Chicago has long been a city of innovation, boasting a thriving tech scene that is constantly evolving. As the world moves towards the next generation of user-owned internet, Chicago is quickly emerging as a hub for Web3 innovation. In an effort to showcase the city's top talent and deliver some much-needed optimism to the tech industry, Decasonic - a Web3 native venture and digital assets fund - has compiled a list of the top 20 Chicagoans working to build the future of the internet. The list features a diverse group of individuals, including capital allocators, founders, product managers, service providers, regulators, and more. In this blog, we'll explore some of the innovative projects and individuals that are driving the growth of Web3 technology in Chicago.
The Web3 community in Chicago is thriving, known for its welcoming attitude toward newcomers and dedication to fostering innovation. This vibrant ecosystem is home to a variety of notable projects and individuals, including Future Gallerie, an immersive digital art exploration event that took place in October 2022, and storyDAO, an open media platform that enables creators and fans to co-create content. These projects are just a few additional examples of the many exciting developments taking place in the Chicago Web3 community in addition to those mentioned below. With its commitment to collaboration and innovation, this ecosystem is poised to play a major role in the future of Web3 technology.
Alexandra Oleksiuk is the Senior Business Development Manager for World Business Chicago’s FinTech sector. Alexandra previously served as Bureau Expert at the Polish Investment and Trade Agency in their Foreign Trade Office in Chicago where she provided companies with custom, syndicated market research and business analysis to inform the directionality of their strategy.
Lamont Black - DePaul
Lamont Black is a professor of Finance in the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University in Chicago. In the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency course he currently teaches, Lamont focuses on “experiential learning”, and works with his students to conceptualize and create real-world solutions built on the blockchain.
Matt Schapiro - ImnotArt
Matt Schapiro was led into the Web3 space by way of gaming. He’s the CEO and co-founder of the first NFT art gallery in Chicago, ImnotArt. He believes there’s an endless list of possibilities when it comes to leading the world into NFTs and Web3. From art, to music, to fashion, it’s a game-changing technology and will open up a world of possibilities for creative communities and beyond.
Vishal Sachdev, UIUC
Vishal Sachdev is a clinical associate professor of business administration at the Gies College of Business who joined the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008. He has served as director of Illinois MakerLab since 2013, and the academic director of the new MS in Business Analytics program since 2021. He and is interested in researching the role of technology in enabling collective action, cooperative production, information sharing, sense-making, and collaborative work, which is especially relevant considering how DAO's have developed. He has been teaching about blockchain and Web3 for some time, and just finished a blockchain analytics course. He is working on building a pipeline of students who will research in this space along with faculty, on grants from protocols/foundations such as Solana, Avalanche, Graph, Filecoin and more. Vishal is passionate about building and learning in the open. His latest focus is on thought leadership for democratizing the access to AI models by promoting the use of decentralized storage and compute. At the same time he is also helping end users become proficient in combining the power
Stef Caldwell, Allowlist
Stef Caldwell, a former NCAA D1 athlete, personal development author, VC-backed tech startup operator, and angel investor specializing in helping tech startups and growth-stage companies grow revenues through her leadership in marketing, sales, and customer success. Stef co-hosts the Allowlist podcast alongside Lauren Tierney of Decasonic. As a weekly podcast and community focused on the future of consumers, Allowlist covers the companies creating it, the technologies powering it, and the VCs funding it. Over the past year, Allowlist has partnered with businesses in the Chicago community to host events, panels, and fireside chats around Web3, the future of technology, and the intersection of tech and culture. Caldwell believes that Chicago must not be left behind in the conversation around the future of technology and aims to build the communities she saw on the coasts, but felt were lacking in Chicago. With over 10 years of experience in Chicago's start-up ecosystem, Caldwell continues to give back to the community and is an important innovator to watch in the city's thriving tech scene.
Chicago's Web3 and crypto ecosystem is fortunate to have a wealth of capital providers who are eager to invest in the future of the industry. In addition to the top leaders highlighted in the list below, it's worth acknowledging other notable VC firms that are driving innovation in this space. Brevin Howard, a global alternative investment management platform, CTC Venture Capital Fund led by George Kalant, DRW Venture Capital headed by Kimberly Trautmann, Belvedere Strategic Capital, and CMT Digital are among the many firms contributing to Chicago's dynamic Web3 community. There are many outstanding capital providers in the city and in this year's piece we have highlighted the top 5 below that we believe are supporting the growth and development of Web3 and crypto technology in Chicago:
Lauren Tierney and Danny Pantuso joined Decasonic as Venture Investors in early 2023, expanding the investment team based in the company's Chicago office. With a rich background in gaming and as an ex-founder, Danny's focus is on helping founders find product-market fit, while sourcing deals across Web3 gaming. Lauren, on the other hand, brings with her extensive marketing experience and specializes in helping founders create compelling narratives across all aspects of Web3, with a special focus on Web3 commerce. The duo sources opportunities on the frontier of Web3 pre-seed, seed-stage venture, and digital assets, both domestically and internationally. They host weekly workshops in Decasonic’s Web3 war room and events throughout the city to meet with and support founders along their funding journey. As Decasonic continues to accelerate mainstream adoption of Web3 technology, Tierney and Pantuso are committed to connecting with founders daily to identify the most innovative and transformative Web3 use cases in Chicago and beyond.
Nina Essandoh, Corazon Capital
Nina Essandoh is the Vice President of Corazon Capital, a leading Chicago-based venture fund that brings a coastal approach to Pre-seed, Seed, and Series A investing. Nina joined Corazon Capital as a Vice President in 2022. Before Corazon Capital, she worked with Baird Capital focusing on Industrial Technology private equity investments. Nina also was a Senior Investment Associate with the Black Angel Technology Fund, an enterprise software and consumer tech angel investment fund. Nina began her career in investment banking with Credit Suisse, focused on industrial and consumer products businesses. During her career, Nina has worked in 12 cities across four continents. Her desire to partner with and spotlight unique early-stage businesses founded by diverse global entrepreneurs led her to join Corazon Capital. At Corazon, Nina invests in B2B and B2C utilitarian web 3 businesses.
Josh Rosenthal, Polychain Capital
Josh Rosenthal is a Portfolio Manager at Polychain Capital. Polychain is a leading investment firm in the cryptocurrency industry. Since its inception in 2016, Polychain has invested in cutting-edge protocols such as Avalanche, Arbitrum, Celestia, EigenLayer, and more through their venture funds and hedge fund. At Polychain, Josh invests in and supports early-stage and mature crypto networks. Prior to joining Polychain, he worked at J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and FalconX. Josh holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.
Sami Massih, Cumberland
DePaul University graduate Sami Massih is a research analyst on Cumberland’s incubation and strategy team. Cumberland is a subsidiary of Chicago-based DRW, a diversified trading firm that has a 30 year track record for leveraging technology, research, and risk management strategies to assist institutions in taking advantage of strategic market opportunities. Cumberland provides access to capital while ensuring the ecosystem grows sustainably and responsibly.
In the past year we have seen some of the biggest enterprise brands make Web3 plays. Below highlights the key leaders in Chicago driving those initiatives, but we would be remiss not to mention Lawrence Johnson the Senior Vice President & Head of Fintech Engagement, Morningstar, a leading provider of independent investment insights as well as Adam Kahn the Chief Creative officer at Grey Group one of the world's top advertising and marketing groups.
Domingo Menses, Shopify
Domingo Menses previously led Uber’s payments partnerships, Domingo Meneses joined Shopify’s merchant services partnerships team in 2021 where he focuses on fostering strategic fintech, blockchain and Web3 partnerships. Most recently Shopify partnered with a Web3 community management platform built on Avalanche, enabling Shopify retailers to integrate blockchain-based loyalty and rewards systems. Domingo is a DePaul University graduate.
Tony Bailey, Omnicon
Tony Bailey, currently serving as head of tech innovation at Omnicom, boasts a remarkable 25-year career marked by achievements in both consulting and advertising. Having been instrumental in shaping the landscape of web1 and contributing to the successful onboarding of numerous brands to the cutting-edge realm of Web3, Tony possesses a keen insight into how emerging technologies such as AI, Blockchain, and Immersive Media will shape the future of customer experiences.
Kaarthikeyan Subramaniam, Mars
Kaarthikeyan Subramaniam is the global Senior Lead of Web3 and immersive technologies at Mars, as well as the founding member of the company's internal Web3 community. Kaarthikeyan and his team are focused on building digital products, platforms, and experiences for brand and marketing initiatives, playing an essential role in bringing these immersive visions to life for Mars brands.
Lexi Gschke - Accenture
Lexi Geschke is a Business Design Manager at Accenture Song, where she works in the Metaverse Continuum Business Group's Studio arm to develop innovative, inclusive, and responsible Metaverse futures. Lexi views the metaverse as a continuum of digitally enhanced experiences and worlds spanning AR, XR, and VR that will revolutionize nearly all aspects of life and business in the next decade. Her work revolves around exploring how the metaverse continuum can transform interactions between customers, companies, and communities, creating new lines of business along the way. As our digital and physical worlds increasingly intersect, she believes that every company and individual has a role to play in shaping our collective futures, from building new physical and virtual realities to providing services in environments created by others. Prior to joining Accenture Song, Lexi was the founder and CEO of Nimble Marketing, a brand marketing agency specializing in end-to-end marketing solutions for a host of clients, including Web3 and blockchain businesses. A founding team member of MATTER, an $8M biotech incubator in Chicago with over 200 member companies, Lexi has been a part of Chicago's start-up ecosystem for more than a decade. Her contributions to the community have earned her a reputation as an innovator to watch in Chicago's ecosystem.
Adam Caplan - Salesforce
Adam Caplan, the General Manager of Web3 Technology at Salesforce, was previously the Senior Vice President of Emerging Technologies at the company. With a keen understanding of customer demand, Caplan has been instrumental in the recent launch of Salesforce Web3, which includes NFT management tools. The company's latest product enables brands to create connected customer experiences across Web2 and Web3, providing opportunities to deepen customer relationships and engage new audiences. Caplan has emphasized the importance of trust, noting that it is a core pillar for both Salesforce and its brands. He believes that entering the Web3 space safely and securely will protect brands and end consumers alike. As a leader in Web3 innovation, Caplan is dedicated to putting the customer first and driving Salesforce's success in the emerging technology landscape.
Croke Fairchild Morgan and Beres is a boutique corporate law firm in Chicago with partners specializing in the practice areas of Cryptocurrency, Digital Assets & Web3. Michael Frisch is a Partner at Croke Fairchild and specializes in guiding clients through complex and high-stakes investigations, enforcement matters, litigation, and negotiations at the intersection of government and business. Frisch works alongside Paige Bolinger, Corporate Attorney at the firm whom helps founders, emerging companies, investors, and funds achieve their goals by advising, strategizing, and executing on an array of transactional and governance matters including venture financings, corporate and fund formation, and growth strategies. Croke Fairchild attorneys have significant experience helping clients navigate government regulation, and structure deals and investments in the cryptocurrency, digital assets, Web3, and DeFi space and continue to support best-in-class compliance across the industry.
Chicago's Web3 start-up ecosystem is rapidly expanding, and in addition to the companies listed below, several honorable mentions deserve recognition. Bloq, co-founded by Matt Roszak, specializes in building the infrastructure, applications, and innovations that power Web3 and are expressions of its Tokenization of Things™ methodology. Entertainmint, co-founded by Genevieve Thiers, is a Web3 one-stop-shop for creating and fostering community around indie content. Another notable mention is Bitnomial, a US-based bitcoin derivatives exchange operator founded by Luke Hoersten. Alongside these companies, many other innovative start-ups are contributing to the thriving Web3 ecosystem in Chicago.
Bartosz Lipinski and Jordan Prince are the founders of B+J Studios, 0 to 1 builder studio developing world class blockchain-based solutions for mainstream consumer and institutional-grade use. Their NFT protocol Cupcake powered Lollapalooza’s 2022 digital asset experience. Cupcake also partnered with ROVE and Tommy Hilfiger to create Tommy Factory NFTs during the 2022 New York Fashion Week. Jordan and Bartosz both attended University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and derive from the traditional finance world as software developers at Citadel.
Andrew Killbride, TestMachine
Andrew Killbride is the co-founder and CEO of TestMachine, an artificial intelligence platform that gives developers the ability to identify and fix vulnerabilities in code during the design phase of blockchain projects. TestMachine works to provide audits at lighting speed without sacrificing security in a zero configuration environment. Andrew attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Join the soon-to-launch, Ann Arbor-based company’s waitlist to stay up to date.
Brett Harrison is the founder of Architect.xyz, a platform built to provide institutions and professional investors with innovative technological solutions for trading across global financial markets, including derivatives and digital assets. Like some of his peers mentioned in this article, Brett comes from the traditional finance world as Head of Trading Systems Technologies at Jane Street Capital. Brett attended Harvard University and resides in Chicago where he’s building Architect.xyz, on track to launch in summer 2023.
Drew is the CEO and Founder of Holder, a Web3 CRM and marketing automation platform. They help brands and creators understand their Web3 audiences and drive personalized, automated customer engagement. Drew is a career brand and marketing leader with a passion for Web3, startups, and data-driven marketing. He previously led the marketing organization at High Alpha, a venture studio that conceives, launches, and scales B2B SaaS startups, and spent his early career at ExactTarget and Salesforce. While at High Alpha, he helped co-found and launch over 35 B2B SaaS startups in 7 years before starting Holder. He's passionate about leveraging blockchain and NFT technology to redefine customer experiences and how brands connect and build relationships with their customers. Drew is an active participant in a number of Web3 communities and DAOs, including JUMP, SteelDAO, Purple, Pixel Vault Founder's DAO, and more. He is also the founder of Indy3, an Indianapolis Web3 community, now with over 100 members that meet regularly to network, learn, and bring more people in Indianapolis into the Web3 industry.
Tim Harris is the CEO of Paragon here in Chicago. Paragon is building an NFT Experience Platform that unleashes the power of digital collectibles across games, music, food, and sports, allowing owners to unlock new forms of value, buyers to add flexibility to their purchases, and creators to innovate on their collections. Tims's background spans product, gaming, and technology and he is excited for the innovations they're working on in the future of Web3 experiences, collections and community.
Chicago's Web3 ecosystem is thriving, thanks to the hard work and innovative thinking of its top 20 leaders. From the capital providers and startups to the community members and big leaders at big enterprises, Chicago is undoubtedly making its mark on the Web3 landscape. As the city continues to push boundaries and create new opportunities in the space, we can only expect to see more exciting developments in the near future. The list we've compiled is just a glimpse into the wealth of talent and innovation that exists in the city, and we look forward to seeing where these leaders and their projects will take us next.
The content of this material is strictly for informational and educational purposes and is not meant to constitute investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any asset or to make any financial decision. Nothing in these blog posts should be considered legal or tax advice. You should consult with your own professional advisor before making any financial decision. Decasonic offers no warranties on any content in the material posted in these blog posts, including that it is accurate, complete, or correct. The opinions expressed in these posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Decasonic. Decasonic is not liable for any errors or omissions in the content of this newsletter or for any actions taken based on the information provided herein.