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Spring 2023


Forge is the largest student-run startup weekend in the midwest! Engage with venture capitalists, seasoned entrepreneurs, successful community members, and other top student startups from across the midwest & beyond, pitch your startup for a chance to win a plethora of prizes, attend workshops to hone your ideas, and more!

Pitch Competition Prizes

Legal Services:
Cash Prizes:
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Fireside Chats

Dr. Aadeel Akhtar
Aadeel is the CEO & Founder of PSYONIC. Their first product, the Ability Hand, is the world's first touch sensing bionic hand and is also the fastest in the world. The Ability Hand is covered by Medicare in the US, expanding access to advanced bionic hands from 10% of the patient population to 75%. Dr. Akhtar received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience and M.S. in Electrical & Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2016. He received a M.S. in Computer Science in 2008 and B.S. in Biology in 2007 at Loyola University Chicago. In 2021, he was named on MIT Technology Review’s top 35 Innovators Under 35
Tom Sosnoff
Tom Sosnoff is an online brokerage innovator and financial educator. Tom is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded thinkorswim in 1999, tastytrade in 2011, tastyworks in 2017, helped to launch the award- winning Luckbox Magazine in 2019, and in 2020 he created the first new futures exchange in 20 years, The Small Exchange. Leveraging over 20 years of experience as a CBOE market maker, Tom is driven by the passion to educate self-directed investors. A true visionary, after his years on the floor he saw the need to build and design superior software platforms and brokerage firms that specialized in complex financial strategies. His efforts ultimately changed the way options and futures are traded and how digital financial media is produced and consumed. Currently, Tom hosts tastytrade LIVE and continues to drive innovation and know-how for the do-it-yourself investor.

Keynote Speakers

Pree Walia
Pree is the founder and CEO of Preemadonna. Preemadonna is a venture-backed technology start-up building interactive hardware & software experiences and powering creative platforms with an initial focus on Gen Z. Preemadonna's flagship product is the Nailbot -the patented at-home manicure system which prints custom instant nail art and eventually polish on your nails. Preemadonna has raised funding from Halogen Ventures, the Amazon Alexa Fund, and other angel investors and seed funds. Pree previously worked at high-growth venture-backed start-ups focused on connected devices and building automation services. Pree started her professional career working on progressive political campaigns as a political fundraiser and community organizer. Pree serves on the Board of Advisors for MakerGirl, a nonprofit that inspires girls to pursue STEM fields. Pree was named one of the top 25 Women in Robotics to know by Robohub.
Sue Harnett
Sue is founder & president of Rewriting the Code. Prior to Rewriting the Code, Sue launched, developed and successfully sold a novel e-commerce and technology business in the collegiate and professional sports industry. Sue also created the strategic vision and operational infrastructure for a multi-specialty physician organization within Duke University Health System, a nationally acclaimed academic health system. She is an expert at recognizing the viability of business opportunities, testing the market to refine the proposed model and executing the go-to-market strategy. She brings a strong ability to create passionate teams, establish focused and positive work cultures and lead disruptive business models to bring innovative change. Sue hopes to positively impact the young college women of Rewriting the Code by supporting the students with the necessary skills, confidence and applied work opportunities to develop the next generation of technology leaders.

Judges, Mentors, & Workshop Hosts

Adam Falkof
Legal Services Workshop Host
Adam is one of the leaders of Quarles & Brady’s national startup practice. He has substantial experience with Chicago’s startup community and has previously launched three of his own startups. Mr. Falkof represents a number of the Midwest’s leading early-stage startups and has close relationships with technology accelerators, angel investors, and venture capital funds. He also writes a monthly Midwest startups newsletter that features early stage Midwest startup companies and upcoming startup community events.
Landing Page Workshop
Hack4Impact unites students to build well-engineered, user-centric, and impactful products for social change. We connect student software developers with nonprofits and other socially responsible businesses to develop powerful new tools that enable nonprofits to further their mission and better engage their clients.
John Godoy
As an inventor and entrepreneur, Godoy's award-winning passive exercise invention, “Sitflow” - which he co-founded, crowdfunded, and brought to market was a 2017 recipient of the prestigious NEOCON office furniture Gold Award, was featured in publications from Fast Company, Inc, and British Vogue, and has been viewed on viral social media over 60 million times. As a speaker and presentation coach, John has spoken for organizations such as the Samsung Forum in Silicon Valley, Vistage International, and the Symbiosis Center for Information Technology in India. In addition, he is a presentations skills mentor at Chicago startup incubator “1871”, coached a candidate for United States Senate, and as a self-professed “citizen of the world” - has addressed audiences in 18 countries on 6 continents.
Patrick Wilken
Patrick is a Product Manager with international experience building SaaS products in North America and Europe through client-focused roles in the fin-tech, prop-tech, and auto industries. He progressed into a PM role over several years, working with startups ranging in size from 100+ to a team of 7. He co-founded a 3D printing company during university. He was awarded a Masters's with distinction in international business and finance while chairman of the Business school. Bachelor's in information system, economics, and law, elected to the student executive council.
Chuck Miller
Chuck is a Marketing student at UIUC. Most recently, he was a part of the Watson Advertising team at IBM and assisted with sales strategy for a new product launch. Prior to this, he held marketing and analytics roles at a variety of SaaS startups from Chicago, IL to Park City, UT. During his time at Illinois, he co-directed Forge 2019 and was a member of Cohorts 5 + 6 of iVenture Accelerator. Chuck specializes in digital marketing and SaaS sales. He will be returning to IBM in the Summit Sales program. Outside of work Chuck spends his time playing the guitar, listening to the Grateful Dead, and following consumer technology.
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Ben Thayer
Ben is currently the CEO of Stackend Solutions where he helps founders bootstrap their product development and get to market. Because of his broad interests, Ben has been involved in a number of different domains from finance and logistics to AI, blockchain and rocketry. When Ben was a member of Founders - Illinois Entrepreneurs, he served as a Microgrants Panelist, where he judged startups and helped founders refine their pitches. Previously, Ben was CEO of Ship.Cars and helped found Open Source at Illinois. In his free time, Ben loves reading about psychology and global politics.
Sreya Parakala
VC Panelist
Passionate about all things venture capital, education, and engineering, Sreya is a curious and purpose-driven Australian student who recently graduated from Northwestern University. She was a Summer BA at McKinsey and Managing Partner for the NY + Midwest Team at Dorm Room Fund. Along with that, she is the founder of Iris Education, an ed-tech platform to help international high school students learn more about US college culture.
Gabe Price
Gabe is the Program Coordinator for the iVenture Accelerator Program. He is also the founder of Earnest Earth Agriculture, a company that creates microbial combinations to organically ensure robust crop growth. He recently received his Ph.D. from UIUC researching the application of microbes for agricultural use and has in-depth experience with business model development, intellectual property management, commercialization analysis, and research design.
Jeana Anderson Cohen
Jeana is the founder and CEO of asweatlife.com a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help womxn live better lives and achieve their goals. Before founding health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and fresh out of college she worked on the '08 Obama campaign in Michigan. From there, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience in building community and her passion for wellness.
Meighan Newhouse
Meighan is the CEO and Co-Founder of Inspirant Group, home of the #Unconsultants who guide clients from inspiration to transformation. Inspirant is her second startup. Prior to creating the disruptive consulting firm with her two partners, she founded and ran Colette Allen Consulting, a boutique learning and development firm focused on helping people “LEARN to love your work." Keeping true to her "people first" beliefs, she co-founded Colette Allen Charities with her husband, an organization centered on supporting individuals inspired to improve their lives through education and training.
Austin McCulloh
Whether it's helping clients take their income from $300/month to $7,000/month, secure a contract with a Fortune 1,000 company, or being a key advisor from launch to a 7-figure exit for a high growth SaaS startup, Austin McCulloh understands business growth. After managing just under half a million dollars a few years ago as a 21-year-old financial advisor & running an online hiring agency that taught English to over 700 Chinese children, Austin decided to start his own consulting firm, Austin McCulloh Advising (AMA), where Austin & his team show financial representatives how to develop a strong pipeline of qualified leads from online prospecting. Since a pivot in May 2021, AMA has helped its clients make over 25,000 prospecting contacts on LinkedIn while averaging a 27% acceptance rate and 60% response rate. This has created thousands of new connections, conversations, & meetings for clients.
Jack Pio
Jack studied Computer Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology. While he was there he was involved in many different activities including tennis, robotics, greek life, and admissions. After graduating, he decided to pursue a career as an analyst at Grainger and continue to grow his technical communication skills. In his short time at Grainger he have worked with the Salesforce team in the Customer Resource Management department.
Jarrod Barnes
VC Panelist & Mentor
Jarrod currently serves as an Investor with Emerson Collective, investing in early-stage startups at the intersections of ed tech, future of work, and sports tech. Prior to joining Emerson Collective, Jarrod was a Venture Fellow at Unshackled Ventures, and the first hire for the Minority Entrepreneurship Institute, a non-profit incubator founded by NFL Athlete, Jaylon Smith. Jarrod is passionate about all things entrepreneurship and is currently an adjunct instructor at the NYU Preston Robert Tisch Institute For Global Sport teaches courses in sports and eSports innovation. He also previously founded multiple startups, Prime U, a learning and development platform for sports teams, and the Athlete Development Lab, a community for sports tech professionals.
Brad Schnitzer
Brad is a Founder/Lead Organizer of Chicago Startup Week. He is a founding member of Mhub Chicago and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago. He also serves on the board of Humanity Rising, Miracle League of Music City, and the Associate Board of Make-A-Wish Illinois.
Justin Cohen
Justin Cohen is an executive with over 15 years of experience. As vice president and head of banking for Avant, he is responsible for bringing innovative deposit and banking products to consumers who have been underserved by traditional financial institutions. Prior to joining Avant, he co-founded SweatWorking a digital fitness platform, and he's built and run the marketing and product functions for some of the fastest-growing companies in the country, as one of the earliest employees at each.
John Thode
Serial technology executive and entrepreneur. Led businesses at Motorola, Dell, and McAfee. Led the exit of two business as CEO of ISCO Inc. and President of DigitalOptics Corp. Founded Thode Residential Rental Properties, LLC in 2011 and currently serves as the company’s Chairman.
Connor Lake
Connor went to U of I graduating in 2019.  He was very involved in the entrepreneurship community.  He founded Stackend Solutions, a consulting company helping early stage startups discover their own product, and build it.  Since then Connor has started a couple other small business.  If you’re looking for help with how to make a great pitch, the specifics of running a business, or making difficult decisions, go talk to Connor!




Aryan Bhardwaj
Nihal Saxena

Last year's impact:

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