Seven startups achieved unicorn status in 2021, twice as many compared to 2020

CHICAGO – June 24, 2021 – In 2021 alone, seven companies in Chicago have become unicorns (startup companies valued at over $1 billion), according to World Business Chicago and financial data from software firm Pitchbook.

“From our central location to our talented, diverse workforce, our great city has always stood out as an ideal spot for tech and innovation startups to grow their business and thrive,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “That’s why I am beyond proud to join World Business Chicago in declaring June 24 as ‘Unicorn Day’ to not only celebrate the seven latest Chicago-based companies who have reached unicorn status but celebrate the many more that are sure to come. As our city’s economy continues to bounce back and become stronger than ever before, I look forward to seeing these companies find even more success and am excited to welcome Chicago’s next cohort of ‘unicorns’ in the near future.”

Chicago startups have raised more than local companies did in all of 2019 and are on pace to break 2020’s record high of 2.8 billion. Chicago’s spike in venture funding in Q1 outpaced every other major city in the U.S., with quarterly VC funding increasing more than 300 percent year-over-year.

The term ‘unicorn’ was coined by venture capitalist and angel investor, Aileen Lee, in 2019. Acquiring unicorn status is enviable, and many startups are joining the unicorn family as the world begins to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Investors have invested millions of dollars in businesses and the number of unicorns has grown unprecedented, pouring cash into the startup ecosystem.

“Startup companies in Chicago are attracting a record amount of VC capital and accelerating their growth because of the city’s supportive tech and innovation ecosystem,” said Michael Fassnacht, president and CEO, World Business Chicago, and chief marketing officer, City of Chicago. “These unicorn companies are a testament to the fact that Chicago is a city of innovation where startups can easily start, incubate, and solve important challenges with technology.”

Steve Galanis, CEO and founder of popular Chicago-based startup, Cameo, which allows users to purchase personalized video shout-outs from celebrities, reached unicorn status in March. Galanis praises the city’s entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to innovation for helping it to flourish.

“Cameo started as a bold idea with strong roots at 1871 that was well-supported and championed by Chicago’s startup community,” said Galanis. “Our growth shows why our city is now home to a strong community of unicorns demonstrating our thriving ecosystem for entrepreneurs and the next generation of innovative ventures.”

Earlier this week, G2, a company that provides an online software review and information database, announced that it has raised a $157 million Series D. Per, bringing the company’s worth to more than $1 billion, making it the seventh unicorn in Chicago to date in 2021.

G2’s achievement brings the total number of Chicago unicorns to over 15, with the majority in software and TMT verticals, with others in big data, AI, FinTech, HealthTech and supply chain tech, including: ActiveCampaign*, Amount*, Avant, Bringg*, Cameo*, Enfusion*, G2*, Groupon, LivingSocial, Mu Sigma, Project44*, SMS Assist, Tempus Labs, Trustwave, Uptake, and VillageMD. (*Denotes company became a tech-Unicorn in 2021.)

“We’re thrilled to be Chicago’s most recent unicorn – seven 2021 unicorns is amazing! Part of the reason we have become a unicorn company is because Chicago is a great home for G2 as it provides us direct access to talent, clients, quality of life, and an incredibly supportive civic and business community,” said Godard Abel, co-founder & CEO, G2. “As we continue to expand with our recent funding, Chicago offers easy and direct connectivity to the world, which is core in supporting our plans for strong growth across Europe and Asia.”

Chicago has many strengths and attributes that support the city’s robust startup community. A full list is available at

Among the top reasons include:

  • Home to #1871, the No. 1 Private Business Incubator in the World;
  • Chicago is the No. 1 city for highest VC Multiple on Invested Capital, at 5.6 times;
  • 2 best data center market globally for investment and site selection;
  • Chicago is identified as the No. 1 easiest city (population >1M) to start a business; and,
  • Chicago is a Top 15 global startup ecosystem.

“This is another testament that Chicago is a national, top-tier ecosystem for startup investment and growth,” said Mark Tebbe, chair of the WBC’s ChicagoNEXT Council and WBC Executive Committee member. “Today is a celebration for our local unicorns, as well as our entire tech and startup community – with more successes to come.”

“In 2021, ActiveCampaign now serves 150,000+ customers in 170 countries – reaching record usage levels and team growth,” said Jason VandeBoom, CEO and Founder of ActiveCampaign. “We’re proud to be amongst a growing group of Chicago unicorns, a testament to why our city leads as a global leader for innovation.”

The Chicago Venture Summit, an annual event for venture capitalists to connect with the city’s startups, will return this fall after being canceled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The two-day event, hosted by World Business Chicago is scheduled for Sept. 28-29, 2021. 2021 Chicago Venture Summit Press Release.

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