June 17, 2012
At the Catapult Chicago incubator, the action centers around a collaborative workspace in the middle of its 12,000 square-foot office. There, you can find team members from startups like MentorMob, Techli.com, and Dabble coding, chatting, and creating.
Catapult had its grand opening event on Wednesday. The hybrid incubator-coworking space is designed for later-stage Chicago startups – or “scale-ups” – with traction and 6-8 employees. As they face similar obstacles, they come together to share advice and best practices.
On a weekday afternoon, you might find startups attending workshops on legal and financial issues, hiring, fundraising, accounting, or IT. Because Catapult isn’t backed by a single VC firm – it’s run as a non-profit with corporate sponsors – VCs from all different firms may pop in. The startups pay low rent ($1,000/month for a large office or $500/month for a small one), and they stay for 6 months at a time, up to 18 months.
What’s different about Catapult is that it’s run by the startups. For example, new residents are selected by the existing residents, and the entrepreneurs have a say in topics for the workshops. The 12 startups also take on some responsibilities, like finding speakers, sponsors, and mentors.
Chicago entrepreneur Ryan Leavitt cofounded the space with Vishal Shah of VLinks Media. Here’s what Leavitt had to say about their place in the Chicago startup ecosystem:
Tech Cocktail: Why was this needed in Chicago?
Ryan Leavitt: The startup ecosystem is growing at an incredible pace. There’s a lot more emphasis from large organizations and big businesses in Chicago and the government in Chicago to help these companies grow. We’ve seen successes with obviously Groupon and GrubHub and some other tech companies like Vibes Media. … And so now more than ever there are these funded later-stage startups that have between 6 and 10 people and they still need some nurturing, they need a place to go, and they need an environment where they can really build their startups before they go out on their own. So we’re kind of a stepping stone to that later stage and helping these companies scale up.
Tech Cocktail: How does the community-run aspect make Catapult different from other spaces?
Leavitt: Being in an environment where [entrepreneurs] have a say in how it operates and how it runs and the direction that it needs to be going in to help improve their company – but also the other companies that are in the space – they’ll be more bought in. The founders have an [interest in] helping the companies, helping Catapult succeed, because they feel like they’re part of it. They’re not just selected to come here, they’re also selecting who comes in and how they participate. And because of that, it perpetuates itself. People are really drawn to the community-like feel of Catapult. … It’s a much more intimate feeling in that you know everybody else who’s here. It’s a very friendly atmosphere, very open, and just walking around there’s just an incredible energy.
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