This week we take a visit to the Windy City. Even though the winters are brutally cold, the startup community is heating up and gaining some serious momentum. Catapult is a major player in the burgeoning Chicago startup accelerator scene.
Catapult is a collaborative community of digital startups located in the heart of Chicago’s River North neighborhood. I spoke with Michelle Soble, the Marketing Director at Catapult about their mission and experience.
In just one sentence, what is your accelerator called and what do you do?
Catapult Chicago is a selective community of technology startups that have demonstrated business traction (i.e., in or near market, early revenue, etc.). Part incubator, part accelerator, part coworking space, Catapult provides educational programming, mentoring, and networking to help our companies get to the next stage of growth.
What makes your program different or unique? And related, what’s your primary value-add?
Catapult sets itself apart in that all of our companies are “peer selected.” To join our space, potential new companies are vetted and voted in by the founders of the resident startups. This selectivity cultivates a close-knit community of serious entrepreneurs working hard to grow their businesses. Catapult is a supportive, trusting environment where founders feel comfortable sharing challenges and asking for help.
Catapult is the only non-profit coworking space in Chicago for tech startups that have demonstrated business traction. Our resident companies are in different tech industries but at a similar stage of the startup life-cycle. Therefore, we focus all of our community efforts - educational programming, Founder’s Forums, mentoring, networking, service provider resources - to support the current needs of the companies in our space.
Aa a Chicago startup accelerator, Catapult offers startups both the advantages of private office space and a coworking community. Each company gets a private office where they can close their door to get quality work done and build their own company culture. At the same time, there’s professional community space (common area, kitchen, printing, conference rooms, meeting areas, kegerator, etc.) to build relationships, network, gain insights from peers, and let loose.
What do you love the most about working with startups?
We get a front row seat to the startup experience - hard work, challenges, setbacks, and successes. The time that a company is at Catapult is one of tremendous growth and opportunity. I love watching a young startup move into Catapult as a scrappy group of 3 or 4 people and within 2 years they are a seasoned team of 10+.
It’s incredible to see a company outgrow our space and move into their first “forever” home. And through our alumni network, we continue to watch our companies scale - some are even on their second and third “forever” homes!
What is the hardest or most surprising part of working with startups?
Many startup founders need to shift their focus when they move past the “idea stage” and work towards growing their business. We sometimes have to push the founders to take a step back from their immediate duties to consider their new responsibilities - developing work-flow processes, hiring sales and developers, delegating assignments, building company culture and communicating their vision to the team.
Do you have a success story to share? Who are a few of the most notable or interesting companies to go through your program?
After 4 years, 35 companies have come through Catapult and 90% are still in business. Collectively, they have raised nearly $100 million and employ over 525 people (and are projecting to increase headcount by 65% this year!).
Shiftgig is the biggest company to come out of Catapult so far. In November, they raised a $22 million Series B round of venture funding. Other notable alumni include: BucketFeet, Lumere (formerly Procured Health), Opternative and Packback. Our current residents include: Rent Like a Champion (a Shark Tank winner), Page Vault, Rippleshot, and Occasion.
How, if in any way, has Foundersuite helped your companies?
So many of our companies fundraise while they are at Catapult (they often move in after a Seed round and leave after a Series A). We just introduced Foundersuite and the new Investor CRM to our community, and already many of our residents are eager to get started!
Finally, what is your best tip for running a startup?
Be a part of a community. Whether it’s in a coworking space, incubator, or accelerator, or just part of a startup group, it’s important to stay connected. Spending time with other entrepreneurs and startup founders will provide learning opportunities. It will also keep you motivated, and offer a support network during the tough times.
Thank you and have a great day!