Disrupt the Midwest

November 7 - 8
Virtual Event

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.

Stay updated by following Founders - Illinois Entrepreneurs on Facebook!

Building on 2 years of sucessful Forges this Virtual Edition of Forge will bring together top startups from over 18 Midwestern Universities. Participants will have the opportunity to listen to panels, speeches, and receive 1 on 1 mentoring from VCs and top Entrepreneurs. Organized Networking sessions will provide startups with networking time with other startups and industry professionals.



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 prizes in the pitching competition.

arrowHow will the pitching competition work?

On November 8th, 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 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 or Individuals interested in entrepreneurship! 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 and students are welcome.

arrowWhen will I hear back?

The application’s deadline is November 4th, and we will be sending out acceptances on a rolling basis. Everyone will hear back by November 5th.

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 7th online and ends at 5 pm on November 8th.

arrowWhat do I need to attend the event

Participants should have Zoom and other software listed in the Info Email installed, while Attendees can watch the live stream from Youtube.

arrowHow many people from my team can I bring?

This virtual edition of Forge allows for startups to bring unlimited attendees, but only up to 4 participants will have access to prizes, etc.

Saturday: Speeches, Panels, Mentoring, Networking

Sunday: Pitching, Startup Showcase

Full Weekend Schedule

2020 Speakers

Lucy Guo

Lucy Guo is a founding partner at Backend Capital, a venture fund that invests in brilliant engineers as early as possible. Previously, she co-founded Scale AI, which accelerates its customers' AI development by democratizing access to intelligent data. In her spare time, she's created apps that over 10 million people worldwide have used.

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.

Under-Represented Founders Panel

Taylor Elyse Morrison

Taylor Elyse Morrison is the founder of Inner Workout. Taylor started her career at a Fortune 100 before moving to the world of startups. Today, she is on a mission to help others beat burnout through sustainable self-care practices. Taylor is a certified group fitness instructor and a certified 200 hr yoga teacher.

Victor Jones

Dough is led by Victor Jones, former director of Trading and Operations at TD Ameritrade, lifelong innovator, and inspired storyteller. Victor has spent his entire 13-year finance career in service of retail investors. In his previous role, he spearheaded trading innovation initiatives and managed the client trading experience in platforms in both the United States and Asia.

Ananya Tiwari

Ananya Tiwari is the cofounder of SwaTaleem Foundation that works with underrepresented rural adolescent girls in India to enhance their educational outcomes through socio-emotional skills using human centered design. The work has won the 2020 Illinois Innovation Prize, 2020 YMCA Bailey fellowship, 2019 Illinois International Achievement Award and was part of iVenture 5.

2020 VC Panel

Victor Gutwein

Victor grew up in northwestern Indiana before moving to Chicago to study economics at the University of Chicago. Victor has a passionate history with startups, including a vending machine business and kick scooter company, along with being on the board of UChicago’s first student-run venture fund. A Kauffman Fellow (Class 22) and former leader in Hyde Park Angels, Victor founded M25 in 2015 and quickly grew it to become the most active venture firm in the Midwest. Victor lives with his wife and two kids on the South Side of Chicago and loves staying active with running, biking, swimming, backpacking and any euro-style board game (like Settlers of Catan).

Yelena Shkolnik

Yelena joined Jump in 2015 and leads investment opportunities in the digital media sector. Prior to joining Jump, Yelena was an investor with MK Capital, where she supported MK’s portfolio companies and invested in enterprise software, cloud computing and marketing technology. She was also an associate with McNally Capital, where she focused in energy and closed an investment in the clean energy space.

Pete Wilkins

Pete Wilkins is a purpose-driven leader committed to creating a positive impact in the world. As a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, board member, and advisor, he has worked with some of the world’s best entrepreneurs and top venture capital firms to help purposefully grow their companies from seed investment into industry leaders.

2020 Mentors

Jazmin Garcia

Jazmin Garcia serves as the Business Resource Manager for ChiBizHub at World Business Chicago (WBC). Serving as the primary contact for businesses and nonprofits, Jazmin also serves as the primary Spanish media representative, including Univision POSiBLE segments, to provide equitable resources to the Latinx/Hispanic business community. She is a Queer first-generation proud Mexican-American woman. Jazmin is a Social Impact and Nonprofit Leader at the Baumhart Center at Loyola University’s Quinlan School of Business, Emerging Leader of the Chicago Women in Philanthropy, former Public Policy Fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of San Diego.

Katherine Molony

Katherine’s experience includes involvement with a variety of regulatory and reporting frameworks including US GAAP, and Uniform Guidance (formerly A-133). She’s collaborated with engagement teams to complete complex, multi-locational audit engagements, often with strict deadlines. Her experiences have given her a working knowledge of complex audit areas including purchase accounting, investments, pensions, derivatives, patient revenues, and contingencies.

Aahlad Vadrevu

Aahlad is a tech professional from Chicago. He got his B.S. in Industrial Engineering from UIC and went on to gain experience in Design, Manufacturing and Supply Chain. His expertise is in implementing new processes (such as Agile or Lean transformations) and will forever be a physics and math nerd. Outside of work, his main hobbies are dance and cooking.

Austin McCulloh

Austin McCulloh is a 23-year-old entrepreneur who, by the age of 20, had already begun his executive career. He is the Principal Consultant & Founder of Austin McCulloh Advising, which is a human capital consulting firm that is on a mission to help sales professionals, such as financial advisors, insurance agents, & other entrepreneurs, grow their book of business & increase their income. Austin’s high energy, strong discipline, and intense drive make him the perfect fit for these professionals looking to take their career to the next level. Additionally, Austin managed just under half a million dollars in Assets Under Management (AUM) as a 21-year-old financial advisor, operated his first business, Supercorn Tutoring which taught English to over 700 Chinese children, and advised on the executive board for two, large finance organizations all while being a student at the University of Iowa.

Neelan Veloo

Neelan studied ECE at the University of Illinois and graduated in December of 2018. While on campus Neelan co-founded two startups and led EntreCORPS as a partner. Neelan joined Human Capital as a Principal in 2019. Outside of work you can find him struggling to learn how to cook, listening to lots of music, and reading anything/everything about tech.

Vishnu Indukuri

"Founder, CTO @ Trala. Trala is a music education company and our first product is an app that teaches violin. We've raised $4.8M and teach thousands of students every day. Ask me about building product and hiring during the seed stage."

Divyaditya Shrivastava

Divyaditya Shrivastava is the CEO of Paladin Drones and a Thiel Fellow. He dropped out of college in 2018 to deploys autonomous drones to 911 calls, giving first responders a live overhead view of an emergency before they arrive. Divy loves building products and growing them to maturity, pad kee mao from Imm Thai @ Berkeley, and reading novels (his current favorite series is Red Rising from Pierce Brown).

Connor Lake

Connor is a security focused backend go developer. He founded Stackend Solutions 3 years ago, building custom SaaS and web scraping apps for startups.

Mitul Patel

Mitul Patel is an Electrical Engineer, consultant, product developer, entrepreneur, and innovator with 11 technology patents submitted to date. Mitul is currently President and CEO of a turnkey product development company, MP Consulting LLC, with 40 employees focusing on consumer technology, industrial sensing, medical devices, and home tech.

Bryan Sun

Skilled product/project manager with 5+ years of experience in planning, executing, and evaluating projects in coordination with timelines and budgets, and building proactive teams in product. Founder and owner of Helios Threads, KLA Alum, OpenSymmetry Alum, & Advisor at Founders - Illinois Entrepreneurs.

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.

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.

Matt Rastovac

Matthew is a cofounder and Head of Engineering at Atmos, a custom home-building marketplace. Previously, he was the first Data Engineer at Cameo, and Co-President at Founders UIUC. Matthew is passionate about improving the standard of living through building homes and cultivating communities. He advises and invests in early stage startups tackling deeply systemic and technically complex problems facing the world.

Allie Knull

As a recruitment professional, I strive to build the relationship with each and every candidate. My agenda is to find the right fit for both the organization and the individual. I am truly inspired when I can see careers blossom and there is a true passion for the job. My career path includes mentoring others who are launching their careers as well by providing advice and counsel from my experience transitioning into Human Resources.

Niharika Hanglem

Currently, I am consulting for the Melinda Gates-backed GET Cities initiative- launched in Chicago in 2020. As GET (Gender Equality in Tech) Cities' first hire in Chicago, I lead research initiatives and am developing the programmatic frameworks to be used for the GET Cities expansion nationally. Previously, I was a Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship consultant for the World Bank, working on various social entrepreneurship and data innovation projects. I am also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow building on my passion to create significant social impact using market-based solutions for innovative projects across service delivery models.

Daniel Gambrell

As Illinois Ventures’ Senior Associate, Daniel sources investments, assists on diligence, and mentors entrepreneurs on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. His work takes him across campus seeing cutting edge research in nanotechnology, robotics, autonomy, and computing. Daniel also manages the Illinois Ventures internship program, where he gets to work with students passionate about venture capital.

Preeti Chalsani

Preeti Chalsani, PhD, serves as the director of industry partnerships for quantum information science in a joint position with the Polsky Center and the Chicago Quantum Exchange (CQE). In this role, Preeti seeks to build connections between industry and CQE member research institutions with the goal of advancing development of quantum information science and enabling technologies. She interfaces with CQE researchers and manages a portfolio of industry partners ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups to build strategic partnerships for research, knowledge and technology transfer, and workforce and ecosystem development. She engages the Polsky Center’s resources and network and the CQE’s technical expertise and talent to spur the creation and growth of new quantum information science ventures.

2020 Judges

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.

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.

Ben Thayer

Ben is a former Microgrants Panelist and loves hearing new ideas. He works as COO of Stackend Solutions, where he manages teams that build MVPs for startups. On his own, Ben spends his time reading and working on side projects.

2020 Sponsors