Meet 50 Northwestern alumni behind some of Chicago’s top startups

Recap from: Built In Chicago News Article

Despite its distance from the coasts, Chicago has an ocean of tech and entrepreneurial talent, thanks in large part to the calibre of schools that populate the region. One of those prestigious institutions is Northwestern University, whose various programs consistently rank among the best in the world.

It’s no surprise that a large percentage of Chicagoland tech companies were founded by alumni from the school. From MBAs in Entrepreneurship or Economics to BAs in Chinese and Flute Studies, many Northwestern grads have used their experiences at the school to found some of Chicago’s top startups.

Here’s a list of more than 50 of those alumni. We’re bound to have missed some companies, so if you’d like be included in the list, let us know by sending us an email. This list doesn’t include the companies led by instructors at Northwestern who received their education elsewhere (like 4C founder Alok Choudhary and Narrative Science’s Chief Scientist Kristian Hammond), nor does it include CEOs who joined a company later in its life, like the current CEO of Enova, David Fisher.

Shradha Agarwal:  ContextMedia

In an effort to bring health information to patients with chronic diseases, Shradha Agarwal co-founded Chicago’s ContextMedia, one of Chicago’s most successful (and iconic) tech success stories. She studied Journalism, International Studies, and Business at Northwestern, from which she graduated in 2008.

John Aiello: SAVO

John Aiello is the founder and chairman of SAVO, a provider of sales enablement solutions. He holds an MBA in Marketing and Finance from Kellogg in 1995.

Brian Bloom:  Monica+Andy

Monica+Andy is an online consignment shop for children’s clothing. Although his name isn’t featured in the company’s brand, Brian Bloom is one one of the company’s co-founders (and currently director of operations). Bloom was an undergrad at Northwestern (studying economics and international studies) and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business.


Marcy Capron:  Polymathic LLC

Polymathic helps build software for entrepreneurs who might not have the resources to hire on a full team. Founder and CEO Marcy Capron picked up a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies in Communication back in 2009 before heading to Miami Ad School for an MA in Advertising.

Jamie Crouthamel: Performics

James (Jamie) Crouthamel founded Performics in 1998 and lead the company as its president and CEO until it was sold to DoubleClick in 2004. He received both a MBA and MME from Northwestern in 1992.

Star Cunningham:  4D Healthware

Star Cunningham is the founder and CEO of 4D Healthware, a Chicago-based company that’s providers better manage patients with chronic care. She received her MBA from Kellogg in 2001, with a focus on Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Marketing and Strategy.

Dave Cutler:  mLevel

Dave Cutler is co-founder and CEO of mLevel, a company that’s rehabilitating the way people learn within organizations. He graduated from Northwestern in 1993, having studied Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

Aashish Dalal:  ParkWhiz

ParkWhiz is one of Chicago’s most exciting tech companies, and Aashish Dalal is sitting behind the driver’s wheel as co-founder and CEO. He launched the company in 2005 and graduated from Northwestern in 1999 with a BA in Biology and Psychology.

Jordan Dolin:  Emmi

In 2002, Jordan Dolin co-founded Chicago-based Emmi, a company that provides tech-based solutions to drive superior patient engagement. Dolin graduated with a master’s in Marketing and Communication from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in 1985 and has more than 29 years of entrepreneurial experience.

Joe Dwyer: Digital Intent

Digital Intent provides digital businesses with a suite of services to help scale, including product strategy, UI/UX, development, and user acquisition. Partner Joe Dwyer holds both a J.D. from the Northwestern University School of Law and an MBA from Kellogg, both of which he received in 2008.

Mathew Elenjickal:  FourKites

While attending Kellogg for an MBA in Entrepreneurship, Strategy, Marketing, and Finance (from which he graduated in 2014), Mathew Elenjickal founded FourKites, a cloud-based software system that’s bringing technology to the logistics and transportation industry.

Shawn Ellis:  Zest Health

Shawn Ellis is the mind behind Zest Health, a company whose technology works to make more informed healthcare consumers, employers, and providers. Ellis is a Kellogg alum with a degree in Analytical Consulting, Finance and Marketing.

Stella Garber:  matchist

Stella Garber, the current VP of marketing at Trello, has founded a number of notable Chicagoland tech companies, including Matchist and Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. Garber picked up an MBA at the Chicago Booth School of Business but received a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern in Psychology and Business Institutions in 2009.

Grant Gochnauer: Vodori

Founded in 2005, Vodori is a software company that helps simplify marketing for health and wellness companies . Grant Gochnauer — one of the company’s four co-founders — graduated from Northwestern with a BA in Computer Information Systems in 2002. He currently serves as VP of Products.

Jay Hoffmann: Rocketmiles

In 2012, Jay Hoffman cofounded Rocketmiles to help travelers “vacation faster and further” by making frequent flyer miles accessible when you book a hotel. Hoffmann graduated with a BA in Mathematics and Economics from Northwestern and went on to receive his MBA from Stanford.


Iseri and Yuri Malina:  SwipeSense

Iseri and Malina, who are currently co-founders and CEO and COO of SwipeSense, respectively, both received their bachelor’s degrees at Northwestern in 2011. SwipeSense is a data-driven platform whose goal is to increase hand hygiene in hospitals across the country. Photo via Northwestern.

Zack Johnson:  Syndio

Syndio’s software provides data insights on employees that enterprises use to find, recognize, and support outstanding workers at their organization. Sitting at the helm is CEO and co-founder Zack Johnson, who graduated Northwestern with a BS in Communications in 2010.

Jeff Kahn, Jacob Kelter, and Leon Sasson: Rise Science

Rise Science wants to use technology to help the world’s best athletes sleep sounder and perform better. The company was founded by a trio of Northwestern alumni: CEO Jeff Kahn, Chief Scientific Officer Jacob Kelter, and CTO Leon Sasson, who studied Engineering Design & Innovation, Complex Systems Science, and Data Science, respectively.

Hemant Kashyap: Whittl

Hemant Kashyap is the co-founder of Whittl, a Chicago-based company that launched almost five years ago with the goal of making it easier to find and book online appointments. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.

Maria Christopoulos Katris: Built In

Maria Katris is the co-founder and CEO of Built In, the number one online community for technology companies and startups. She is a graduate of Kellogg, where she received her MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship in 2007.

Jordan Linville: Buzz Digital

In 2010, Jordan Linville co-founded Buzz Digital, one of the graduates of Excelerate Labs (which would later become Techstars Chicago). He earned his MBA in Technology Management and Entrepreneurship at Kellogg in 2008.

Paul Lee: Roniin

After receiving a BS in Mathematics and Economics from Northwestern, Paul Lee went on to become one of the most influential people in Chicago tech. He currently teaches at Kellogg as an adjunct lecturer and runs startup factory 11 Roniin as CEO and co-founder.

Rahul Maheshwary:  Captivix

Captivix is a technology service provider that helps identify your customer’s pain points and build solutions to alleviate them. It’s run by CEO and founder Rahul Maheshwary, who graduated from Northwestern with a master’s in Management IT in 2007.

Andrew Mason: Groupon

Global e-commerce giant Groupon was the brainchild of Andrew Mason, who (with help from Chicago serial entrepreneurs Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky) turned it into one of the fastest growing companies of all time. Mason graduated from Northwestern in 2003.

Mike McGee:  The Starter League

After graduating from Northwestern in 2010 with one bachelor’s in Radio, Television, and Film and another in Political Science, Mike McGee got to work on The Starter League, which helps average Joes and Janes learn about software development and building web apps.

Brad Morehead: LiveWatch Security

In addition to several other ventures Brad Morehead has founded, he currently sits as founder and CEO of LiveWatch Security, which launched almost six years ago in Chicago. Morehead is also an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Northwestern, from which he also received his MBA in 2005.

Zhu-Song Mei: BigMarker

Zhu-Song Mei graduated Northwestern in 2006 with a whopping three bachelor’s degrees: one each in Industrial Engineering, Computer Science, and Manufacturing & Design Engineering. Currently, he’s founder and CEO of Chicago-based

Raaja Nemani: BucketFeet

Raaja Nemani is the co-founder and CEO of BucketFeet, which he founded with Aaron Firestein in 2011. The company, an online retailer for footwear featuring original designs from across the world, has become one of Chicago’s most promising young companies. Nemani graduated cum laude from Northwestern in 2004 with a BA in Economics.

Steve Olechowski: Blinkfire Analytics

Olechowski is the founder of Blinkfire Analytics, a software that uses machine learning to provide large brands with insight on their various sponsorships. Prior to that, he founded Feedburner (which has since been acquired by Google). Olechowski earned a BA in Computer Studies and Economics in 1992.

Mark Pawloski: UpKey

UpKey is a platform that helps connect job seekers to job opportunities at schools and nonprofits. Co-founder Mark Pawloski, who doubles as the company’s chief operating officer, received his MBA from Kellogg in 2015.


Dan Pinto: Machinio

Machinio is an online search engine and marketplace for used industrial and agricultural machinery, which Dan Pinto co-founded in late 2012. Pinto is a part of Northwestern’s class of 2009 and holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics.

Samir Mayekar:  SiNode Systems

Mayekay is the co-founder and CEO of SiNode Systems, which builds silicon anodes for lithium-ion batteries. He holds a BA from Northwestern in Political Science, international Studies, and Spanish and an MBA from Kellogg in Finance and International Business.

Nathan Rosenstock, Ishan Daya, and Jimmy Paul: Crafty

Crafty co-founders and Northwestern alumni Nathan Rosenstock (BA, ‘13) Ishan Daya (BM, ‘13), and Jimmy Paul (BS, ‘13) are on a mission to make happy hours at startups more fun and effective.

Rob Royer: Interior Define

Royer is the founder of Interior Define, a Chicago-based e-commerce site for high-quality, high-design furniture, which he launched in 2012. Royer holds an MS in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern.

Neal Sales-Griffin: The Starter League

Neal Sales-Griffin is the CEO and co-founder of The Starter League, which he started with friend and fellow Northwestern alum Mike McGee in 2011. He attended the school from 2005 to 2009 and graduated with a degree in Education and Social Policy.

Maria Sentic: AccountingLeap

Sentic picked up her BA in Economics and International Studies (plus a minor in Business) from Northwestern in 2006. She’s the founder of AccountingLeap, one of the 13 companies accepting into 1871’s second cohort of WiSTEM, which helps promote and support women tech founders in Chicago.

Rishi Shah:  ContextMedia

Rishi Shah is the CEO of ContextMedia, which he founded alongside Shradha Agarwal in 2006. Shah graduated from Northwestern in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in Learning and Organizational Change. Shah is a managing partner at JumpStart Ventures and was named one of Crain’s 40 under 40 in 2009.

Jai Shekhawat: Fieldglass

A few years after graduating from Kellogg with his MBA in 1996, Jai Shekhawat went on to found Fieldglass, a cloud-based vendor management system. Shekhawat is also co-founder of Chicago-based Quinnox, which provides IT solutions for businesses across the globe.

Erik Severinghaus: SimpleRelevance

A 2012 Kellogg grad, Erik Severinghaus is the founder and CEO of Chicago-based SimpleRelevance, a Techstars grad that makes it easier to personalize communication to your customers. In December of 2015, the company was bought by another Chicago tech staple, Rise Interactive.

John Simpson: One North Interactive

In 2012, John Simpson co-founded One North Interactive, a digital agency that specializes in B2B and professional services, where he sits as CEO. Simpson picked up a MBA in Marketing, Strategy, and Finance from Kellogg in 2004. Simpson received a bachelor’s in economics and neuropsychology from Vanderbilt in 1996.

Christopher Steiner: Aisle50

Christopher Steiner co-founded Aisle50 in 2010, a startup which would eventually be acquired by Groupon in February of 2015. Steiner, who currently sits as entrepreneur in residence at The Garage at Northwestern, received an MS in Journalism from Northwestern in 2003.

Nick Stojka: Sertifi

Nick Stojka is the cofounder of Sertifi, a company that’s provided on-demand sales contracting and e-signature solutions since its launch in 2006. Stojka’s tenure at Northwestern ended in 1994, when he graduated with a degree in Economics.

Tim Stojka: Agentis Energy

Tim Stojka is the founder and CEO of Agentis Energy, a venture he launched back 2009 to bring energy data and technology to utility providers. He graduated from Northwestern in 1989.

Tejas Shastry, Mike Geier and Alexander Smith: AMPY

Ampy is an innovative Chicago-based startup whose wearable tech transforms kinetic energy from your body to energy for your phone. CEO and co-founder Tejas Shastry graduated from Northwestern in 2011 with a BS in Materials Science and Engineering and is currently a PhD candidate at the school. Co-founder and Chief Product Officer Alexander Smith received his PhD from Northwestern in 2016.

Genevieve Thiers: Sittercity

Dubbed by some as the “Singing CEO,” Genevieve is the serial entrepreneur and founder behind Chicago tech companies like Sittercity, OperaModa and ContactKarma. Thiers graduated with a master’s degree in opera singing in 2004, most recently seen onstage in a production of The Merry Widow last October.

Karl Zimmerman: Steadfast Networks

Zimmerman is the founder and CEO of Steadfast, a Chicago-based provider of IT infrastructure. Although he started the company at just 16 years old, Zimmerman eventually went on to attend Northwestern, graduating in 2005 with a degree in economics.

Images via Shutterstock/LinkedIn. 

Want to be added to the list? Shoot us an email or send us a message on Twitter @BuiltInChicago.


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