Polsky-Affiliated Initiatives, Startups Ranked Among Chicago’s Hottest Innovators

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago applies world-class expertise from the Chicago Booth School of Business to bring new ideas and breakthrough research to market.

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago applies world-class expertise from Chicago Booth to bring new ideas and breakthrough research to market.

Eleven entities with roots in the Polsky Center or the University of Chicago have been named to an annual list spotlighting the 50 hottest innovators in the city.

Now in its ninth year, Chicago Inno’s Fire Awards recognize 50 companies and organizations making their mark on the city’s tech scene. Inno Fire awardees were sourced by nominations and selected by the Chicago Inno editorial team.

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

Accelerators, VCs, incubators, and programs:

// The 81 Collection

The 81 Collection is an early-stage venture firm focused on investing in “hard industries,” such as manufacturing, real estate, retail and construction. Among its founding members are New Venture Challenge (NVC) alums, including Grubhub (NVC ’06) cofounder Mike Evans, Tovala (NVC ’15) CEO David Rabie, MBA ’15, and Cubii (CNVC ’13) cofounders Arnav Dalmia, AB ’13, and Shivani Jain, AB ’13. Several other Polsky Center-affiliated founders are involved in the firm, which launched its inaugural fund – $41 million – in 2022.

// Arch Venture Partners

Arch Venture Partners, cofounded by three Chicago Booth alums, Clint Bybee, MBA ’90, Keith Crandell, MBA ’88, and Robert Nelson, MBA ’87, is a biotech-focused VC firm. The early-stage investor (which also recently took first place in STAT’s 2023 biotech VC ranking) works with startups in infectious disease, mental health, immunology, oncology, and other areas.

// Argonne National Laboratory

Supported by the University of Chicago through UChicago-affiliated entities, Argonne National Laboratory recently installed the final components of Aurora supercomputer. After years of work, the system now contains all the hardware that will make it one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world.

// Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in March announced the launch of a new biomedical research hub in Chicago that will bring together the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Funded with $250 million over the next decade, the goal is to solve grand challenges in science on a 10- to 15-year time horizon.

// Lofty Ventures

Co-led by UChicago alum Spencer Gordon-Sand, BA ’21, Lofty Ventures is looking to help more people in the Chicago ecosystem become angel investors. To date, the early-stage VC has now helped 159 founders at 88 startups — 80% of which are Chicago founders.

// Polsky Deep Tech Ventures

Polsky Deep Tech Ventures launched earlier this year to offer sector-specific accelerators, entrepreneurial, training, and funding for startups. It has since launched two new accelerators, Transform (data science and AI) and Resurgence (cleantech), and will be launching a biotech accelerator in the near future. Leveraging the resources of the University and its partners, the new initiative draws on the success of the NVC and Duality, the nation’s first quantum startup accelerator, which now sits under the Deep Tech Ventures umbrella.


// Altris AI

With backing from Chicago Booth and Chicago Booth Angels, Altris AI is developing a platform that helps eye care professionals fight blindness by helping train optometrists to identify, localize, and quantify signs of eye disease. The startup, a GNVC ‘18 finalist, recently raised $1 million in funding to scale its AI-powered solution.

// Beacon 

Founded by NVC ’15 alum Brian Clark, MBA ’17, Beacon launched earlier this year with a patent-pending product designed to rid an average-sized room of bacteria, viruses, germs, and pathogens in six to eight minutes. Using the app, users can schedule when they would like to run it in their home or office.

// ClearFlame Engine Technologies

A Polsky I-Corps and Argonne Chain Reaction Innovations alum, ClearFlame secured a $30 million Series B earlier this year to help launch its product in multiple markets, starting with long-haul trucks. The Chicago-based company will pilot five trucks in collaboration with large fleet operators in North America in 2023.

// DeepWalk

DeepWalk, a CNVC ’21 alum and participant in the Polsky Center’s LAUNCH Accelerator, closed a $1.4 million seed investment earlier this year. The startup’s technology automates inspections for city engineers and is initially focused on sidewalk and curb ramp accessibility inspections though it plans to expand the technology into other inspection types, including traffic signals, transit stops, crosswalks, and building entrances.

// Evozyne

Founded by two University of Chicago researchers, Evozyne is taking a new approach to molecular engineering – one that combines state-of-the-art artificial intelligence with genetic engineering technology. With these tools, they hope to find innovative ways to capture and store carbon, create new kinds of seeds, and reimagine polymer manufacturing. The company, which worked with the Polsky Center to file a patent for the core technology, recently brought in tech veteran Mike Gamson, who previously held stints at LinkedIn and legal-tech firm Relativity, as its next CEO.


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