Disrupt the Midwest

November 9 - 10
TechNexus Space - Chicago

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.

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Forge is a two-day startup weekend over November 9-10th at Technexus that brings together top student entrepreneurs from across the Midwest and successful members from the ecosystem to help develop your venture. During the weekend, you will interact with the entrepreneurship community through networking lunches, one-on-one mentoring, panels, presentations and more. On the final day of Forge, you’ll have the opportunity to pitch your company and win cash grants up to $1,500 and more.



arrowWhat’s in it for you?

Meeting seasoned entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, members of the entrepreneurship community, and meeting other top student startups from across the Midwest. You’ll be meeting a diverse group of people and will have the opportunity to win cash prizes.

arrowWill there be food?

Yep! Saturday and Sunday lunch, and Sunday breakfast will be provided. There will be snacks too from several food startups.

arrowIs lodging provided?

An Airbnb stipend will be provided to students traveling outside the Chicagoland area.

arrowIs transportation provided?

Attendees will be reimbursed for their travel to TechNexus. For the University of Illinois students from Urbana-Champaign, a bus will be provided.

arrowHow will the pitching competition work?

On November 10th, the pitching competition will take place. It will be split into preliminary rounds and final rounds, and selected startups will make it to the final round. There will be no allocated time during the weekend to work on your pitch, so come prepared!

arrowDoes every startup need to pitch?

Nope! You do not have to pitch, but don’t give up the opportunity to win a prize!

arrowWhat kind of prizes are available?

1. 3 month free membership at mHub
2. $1,000 Microgrant from 1517 Fund
3. More cash prizes!

arrowWhat are past participants up to?

Last year, Psyonic from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign won $1,000 cash and has since raised a seed round and launched the product.

arrow404: Question not found?

Feel free to email us at team@founders.illinois.edu


arrowWho should apply?

Any student startup! Forge is open to all majors, ages, and Midwest schools. Forge‘s aim is venture growth and bringing the Midwest Entrepreneurship community together, so all Midwest student ventures are welcome.

arrowWhen will I hear back?

The application’s deadline is October 28, and we will be sending out acceptances on a rolling basis. Everyone will hear back by November 1st.

arrowWhat can I do in the meantime?

Get your business cards and pitch together, and prepare for a packed weekend! Also, tell your friends and check out our Facebook event and social media links to get updates. :)


arrowWhen does the event start and end?

The event starts at 10 am on November 9th at TechNexus and ends at 5 pm on November 10th.

arrowWhat should I bring?

Laptop, charger, notebook, anything you need for an overnight stay, your pitch, and excitement!

arrowHow many people from my team can I bring?

1 to 4 people from your venture can come!

Saturday: Network

Sunday: Pitch

View the full weekend schedule here!

2019 Keynote Speaker

Jay Madheswaran

After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Jay joined Facebook (pre-IPO) and experienced the thrill of rapid innovation in a company connecting the world. From there, he followed his entrepreneurial instinct to join Rubrik as a founding member. Now as a partner at Lightspeed, Jay brings a deep understanding of the Enterprise Infrastructure space and helps bridge the gap between anticipating trends and making the best investment decisions.

2019 Speaker

Peter Piekarczyk

Peter Piekarczyk is the co-founder of Draftbit: a tool that allows anyone to build native apps visually with almost no learning curve. Draftbit is built with ReasonML and has allowed his team to move quickly and effortlessly. He has experience in multiple programming languages from his work at Trunk Club and Foodboss. Peter loves to cycle, drink coffee and make music. He’s a huge fan of learning how to do new things. Peter was born in Chicago and speaks fluent Polish.

VC Panel

Leandro Bedolla

Leandro is originally from Michoacán, Mexico, grew up in Joliet, IL, and graduated from Valparaiso University with a BSBA in Finance and minors in both Engineering and Mathematics. Most recently, Leandro was an associate with the Techstars Anywhere accelerator making it the best experience possible for the founders! Previously, he’s conducted due diligence with the Tech Coast Angels, organized conferences for Startup San Diego as MD of sponsorships, and conducted business development for a startup. In his free time, Leandro enjoys listening to podcasts, working out, and connecting others to potential opportunities.

Chris Wu

Chris Wu is an Associate at Impact Engine. Prior to joining in 2018, Chris was an engineering consultant at Arcadis, where he provided program management services for the City of Chicago’s Department of Water Management. Chris is a licensed Professional Engineer and LEED Accredited Professional with a long history of providing engineering services for the design and construction of green buildings. Chris holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and a Master of Science degree in Structural Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently an MBA candidate at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, in their part-time program.

Mark Achler

Mark Achler is Managing Director of MATH Venture Partners. Additionally, Mark teaches Entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business. Prior to MATH, Mark was the Senior Vice President of New Business, Strategy and Innovation for Redbox. He is a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded four companies as well being a partner in an earlier venture fund called Kettle Partners. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Social Studies Education from Purdue University and is a frequent speaker, resource and ardent champion for the entrepreneurial community.

Gerri Kahnweiler

After 15 years as a leader in women and girl's philanthropy, Gerri is using her passion, skills and connections to provide more opportunities for women in tech. InvestHER Ventures will focus on funding female entrepreneurs seeking early stage capital. With a track record for empowering women and girls to reach their full potential, Gerri's mission is to create funding opportunities for women who are focused on technology enabled business services, data driven products, and disruptive solutions for large markets.

2019 Mentors

Darnell Leatherwood

A public figure in the spheres of education, social activism, business, and media, Darnell is a native of East St. Louis and currently resides outside of Chicago. Along with his team, he has founded, co-founded, or served as a founding member of multiple organizations dedicated to promoting social justice, healthy communities, equitable outcomes, and the obliteration of oppressive systems and false stereotypes.

David Altenburg

David Altenburg is a Principal Software Engineer at Inventables, where he works to put desktop manufacturing capabilities into the hands of small businesses and entrepreneurs. He has over 19 years of software development experience in a variety of industries. He currently resides in Chicago.

Sarah Schram

Sarah Schram is Illinois Ventures' Analyst and Proof of Concept Coordinator. Sarah assists in investment diligence, deal sourcing, and university outreach and brings a valuable scientific background to the team. As the Proof of Concept Coordinator, Sarah works closely with faculty researchers, the Office of Technology Management and University stakeholders to enhance the exciting tech pipeline at UIC through commercialization grants.

Mark Goldstein

Mark B. Goldstein is a business attorney who works with startups to help start and grow their companies and is an entrepreneur himself. Mark is an attorney at Latimer LeVay Fyock a full-service business law firm and is the co-founder of Firenze Italian Street Food, a restaurant in Chicago that is inspired by the city of Florence, Italy. Mark counsels businesses on how to start their businesses, formation issues, investment issues, contractual issues and M&A issues amongst other day-to-day issues that businesses face.

Zoe Quan

Zoe a strategic innovation director manager and helps organizations figure out what are the right questions they need to ask. She serves as a confidential sounding board to help ventures think through where they are, where they ought to be, and what they need to do to get there.

Vish Indukuri

Founder, CTO @ Trala. Trala is a music education company and our first product is an app that teaches violin. My co-founder Sam & I started the company in 2016 and raised $1.3M in 2018. Now, we're scaling the business. Ask me about building a product and hiring through the early-late seed stages.

Tom Zhang

Tom is the Co-Founder and CEO of Zenblen, a Chicago based startup bringing tech-enabled smoothie bars to the market. Tom and his company recently went through Chicago Booth's New Venture Challenge accelerator, where they received guidance from a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs and investors. Tom previously worked as a strategy consultant, where he leveraged data driven recommendations to help clients grow their businesses. More importantly, Tom started the office tradition of Smoothie Fridays. Tom holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Chicago.

Lexy Prodromos

Lexy is the Head of the Information Strategy at Bloq, Inc. a leading enterprise-grade blockchain software and services provider. In June 2017, Lexy was chosen to lead the newly created Chicago Blockchain Center (CBC) a 501c3 public/private initiative dedicated to blockchain advocacy, education and community innovation which she currently serves as executive director.

Nick Hamburger

Nick Hamburger is the Co-founder of Quevos, the world's first egg white chips. Quevos are high protein, high fiber, low carb chips made from egg whites-- a vastly healthier alternative to conventional salty snacks. After pursuing a Philosophy degree at UChicago for two years, Nick is currently on leave from school to run Quevos full time. When not selling egg white chips, Nick enjoys meditating and playing tennis.

Mitul Patel

Started MP Consulting to help entrepreneurs build world-class hardware in a nimble start-up environment. The Mitul brings years of product development expertise, procurement and supply chain relationships, and manufacturing focus to all of his designs to create a turnkey environment for the clients from concept to store shelves. Primary focus areas are IoT, wearable, smart home, industrial, and bio-medical applications.

Stephanie Mellinger

Stephanie is our Head of Marketing and Sales at Zenblen. She joins the team having worked in Marketing & Sales at multiple Fortune 500 companies, gaining experience that helps her drive company growth. She also played rugby for over six years, and she is scuba certified and has dived in five different countries. Stephanie received her B.S. in Marketing from Ferris State University with a minor in Spanish.

Tyler Masterson

Seasoned sales leader and entrepreneur with experience in building teams, go-to-market strategies, and play-books for high-growth technology startups. A demonstrated history of success in personal sales execution and managing explosive growth in teams and revenues for high trajectory organizations. He leverages his background in engineering and consulting to bring a unique combination of technical expertise and sales acumen to my teams and ventures.

Jimmy Odom

Professional career reflects over 5 years of executive level management along with an additional 2 years of junior management with additional marketing, business analysis and investing also serving as key decision maker within start-up, entrepreneurial and expansion environments. He is the co-founder of Bit Capital Group, which is a blockchain security company providing end-to-end cryptocurrency mining management services.

Ray Chay

Ray loves building things and in his spare time, provides strategic, operational, and financial advice to start-ups. He deeply enjoys finding problems and solving them using data-backed solutions, and believes that no important problem is ever easy. Ray has a background in leading direct M&A investments and managing portfolio companies, and has worked in Family Offices, Corporate Development, and M&A consulting.

Parth Choksi

Parth is the Co-founder and Head of Product and Technology at Meraki, a VR, AR, MR startup based out of Mumbai, India. He was actively involved as an evangelist in building the XR ecosystem. After the acquisition of Meraki, he moved to Star Sports (a part of The Walt Disney Company) where he led New Technologies and Innovations for their product vertical. After working on some exciting AI products there, he moved to the United States to pursue a Master of Engineering Management at Northwestern University.

Neal Marcus

Neal Marcus has practiced intellectual property and transactional law for over 15 years. He provides services to a wide spectrum of clients including newly formed start-ups, publicly traded companies and universities. He has extensive experience in the procurement, exploitation and enforcement of all aspects of intellectual property in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, he has represented clients on matters involving intellectual property due diligence and agreement negotiation and preparation. Prior to founding his own practice, he practiced law with the firms of Foley & Lardner in Chicago and Kane Dalsimer et al. in New York as well as serving as in-house counsel for Abbott Laboratories.

Peter Piekarczyk

Peter Piekarczyk is the co-founder of Draftbit: a tool that allows anyone to build native apps visually with almost no learning curve. Draftbit is built with ReasonML and has allowed his team to move quickly and effortlessly. He has experience in multiple programming languages from his work at Trunk Club and Foodboss. Peter loves to cycle, drink coffee and make music. He’s a huge fan of learning how to do new things. Peter was born in Chicago and speaks fluent Polish.

2019 Judges

Brad Schnitzer

Program Manager at Techstars Chicago. Founding member of mHub Chicago and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago. Serves on the board of Humanity Rising, Miracle League of Music City, and the Associate Board of Make-A-Wish Illinois.

John Renaldi

John is the co-founder and CEO of Jiobit, the award-winning location sharing platform for modern families. Prior to Jiobit, John held multiple product and technology leadership roles at Motorola Mobility. He is credited with building the first built-to-order D2C smartphone business, Moto Maker / Moto X. A self-taught software developer, John has an innate passion for technology that is built upon a foundation in marketing as an alumni of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana Gies School of Business.

Mary Hadley

Mary Hadley is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. In 2017, she led MakerGirl’s second summer #MakerGirlGoesMobile road trip to six different states educating over 520 girls throughout 37 sessions. Last fall, she recognized as one of Chicago Inno’s 25 under 25 and was shortlisted for two Women in IT Awards (Diversity Initiative of the Year and Rising Star of the Year) for her work with MakerGirl. This July, she started full-time as MakerGirl's Executive Director.

Julia Haried

Julia Haried is a Consultant at Deloitte & Touche in their Chicago office. Prior to working in Consulting she worked in Audit. She is also the Co-Founder & Executive Director of MakerGirl, which was founded while attending university. Through MakerGirl, Haried and her volunteer team have exposed almost 4,000 girls nationwide to CAD design and 3D printing. Her team has raised over $80K for #MakerGirlGoesMobile, a trailer outfitted with computers and 3D printers, which focuses this education to girls in rural, underserved and diverse communities and for their sessions produced in schools and universities.

Nick Arnett

Nick founded and serves on the board of WayPaver Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing humanity's greatest challenges by enabling lunar settlement. Prior to his work with WayPaver, Nick worked at the Thiel Foundation where he led the growth and development of their community of young visionaries for the Thiel Fellowship program. In lieu of going to college, Nick started a nonprofit at age 18 that studied the development of entrepreneurial ecosystems in mid-sized cities throughout the United States.

2019 Sponsors