneurial activity at Chicago Booth and across the University of Chicago, is proud to be associated with eight of the awardees.

They include:

  • Tovala, a meal delivery service that uses a smart oven to help users make effortless meals. Founded by David Rabie, MBA ’15, and winner of the 2015 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, Tovala this year raised $30 million, bringing its funding total to $80 million.
  • Kin, a home insurance startup that sells directly to consumers to offer lower premiums, with a focus on disaster-prone areas. Cofounded by CEO Sean Harper, AB ’03, MBA’10, Kin this year announced it would go public in a SPAC deal valued at more than $1 billion.
  • Origin Ventures, a venture capital firm that raised a new $130 million fund this year to write larger Series A checks. An early funder of Grubhub, the firm is run in part by managing partners Brent Hill, MBA ‘98, who serves as a judge in the New Venture Challenge, and Jason Heltzer, MBA ‘02, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth.
  • Nature’s Fynd, which makes sustainable alternative meat and dairy products using a microbe sourced from the volcanic hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. Nature’s Fynd, which incubated at the Polsky Center, raised $350 million this year at a $1 billion valuation, with big name backers including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management,
  • Duality, the first startup accelerator in the nation devoted to quantum technology. Launched in April by the Polsky Center in partnership with the Chicago Quantum Exchange, Argonne National Laboratory, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and P33, Duality is helping to establish the region as an epicenter for quantum business by offering startups access to mentors, networking with industry and corporate partners, office and lab space, and $50,000 in non-dilutive funds.
  • Evozyne, a molecular engineering startup that designs and creates synthetic proteins with a number of potential uses, including capturing and storing carbon, creating new kinds of seeds, and reimagining polymer manufacturing. Cofounded by Rama Ranganathan, the Joseph Regenstein Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago, and Andrew Ferguson, associate professor at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, the company worked with the Polsky Center to file a patent.
  • Explorer Surgical, a health-tech startup that makes digital guides for surgeons and medical device companies to improve performance and communication in operating rooms. The company, which was acquired in October by Colorado-based Global Healthcare Exchange, was cofounded by Jennifer Fried, MBA ’15, and former University of Chicago faculty member Alex Langerman, and won second place in the 2015 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge.
  • NowPow, a University of Chicago spinout that operates a community referral network to help healthcare patients get access to nearby social services. Founded by UChicago gynecologist Stacy Lindau, NowPow was acquired in September by Unite Us, a New York-based startup that connects health and social care services.

The 50 honorees were organized into five categories: consumer, B2B, funders, deep tech, and health care. Chicago Inno will later reveal the five “Inno Blazers” that its panel of judges consider to be the top-performing companies from each category.


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