The combined activity of three transcription factors can reprogram adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). However, the transgenic methods used for delivering reprogramming factors have raised concerns regarding the future utility of the resulting stem cells. These uncertainties could be overcome if each transgenic factor were replaced with a small molecule that either directly activated its expression from the somatic genome or in some way compensated for its activity. To this end, we have used high-content chemical screening to identify small molecules that can replace Sox2 in reprogramming. We show that one of these molecules functions in reprogramming by inhibiting Tgf-beta signaling in a stable and trapped intermediate cell type that forms during the process. We find that this inhibition promotes the completion of reprogramming through induction of the transcription factor Nanog.