Entrepreneurs / Events / Sponsored content / Tomorrow Tour

9 tech leaders you should meet in Chicago

Tomorrow Tour rolls into the Windy City on March 8.

Downtown Chicago. (Photo by MaxyM via Shutterstock)

This article is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal, as part of the Tomorrow Tour.

Chicago has one of the fastest growing tech, innovation and entrepreneurship communities in the country, says Bill Fienup.

“Every year a new incubator launches here that targets a new sector,” he said. He speaks on good authority.

Fienup is president of Catalyze Chicago, a coworking space and incubator for entrepreneurs in the hardware space that was founded in 2014.

Bill Fienup.

Bill Fienup. (Courtesy photo)

Beyond Catalyze Chicago, he points other communities like Pumping Station: One, MakerBiz and Chicago Innovation Exchange for helping to lower barriers to developing physical products.

“With the maker movement on the rise and Chicago’s broad manufacturing base, we are positioned to make a difference in the physical product ecosystem,” Fienup said.

You can meet members of these communities and more at Tomorrow Tour Chicago, a stop on a national event series inspired by Comcast NBCUniversal and organized by The series aims to explore and document how technology and innovation converge to strengthen the city.

Get tickets

The free evening roundtable and networking event on March 8 features a keynote conversation on national trends and a local panel with discussions about the Chicago tech sector’s reputation outside the city. Following the networking happy hour, angel investor, Inc. columnist and CNBC contributor Kelly Hoey will present the keynote.  

The evening also includes a fireside chat with Comcast Ventures Managing Director David Zilberman, Kelly Hoey and Cofounder Chris Wink. Panel members include John Pletz, tech reporter for Crain’s Chicago BusinessKristie Heins Fox, senior vice president and the technology practice lead for Edelman in Chicago; James Janega, manager of the Innovation & Insights group at Slalom; and Wailin Wong, editor and writer of Basecamp’s podcast, The Distance.

Plus, you can get to know these other 8 Chicagoland innovators:

1. Rose Afriyie, mRelief

In parts of Chicago, the line for social services can stretch for hours. The kicker? The people endlessly waiting may not be even qualified for them. Seeing an obvious problem in the system, Rose Afriyie cofounded mRelief, which assists in eligibility determination for public benefits by having users fill out questionnaires online or through texts.

2. Heidi Brown, Options Away

It’s a common travel woe. You hesitate on booking a flight and the price jumps $100 overnight. Options Away puts a stop to that anxiety. The website, founded by Heidi Brown, allows people to lock in the current price of their flight until travel plans can be finalized.

3. Emile Cambry Jr., BLUE1647

BLUE1647 focuses professional development, business acceleration and special events like hackathons. Emile Cambry Jr. founded BLUE1647 in Chicago and has expanded the technology and entrepreneurship incubator across the Midwest.

4. Justyn Howard, Sprout Social

Founded by Justyn Howard in 2010, Sprout Social builds software that helps companies manage their social media channels more efficiently. They now boast over 16,000 customers around the world, including the likes of Hyatt, Uber and Zipcar. This fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed. In February, the company closed a $42 million investment from Goldman Sachs, Merchant Banking Division and New Enterprise Associates.

5. Terry Howerton, TechNexus

The host site of Tomorrow Tour Chicago, the venture development firm TechNexus served as an early player in the Windy City tech scene. In addition, TechNexus — founded by Terry Howerton in 2007 — operates a startup incubator from its HQ.

6. Daniel X. O’Neil, Smart Chicago Collaborative

Smart Chicago Collaborative builds its foundation on increasing access to the internet for area residents. From there, the civic organization helps people improve their skills through programs such as Connect Chicago. Finally, it puts data into action. One such project, Foodborne Chicago, connects people who complain about food poisoning on Twitter to the Chicago Department of Public Health. Daniel X. O’Neil serves as executive director.

7. Dan Wagner, Civis Analytics

Many people may say they have powerful bosses, but few folks can match who Dan Wagner used to report to. Wagner, the founder of the data science technology and advisory firm Civis Analytics, served as chief analytics officer on the 2012 Obama campaign.

8. Jessica Droste Yagan, Impact Engine

Impact Engine invests in early-stage businesses that work toward solving social and environmental challenges. Headed by CEO Jessica Droste Yagan, the fund features a diverse portfolio, including Azadi, Edovo and Guard Llama.


Tomorrow Tour Chicago will be held March 8 from 5:00-7:30 p.m. at TechNexus (20 N. Upper Wacker Dr.).

Register here for the free event.

Companies: Comcast

Before you go...

Please consider supporting to keep our independent journalism strong. Unlike most business-focused media outlets, we don’t have a paywall. Instead, we count on your personal and organizational support.

3 ways to support our work:
  • Contribute to the Journalism Fund. Charitable giving ensures our information remains free and accessible for residents to discover workforce programs and entrepreneurship pathways. This includes philanthropic grants and individual tax-deductible donations from readers like you.
  • Use our Preferred Partners. Our directory of vetted providers offers high-quality recommendations for services our readers need, and each referral supports our journalism.
  • Use our services. If you need entrepreneurs and tech leaders to buy your services, are seeking technologists to hire or want more professionals to know about your ecosystem, has the biggest and most engaged audience in the mid-Atlantic. We help companies tell their stories and answer big questions to meet and serve our community.
The journalism fund Preferred partners Our services

Join our growing Slack community

Join 5,000 tech professionals and entrepreneurs in our community Slack today!


Philly startup Burro aims to revolutionize farming with robots

Philly is ranked one of the world’s best places to found a startup, climbing to No. 25 globally

Duolingo’s viral taco shop brought in an eye-popping $700,000 last year

Ghost Robotics is landing a $240M exit, dodging months of protests over military uses

Technically Media