It was framed as a bit of a surprise when The Economist did a write-up last year on how Chicago was one of the 10 best startup cities in the world.


America’s third largest city spent the 20th Century at the forefront of leading industries (shipping, finance, manufacturing aircraft), and it attracts the brightest students from around the world every year to the University of Chicago and Northwestern. From that perspective, no one should be surprised that Chicago turns out successful tech and software companies such as 37Signals, Orbitz and GrubHub.


But let’s dig deeper than these big name to get a fuller snapshot of Chicago’s software industry. As Built in Chicago noted last year — and The Economist piece cites — a new tech startup launched in the city every 24 hours. And that was in 2012. Things have only picked up since.


Here are 22 software companies in Chicago that are doing good work.


The reigning four-time winner of the Crain’s Chicago Business Best Places to Work Award, Centro develops media management software tailored specifically to users in the advertising industry. Some big companies such as InBev, American Express and McDonald’s have used Centro software in their ad campaigns.


Solstice Mobile
Solstice Mobile consults large organization on how to adopt technology to make their business processes more efficient, and when necessary the company will develop custom apps and software for its customers. The company has racked up awards over the past two years for the speed of its growth and for being a great place to work.


BigTime is a 12-year-old company that focuses on selling and supporting just one product: An intuitive timesheet and billing app designed to fit the workflow of just about anyone in any industry. That strategy seems to have worked because more than 100,000 people use BigTime.


Billups Design
Billups Design creates digital assets such as landing pages and apps for companies to use in their marketing. Yes, that means they’re a digital agency. But an agency that creates anything as sophisticated as the Door-to-Door Baggage App for United Airlines also qualifies as a software company.


InContext Solutions
InContext actually models 3D simulations of retail environments to actually show businesses what arrangements would optimize sales. This is all based on nuanced research and years of retail insights. The company’s client list is a who’s who of companies producing consumer goods: Samsung, Kellogg’s, Nestle and Coca-Cola, among others.


22 Software Companies in Chicago Doing Awesome Things


Blueye has designed a platform that allows companies to optimize their Facebook ads by tapping into the network’s Open Graph, and all the big data that comes with it. For startups with an ad budget that’s at least a step above bootstrapped, using Blueye’s software almost feels like having an unfair advantage.


Doejo is another digital agency whose work often falls within the scope of software development. One particularly nice example is a website commissioned by Jared Leto, lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars (or, for some of you My So-Called Life die-hards, the guy you still think of as Jordan Catalano), for live-streaming concerts. That project, VyRT, offers a remarkably immersive experience.


Eight Bit Studios
The team at mobile app design firm Eight Bit Studios refer to themselves as “taste-makers.” That little differentiator seems to work, as they count among their clients Groupon and The Field Museum.


Chicago Software Solutions
CSS is a software consultancy that claims there is no technical issue its team cannot solve. Among the customers who have purchased custom software from CSS is the United States Postal Service.


Cornerstone Solutions
Cornerstone Solutions has a whole suite of software designed specifically for professionals in the construction and real estate industries. In nearly 30 years of business, Cornerstone has built CRMs, accounting software, cloud storage and a variety of other applications for more than 1,300 clients.


22 Software Companies in Chicago Doing Awesome Things


Since 1998, VisaNow has been using its own software to streamline the visa-application process, which is a real pain point for millions of emigrants globally. At this point, the attorneys who work with VisaNow have processed tens of thousands of applications, and the company reports a success rate of 99.7% among applicants.


Networked Insights
Networked Insights SaaS, SocialSense, scours social media to grab insights into customer behavior. According to the company, these insights have been a boon in particular for television networks, who have real-time measures of how engaging viewers find the content the networks produce.


The idea behind IfByPhone is so great: If you realize that phone calls from customers and leads collectively represent a powerful stream of data, then you would want to capture that data. That’s what the company’s collection of apps do. IfByPhone’s APIs allow that information to go to the places your other data already live — Salesforce or Google Analytics, for example — to give your company a more robust perspective on how well its marketing activity is working.


INXPO takes webcasting to a whole new level. Whether a business is arranging a teleconference among managers or a webinar for prospective clients, INXPO’s technology makes those more engaging. The company counts among its clients Proctor & Gamble and the State Department.


Paylocity, with its headquarters in Arlington Heights, was founded to deliver the same caliber of technology to the payroll and HR departments of a company that sales and management have had access to for years. This is cloud-based software that makes tasks such as applicant tracking or the calculation of labor costs much simpler than has traditionally been the case.


Belly, a locally grown startup that’s now a three-year-old company, is replacing loyalty cards with a smartphone alternative that makes collecting and redeeming points much easier (and it slims down your wallet in the process). Belly has built up a network of more than 6,000 businesses that reward customers through the app.


Schaumberg’s CellTrak developers GPS-powered SaaS tools for the home health care and hospice industries in an effort to automate the professionals’ workflows and reduce labor costs. Since its founding in 2006, the company has rolled out nationally, then on to international markets in Canada and the UK.


Signal, formerly known as BrightTag, is trying to replace the old model of using cookies to track users online. It has two products — Fuse and Tag — that let marketing professional enrich their media, both online and offline, so that analytics can be taken from them and measured to get a better idea of true audience engagement. Some of Signal’s customers include Macy’s and Allstate.


Four-year-old company Sprout has built a robust tool for managing campaigns, collecting messages and tracking the results of a company’s social media activity. Organizations using Sprout include a few universities (Marquette, Cornell, California State) and legendary guitar-maker Fender.


PerkSpot has developed a proprietary platform for companies to deliver perks — insurance, discounts, etc. — to their employees. So far, the eight-year-old company has united 4 million employees and organizations with its software.


kCura’s software is designed to aid e-discovery, or the gathering of digital forensic evidence during a trial, lawsuit or any other legal situation. Heads up: kCura is hiring for a bunch of positions right now. This is a good time to mention that the Chicago Tribune named kCura as one of the city’s best places to work in 2011, 2012 and 2013.


Fieldglass was founded in late 1999 to design management software for non-employee workforce members as well as suppliers. Just in June of this year, Fieldglass brought on 211,000 new users. The company did so well over a 15-year stretch that in March 2014 it was acquired by SAP, so big congratulations go out to the Fieldglass management team.




images by:
Jonathan / Flickr
NASA / Flickr
Trey Ratcliff / Flickr

Epic Presence Team