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February 18th - 19th, 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

1st Place Prize:

2nd Place Prize:

3rd, 4th, and 5th Place Prizes:

Keynote Speakers

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John Thode
Judge
John is a widely-recognized technology leader who has architected and led the growth of a multitude of businesses, as Chairman, Board Member, CEO, and senior executive. John has most recently (2022), and presently, joined Akhan Inc. as President and COO. Akhan Inc. is pioneering diamond solutions for glass, optical and semiconductor applications and has successfully closed a $20m A-round this year.
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Alessandro Contreras
Judge
Alessandro is an analyst at Chicago Ventures, where he helps with sourcing, diligence and supporting portfolio companies. Prior to joining Chicago Ventures, Alessandro attended the University of Notre Dame. While there he joined Vital View Technologies, a medical device and remote patient monitoring startup, as the lead student analyst. He stayed with Vital View through its Seed round and helped prepare for the Series A. Additionally, he worked as an analyst at Angeles Investors.
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Jeana Anderson Cohen
Judge
Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of asweatlife.com a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help women 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. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.
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Connor Lake
Judge
Connor is a developer at heart, with a passion for entrepreneurship. 5 years ago he started Stackend Solutions, which helps businesses automate and improve their processes using software. Connor is happy to help with anything related to business, software, and security!
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Yasmeena Faycurry
Judge
Yasmeena is an Investor at Chicago Ventures where she focuses on consumer and b2b. In college, she launched Unfound – an app community where people share their favorite local gems. A little over a year after launching, Unfound amassed 20k+ app users and 130k+ TikTok followers (completely bootstrapped). She holds a BA with honors in Economics from Northwestern University as well as minors in Entrepreneurship and Marketing.
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Brad Schnitzer
Mentor
Brad Schnitzer is the Founder and Lead Organizer of the widely-known Chicago Startup Week. Additionally, he was a founding member of Mhub Chicago and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago. Today, Schnitzer serves on the board of Humanity Rising, Miracle League of Music City, and the Associate Board of Make-A-Wish Illinois.
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Tim Grace
Mentor

Tim Grace is a co-founder & the Managing Partner at LongJump, a venture fund designed to back Chicago's earliest, launch-phase companies. LongJump writes $100k checks to founders at the starting line, often working on an idea traditionally overlooked. By backing founders at the beginning of their journey, the company aims to reduce survivorship bias that results in fewer diverse founders raising institutional capital. Previously, Tim co-founded Draftbit, a YC-backed company that created a no-code, collaborative product development tool focused on mobile apps. I also held early-team roles in product leadership at Trunk Club, Signal, Apartments.com and Cars.com. Sometimes I run marathons.

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Rohan Gupta
Mentor

Rohan Gupta is the CEO and Co-Founder of QuillBot, a cutting-edge natural language processing startup with over 26 million monthly active users. He combined his passion for technology and artificial intelligence with his entrepreneurial drive to form QuillBot in 2017 with the help of his Co-Founders, David Silin and Anil Jason. QuillBot is on a mission to make writing effortless. In September 2017, QuillBot was acquired by edtech company Course Hero. He holds a B.S. in Finance and an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Rohan is passionate about technology, philosophy, and changing the world.


 
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Dumebi Egbuna
Judge

Dumebi Egbuna is Co-founder and CMO of Chezie, a management platform for employee resource groups. Chezie has a mission of creating the most inclusive workplaces on Earth. She knows what it's like to be the only Black woman at the table, and has dedicated herself to helping people with similar backgrounds break through the glass ceilings and excel in their chosen fields. Dumebi was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after her family immigrated to the United States. She attended Emory University where she played basketball and majored in Business Administration .⁣

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Christian McKenzie
Mentor

Christian McKenzie is an Associate at Red Cedar Ventures. She began her career as a retail buyer scouting products to place in 250+ stores for Macy's, Inc. She has also worked for the startups and tech companies that support the retail industry, including Facebook, Inc. and Pear (acquired by Custom Ink). While she loved this work, she wanted to more closely support and drive impact for founders. So she began applying her passion for emerging brands to investing venture funding into startups. She is a Committee Co-chair for BLCK VC and a Mentor at Techstars.

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Abhinaya Konduru
Mentor

Abhinaya is an Indian immigrant who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and attended the University of Illinois at Chicago where she studied Finance and Mathematical Computer Science. Aside from finding and investing in companies at M25, she helps founders find product-market fit with various strategies. She brings the Chicago community together through various events she hosts or co-hosts. She works with the 1 for 2 Education Foundation, a unique scholarship program employing a “pay it forward” model for undergraduate students.

More judges and mentors will be announced soon!

Fireside Chats

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Christopher Deutsch
Chris Deutsch has spent 25 years starting up, investing in and working with early-stage, venture-backed startups in ecommerce, web and mobile applications, enterprise software, and consumer products. Chris received his BA in Economics from Vassar College, where he played varsity lacrosse, basketball, and rugby. Chris is Founder of Lofty Ventures, which builds long-term relationships with Chicago’s next generation of passionate and brilliant founders. Investments range from five to six-figures in pre-seed to seed stage startups. He also spent four years working as the VP of Business Development with Loft Development Corporation. Currently, he is the Re-founder and Board Director at Y Combinator-backed teaBOT.
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Neal Sáles-Griffin
Neal Sáles-Griffin is an entrepreneur, teacher, and nonprofit leader. He co-founded the first beginner-focused in-person coding bootcamp, and most recently ran for mayor of Chicago. He's currently the Managing Director of Techstars Chicago Powered by J.P. Morgan and the Techstars Chicago Accelerator, and is an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering where he teaches entrepreneurship.

Keynote Speakers

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Michael Gibson
Michael is co-founder & General Partner of 1517, a venture capital firm which is devoted to backing dropouts and people who never stepped foot on a college campus. Before his academic apostasy, he was working towards a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Oxford. He has written on innovation and technology for MIT’s Technology Review, National Review, the Atlantic, and City Journal.

Judges, Mentors, & Workshop Hosts

John_Thode.png
John Thode
Judge
John is a widely-recognized technology leader who has architected and led the growth of a multitude of businesses, as Chairman, Board Member, CEO, and senior executive. John has most recently (2022), and presently, joined Akhan Inc. as President and COO. Akhan Inc. is pioneering diamond solutions for glass, optical and semiconductor applications and has successfully closed a $20m A-round this year.
Alessandro_Contreras.jpg
Alessandro Contreras
Judge
Alessandro is an analyst at Chicago Ventures, where he helps with sourcing, diligence and supporting portfolio companies. Prior to joining Chicago Ventures, Alessandro attended the University of Notre Dame. While there he joined Vital View Technologies, a medical device and remote patient monitoring startup, as the lead student analyst. He stayed with Vital View through its Seed round and helped prepare for the Series A. Additionally, he worked as an analyst at Angeles Investors.
jeana.png
Jeana Anderson Cohen
Judge
Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of asweatlife.com a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help women 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. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.
Connor_Lake.jpeg
Connor Lake
Judge
Connor is a developer at heart, with a passion for entrepreneurship. 5 years ago he started Stackend Solutions, which helps businesses automate and improve their processes using software. Connor is happy to help with anything related to business, software, and security!
Yasmeena_Faycurry.png
Yasmeena Faycurry
Judge
Yasmeena is an Investor at Chicago Ventures where she focuses on consumer and b2b. In college, she launched Unfound – an app community where people share their favorite local gems. A little over a year after launching, Unfound amassed 20k+ app users and 130k+ TikTok followers (completely bootstrapped). She holds a BA with honors in Economics from Northwestern University as well as minors in Entrepreneurship and Marketing.
Brad_Schnitzer.jpg
Brad Schnitzer
Mentor
Brad Schnitzer is the Founder and Lead Organizer of the widely-known Chicago Startup Week. Additionally, he was a founding member of Mhub Chicago and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago. Today, Schnitzer serves on the board of Humanity Rising, Miracle League of Music City, and the Associate Board of Make-A-Wish Illinois.
Tim_Grace.jpeg
Tim Grace
Mentor

Tim Grace is a co-founder & the Managing Partner at LongJump, a venture fund designed to back Chicago's earliest, launch-phase companies. LongJump writes $100k checks to founders at the starting line, often working on an idea traditionally overlooked. By backing founders at the beginning of their journey, the company aims to reduce survivorship bias that results in fewer diverse founders raising institutional capital. Previously, Tim co-founded Draftbit, a YC-backed company that created a no-code, collaborative product development tool focused on mobile apps. I also held early-team roles in product leadership at Trunk Club, Signal, Apartments.com and Cars.com. Sometimes I run marathons.

Rohan_Gupta.jpeg
Rohan Gupta
Mentor

Rohan Gupta is the CEO and Co-Founder of QuillBot, a cutting-edge natural language processing startup with over 26 million monthly active users. He combined his passion for technology and artificial intelligence with his entrepreneurial drive to form QuillBot in 2017 with the help of his Co-Founders, David Silin and Anil Jason. QuillBot is on a mission to make writing effortless. In September 2017, QuillBot was acquired by edtech company Course Hero. He holds a B.S. in Finance and an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Rohan is passionate about technology, philosophy, and changing the world.


 
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Dumebi Egbuna
Judge

Dumebi Egbuna is Co-founder and CMO of Chezie, a management platform for employee resource groups. Chezie has a mission of creating the most inclusive workplaces on Earth. She knows what it's like to be the only Black woman at the table, and has dedicated herself to helping people with similar backgrounds break through the glass ceilings and excel in their chosen fields. Dumebi was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after her family immigrated to the United States. She attended Emory University where she played basketball and majored in Business Administration .⁣

Christian_McKenzie.JPG
Christian McKenzie
Mentor

Christian McKenzie is an Associate at Red Cedar Ventures. She began her career as a retail buyer scouting products to place in 250+ stores for Macy's, Inc. She has also worked for the startups and tech companies that support the retail industry, including Facebook, Inc. and Pear (acquired by Custom Ink). While she loved this work, she wanted to more closely support and drive impact for founders. So she began applying her passion for emerging brands to investing venture funding into startups. She is a Committee Co-chair for BLCK VC and a Mentor at Techstars.

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Abhinaya Konduru
Mentor

Abhinaya is a principal at M25, focusing on Midwest-based pre-seed and seed-stage investments. She joined the fund in 2017 and spearheads the team’s outbound efforts, along with leading deals and working with portfolio companies.

In addition to investing, Abhinaya brings the Chicago community together through various events she hosts or co-hosts, from 300-person events like ChiTechIRL to 5-person dinners. She actively runs a text group where 200+ people receive a weekly text about Chicago Tech events.

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Patrick Fang
Mentor

I'm a UIUC and Founders Alum working as the growth manager for a seed-stage Fintech company called NachoNacho. Happy to share my experience in business development, marketing automation, and having valuable conversations with customers (the mom test).

Sponsors

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OUR TEAM

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Aryan Bhardwaj
Co-Director
Nihal Saxena
Co-Director

Last year's impact:

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