Best Chicago Accelerators and Incubator Programs
Startup accelerators offer valuable assistance to new businesses that go far beyond funding. Providing education, expertise, guidance, and access to valuable resources, startup incubators can give you invaluable assistance to take your startup to the next level.
For over a decade, 1871 has sought to help tech business innovators by providing space, support, and mentorship opportunities from some of the best entrepreneurs in the world. While it started small, 1871 has grown to be one of the leading business incubators in the city.
1871 offers member pathways in its incubator program that focus on three primary areas: early stage (startups from idea to product-market-fit, growth stage (growth startups from seed to initial public offering), and corporate (enterprise businesses innovating). Each level requires paying a monthly fee.
1871 encourages all potential applicants to attend an info session before starting an application. Once you have attended a session, you can apply online to become a member.
mHub offers a HardTech accelerator that focuses on three main areas: sustainable manufacturing, medtech startups, and climate and energy tech. It provides early-stage startup funding and prototyping resources for hardware and product development to promising startups.
mHub has sought to center itself in a key hub of startups, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, investors, and industry leaders. The Chicago area is home to one of the most diversified manufacturing economies in the country, with more than 12,000 local manufacturers. mHub helps startups connect with leaders in these fields to encourage even greater strength and diversity in Chicago’s manufacturing industry.
The six-month startup accelerator for new product development and commercialization is in high demand, so you will need to complete an application to see if you qualify.
Matter focuses on healthtech startups in every stage of the growth process. They offer a six-month incubator program for promising startups that gives access to multiple opportunities, including opportunities for development, learning, customers, community, and capital.
One thing that differentiates Matter’s incubator is the fact that it doesn’t require equity from your startup. You can get targeted support and access to a wide variety of resources without worrying about losing any equity from your business.
Matter can also help your startup raise capital. It assists with developing fundraising strategies, presentations, and finding potential investors.
Reach is overseen by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to help promising startups in the real estate and prop tech sector. It provides an accelerator program to assist with finding funding, mentoring, and event-based access across the global marketplace.
NAR is located in 85 countries, which gives participants in the program exceptional global reach. It also offers accelerators in multiple other cities and countries. Thus far, Reach has accelerated over 140 companies.
5. Workbox Company
Workbox offers an accelerator program over eight weeks to help early-stage businesses prepare for their first outside investor conversations. The program includes operation evaluations, product evaluations, and funding strategy planning to improve the messaging participants use with potential investors.
The Workbox accelerator costs $7,500 + 0.5% equity per cohort. It includes all of Workbox’s business services:
- Workbox’s Full Virtual Platform
- Exclusive Programming & Networking Events
- Monthly "Ask Me Anything" Presentations with Capital Partners
- Access to Discounted Operational Support
- Cloud Credits & Platform Vendor Discounts
- Powerful Network of Other Innovators and Leaders
It also includes the following:
- Eight-week Cohort Program
- Access to 40+ Investors and Lenders
- Strategic Advising & Coaching
- Workbox Ventures Strategy Session
- Services Coordinator to Facilitate Introductions
6. Cleveland Avenue
Cleveland Avenue offers a three-month accelerator program for food, beverage, and technology startups in the Chicago area. In the accelerator, you get help from a team of food and beverage specialists with significant industry intelligence. They bring insight and discipline to help streamline and accelerate your business.
The company is named for the Chicago street where founders Don and Liz Thompson grew up. They are deeply committed to helping their fellow Chicago entrepreneurs come together as a community and assist each other to improve their businesses and their city.
Cleveland Avenue works with seed ventures and early-stage and private equity deals to assist emerging restaurants, beverages, and related startups to transform the hospitality and food service industry.
7. Relish Works
Relish Works explores the future of the food industry through research and investment. It brings together strategists, designers, founders, and investors to help those in the industry understand and shape the way food service moves into the future.
Partnered with Gordon Food Services (GFS), Relish Works developed a startup accelerator program called the Food Foundry. This accelerator “supports, connects, and propels innovative startups who are reimagining the food industry.” The program is targeted toward pre-seed and seed startups. The application process requires submitting information about your startup, then going through up to three rounds of interviews.
If you enter the program, you receive the following:
- $75,000 in venture capital funding
- Four weeks of programming over the course of four months dedicated to workshops and mentorship connections customized to help startups reach their goals.
- 1:1 Mentorship with our venture capital team to help you set and reach your milestones.
- Connection to Relish Works and Gordon Food Service partner companies for additional distribution channels
- Participation and opportunities within our Alumni network
8. Techstars Chicago
Techstars is a well-known accelerator program that serves numerous cities across the US and the globe, including Chicago. Its program can help startups fast-track their success, saving significant time and increasing the odds of growth and profitability. Over 3,000 companies have graduated from Techstars accelerators, with a total funding of $23.9B.
The Techstar accelerator program is three months long. It surrounds “... companies with the best mentors and an unrivaled network of corporate partners, investors, and alumni.” It delivers both funding and fundraising opportunities.
Techstars will invest up to $120,000 in each accelerator startup. In exchange, it gets the right to 6% of the company’s Fully Diluted Capital Stock at the Qualified Financing and provides $20,000 upfront.
9. Financial Solutions Lab
Launched in 2014, the Financial Solutions Lab accelerator has grown to become a national leader in the fintech accelerator space. It works with entrepreneurs to identify, develop, and scale fintech solutions for underserved communities – specifically low to moderate-income individuals, Black and Latinx communities, and others.
Those that are accepted into the program gain capital, professional assistance from industry leaders, mentorship from financial services and financial health experts, and other benefits.
10. University of Chicago New Venture Challenge
The New Venture Challenge (NVC) was launched in 1996 through the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago. It is recognized as one of the top accelerator programs in the country and has graduated more than 370 startups which have raised more than $1.2 billion in funding and $8.5 billion in mergers and exits. Some of the most notable startups to come out of the program include Grubhub, Braintree/Venmo, and Simple Mills.
Those that are accepted into the NVC gain access to the deep industry knowledge and extensive funding opportunities that only the Polsky Center can offer. With funding, guidance, and integration into the network of NVC guides, participants, and alumni, startups can significantly accelerate their growth.
11. Insight Accelerator Labs
Insight Accelerator Labs has a deep understanding of what is required to take a technology from idea to commercial success. It partners with top healthcare entrepreneurs and leading university technology transfer programs to improve the Chicago health tech startup ecosystem, primarily through its accelerator program.
Insight is looking for health tech startups that require a physical technology or component for the delivery or implementation of their solution. It prefers companies with patents pending or granted for their core IP, with a detailed understanding of the chosen market opportunity and sizing, and with some level of prior funding success.
The accelerator offers the following in exchange for a small percentage of equity in member companies:
- Product development services at a significantly discounted rate
- Expert mentoring the appropriate product development to commercialization processes
- Office, lab, and meeting spaces and extensive infrastructure support such as IT and admin services at no cost
- Additional support services, including legal assistance, on a deferred-fee basis
- Assistance and support in grant and award applications as needed
Insight provides up to 18 months of assistance, with contracts lasting six months before requiring renewal.
12. EMERGE CoLab
The EMERGE CoLab accelerator (powered by TechNexus Venture Collaborative) focuses on industrial wearables technology. Lead by TechNexus in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), the program seeks to “catalyze and commercially develop emerging technologies for enhanced productivity and safety for First Responder[s]” to improve construction, mining, public safety, utilities, and other industries.
The program doesn’t have the normal mandatory requirement of equity or financial commitment, It funds participants for amounts between $100,000 to $200,000. In addition, it helps clarify industry needs, technology gaps, market opportunities, use cases, end users, and more. It pairs with established corporate partners and helps participants gain access to growth capital.
13. Vantedge Ventures | Healthcare Innovation Fund
Vantedge Ventures has partnerships with various health systems to commercialize promising healthcare innovations and bring them to scale. It looks for pre-seed, seed, or early-stage companies that are improving efficiencies and ROI to significant health system functions. For those that partner with Vantedge, they gain access to strategic investors offering up to $2.5 million per investment
Vantedge has a program called Advance Accelerator that provides a holistic approach to scaling up startups. It provides funding, generates markets, creates value-added collaborations, and rapidly deploys implementation programs for healthcare innovations.
14. Good Food Business Accelerator
The Good Food Business Accelerator was founded in 2015 to provide community, resources, and guidance to food startups and food-related small businesses in the Chicago area. Since then, it has helped 85 companies and gained over 100 members while helping participants receive over $2 million in funding.
Good Food has three cohort programs for startups and small businesses. All programs are aimed at helping members make better business decisions. They combine curriculum, coaching, community, and a structured approach. Participants create sales materials, financial reports, and more, all while working with other entrepreneurs. Graduates gain a free GFA membership for a year.
The two-month Go To Market program is for those just starting their businesses. It pairs participants with an industry expert to serve as mentor. The four-month Accelerate For Growth program is for those who need to scale their business. It helps them analyze and improve management, operations, sales, financials, and marketing. Then there is the four-week Market Access program, which helps businesses get retail-ready through a workshop series.
15. Moderne Passport
Moderne Passport is a six-month industry immersion program designed to help companies refine and execute go-to-market strategies, provide mentorship, pilot opportunities, and introduce potential investment and acquisition potential. It also connects participants with the Moderne Network, which includes over 700 corporations and executives from leading companies.
Class meets approximately once per month at events across the country to showcase participants’ products and services, as well as have meetings with mentors and participate in industry and private corporate events. The program provides guidance and expertise, mentorship, pilot programs, and exposure.
The program is industry-agnostic, but most participants meet the following criteria:
- Target Markets: Applicability in Moderne’s core sectors and can expand beyond into other verticals.
- Revenues: $1 million–$30+ million
- Customers: Early days to fully established companies, with logos to prove it
- Financing: Seed stage and up - most of our companies have top-tier investors already backing them
- Product: Beyond beta and built to scale on a national or global capacity
- Business Models: We like disruptive SaaS-based technologies in digital media, fintech, business services and big data, and we particularly like companies with B2B strategies.