Catapult Chicago Where Startups Come to Scale Thu, 24 Jul 2014 19:19:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Style Seek Company Profile Wed, 23 Jul 2014 15:11:04 +0000 As one of the first companies to join Catapult, StyleSeek is well known in our startup community. The personalized e-commerce site for lifestyle products, specifically fashion for men and women, has been growing rapidly since its inception in 2011. We were able to sit down with Tyler Spalding, CEO and Co-Founder, to get an inside look into this innovative company.

The main idea behind StyleSeek is to try to build a relevant system and sort through everything available on the Internet. Spalding has a background in data analytics and algorithms and wanted to put it to use somewhere. He began with clothing because there was good market opportunity, good structure data, and good consumer data. So far, the consumer responses to StyleSeek have been favorable. Since they’ve created a relevant system that isn’t invasive, meaning that StyleSeek doesn’t scrape information from you, they have been able to cut through the clutter on the web and sell a lot of clothing and accessories.

What differentiates StyleSeek from other companies in the industry is approaching lifestyle products from a new angle. Being a data driven company, StyleSeek relies on the data to tell them everything about consumer preferences. Part of what makes StyleSeek so unique is their StyleGame: a nine-step quiz that identifies your personal style by presenting pictures, not necessarily related to fashion, that you choose from between recognizable items such as 500 Days of Summer and Roman Holiday, a Range Rover and a Maserati. The StyleGame creates the user’s “Style DNA”, customizing the user’s preferences, in order to make the shopping experience unique for each individual user.

Even though StyleSeek has made a name for itself in the startup community, Spalding still says that there are companies he looks up to. He leans more towards emulating businesses that go after non-consumer plays and solves some sort of a need. Amazon is the first to come to mind, as the online retailer has been able to maintain smaller company culture while being a huge company. Similarly, Spalding looks up to Google for its useable consumer products, continuous reinvention, and creation of products that engage people in different ways.

Currently, StyleSeek has fourteen employees but is looking to expand on the engineering side. They are already a heavy engineering team, but they are searching for people who like prediction and data science—aspects of StyleSeek that really distinguish it from other personalized e-commerce sites. One requirement to fit in with the StyleSeek team: enjoy fast food. When asked what the team’s favorite restaurant in Chicago is, Spalding responds, “Engineers love McDonald’s.” When they’re not sipping on Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, the StyleSeek team is writing a ton of code. Right now, the Style Seek team is focused on creating new products in the mobile space as well as handling user experience information.

One of Tyler Spalding’s greatest fears is running out of challenges. Startups always have challenges and he would hate to get to a point where he’s done with StyleSeek and the difficulties that come with it. He always wants to be building something meaningful, continually innovating and engineering. Though running out of challenges is a fear for him, he doesn’t think it will ever happen. There is always something more to do … and we can’t wait to see what StyleSeek is up to next.

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Packback Graduates Catapult Fri, 18 Jul 2014 17:02:57 +0000 Packback has graduated from Catapult, having outgrown our space and joining the ranks of alumni that include Shiftgig, Bucketfeet & TempoIQ.

Packback joined Catapult at the beginning of 2014, bringing with them an energy, collaborative spirit, and work-hard attitude that fit right in with our community.

Packback allows students to rent their books on a per-day basis ($3-$5/day). Founders Kasey Gandham and Mike Shannon started the company in 2012 while still in college, to solve the problem of skyrocketing textbook prices. By offering a rent-to-own-model, Packback gives students the power to choose whether or not to purchase textbooks. Students save money by getting the chance to pay for a book only when they need it while publishers win by getting tapped back into revenue that had been lost to the used book market.

It has been a wild ride for Packback while at Catapult. In March, the founders appeared on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank, winning an investment from Mark Cuban and generating national attention. They followed that up locally in April with an interview on Bootstrapping in America on the tastytrade network, the popular show about startups.

We wish Kasey, Mike, and the whole Packback team continued growth and success as they begin this next chapter.

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Symbiosis Health Expands to New York City Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:13:58 +0000 Chicagoans are no longer the only lucky ones. Now residents of the Big Apple can benefit from Symbiosis Health - the healthcare startup that allows consumers to compare costs of medical services, schedule, and pre-pay for services – the “Expedia of healthcare.”

The expansion to NYC is a natural fit on their way to growing nationwide, as Symbiosis Health graduated from the NY based healthcare accelerator Blueprint Health before taking up residence at Catapult Chicago.

Check out the article in ChicagoInno - and don’t miss the Symbiosis Health explainer video.

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SEE8 Kickstarter Reached its Goal Tue, 15 Jul 2014 08:00:58 +0000 Congratulations to the Nettelhorst School 8th graders who launched a successful Kickstarter campaign and raised enough money (and then some!) to manufacture their new product Smart Mail.

These entrepreneurial 8th graders were part of the Science & Entrepreneurship Exchange (SEE8) program, a seven month long product development and entrepreneurial program. Catapult was proud to participate, by hosting the pitch competition that selected the winning product design.

These entrepreneurial youths also generated a lot of press for their product and the SEE8 program. Check it out:

Article in Crain’s

Video on NBC

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Learnerator Joins Catapult Mon, 14 Jul 2014 05:30:23 +0000 Catapult is excited to announce that Learnerator, the online test prep platform, has joined Catapult.

Learnerator combines world-class content with innovative delivery mechanisms. With comprehensive practice questions and accompanying explanations developed by expert teachers, students will build confidence, be better prepared, and understand concepts more deeply. The courses represent the higher end of the academic spectrum (AP, ACT, SAT) and seek to teach these tougher concepts through practice and interactivity. Learnerator’s mission is to help people master their understanding of complex academic subjects and add a sense of enjoyment and discovery to learning.

Learnerator was recently featured in Built in Chicago: Why Test Prep Platform Learnerator is Building a Business Based on Content, Not on Tech. 

We welcome founders Luke Liu and Will Yang, and the entire Learnerator team, to our Catapult community!

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TempoDB Changes Name to TempoIQ Sat, 12 Jul 2014 19:26:24 +0000 Catapult Alumni TempoDB is now TempoIQ, to reflect its focus on sensor analytics. The Internet of Things has everyone abuzz and TempoIQ is at the forefront.

There’s a lot of great press to go along with the name change and the company’s expanding client offerings:

Database Startup TempoDB Becomes TempoIQ, Refocuses on Sensor Analytics in Gigaom

The Moxie Winner for ‘Best B2B Startup’ is Changing its Name. Here’s Why in ChicagoInno

“Opening Acts” Featuring TempoIQ Co-founder Justin Delay in Built In Chicago

Got Big Data? TempoIQ Aims to Point You to the Insights In It in Chicago Blue Sky Innovations

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The State of Innovation in Chicago Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:34:55 +0000 Check out this 70 second video of Chicago’s “Thought-Leaders” talking about the city’s state of innovation on ChicagoInno.

Don’t miss our own Ryan Leavitt, co-founder/President of Catapult and VP of Business Development for VLinks Media, share his opinion at .46.

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The Black Sheep Company Profile Mon, 07 Jul 2014 08:00:11 +0000      For the next few months, Catapult will be interviewing residents to get an inside look as to what a typical day at Catapult is like. One of our newest members, Atish Doshi of The Black Sheep, sat down with us and told us a little bit about himself as well as his company.

     The Black Sheep is a collegiate media company that allows local and national brands a one-stop shop to reach the collegiate demographic through an in-house, integrated multi-channel approach. Atish Doshi started The Black Sheep, while he was in college at the University of Illinois and soon after moved to Chicago to take advantage of the resources the city has to offer. Doshi fell in love with the vibe of the city and believes it’s a great place for entrepreneurs because it nurtures growth and houses resources and places like Catapult that help businesses develop as individuals and as companies.

Compared to other college magazines, The Black Sheep puts an emphasis on making the content relevant for students based on where they go to school. By having the content written by students at each particular school both online and in print, The Black Sheep is able to relate to college students and provide them with valuable information in a witty, accessible way. With a wide variety of topics to choose from, including “Top 10: Ways Netflix Can Help You Study” and Daily Bar Specials tailored to each university, college students stay up to date on campus happenings and take a break from the stress of academic life. The Black Sheep’s ideal customer is any business or brand trying to reach college students—in particular, businesses targeting the more social and outgoing student.

The silliness Atish Doshi describes is definitely a key component to The Black Sheep’s work environment. With juvenile and humorous content, there is a degree of seriousness in a funny culture. Being productive and providing great editorial feedback to writers when they know the content is meant to be funny and entertaining makes The Black Sheep one of a kind. Their unique office environment is especially palpable when considering the team’s activities. To bond, The Black Sheep team does taste tests and experiments with products sent by clients, such as a Taco Bell taste test they did last month. Not only are the taste tests exciting, they also provide editorial and business opportunities for the magazine. The team is hoping to get a Bocce Ball event going, too. It seems as though The Black Sheep has struck quite the balance.

Since beginning The Black Sheep, Doshi has gained significant insight into life as an entrepreneur. The worst advice he’s received? “If you want things done right, you always have to do it yourself.” Doshi notes that you gain a lot of value by trusting people and letting them take on responsibilities. Once you establish that trust, you allow them to grow as a person and help your business grow as well. Along the same lines, Doshi notes that trust management is the most important skill needed to be a successful entrepreneur. Between the everyday craziness, highs and lows, and attempting to balance your personal life and your professional life, trust management seems to be the only thing keeping entrepreneurs sane and motivated.

Ultimately, Doshi would like The Black Sheep to become “the one-stop-shop for students to get everything they need for their social collegiate life.” We definitely think The Black Sheep is headed in the right direction and we can’t wait to see what’s ahead for Atish Doshi and his team.


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Craig Vodnik named finalist for EY Entrepreneur of the Year Wed, 02 Jul 2014 08:00:15 +0000 Craig Vodnik, co-founder of cleverbridge, a full-service e-commerce provider for companies that sell software and SaaS, has been named a finalist for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2014 in the Midwest.

 As Catapult Everest Program‘s first Sherpa company, cleverbridge participates in monthly in-depth discussions with Catapult startups on various topics and offers near real-time curated access to their company employees through the Everest email channel.

In response to this recognition, Craig Vodnik told PR Web, “This award validates the commitment to our clients and our community that we’ve always strived for since the formation of the company.” Congratulations to Craig—what an achievement and well deserved.

Check out this article to learn more about Craig Vodnik, cleverbridge, and the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year program.

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Celebrate with Catapult! Tue, 01 Jul 2014 08:00:29 +0000 With help from Catapult Chicago’s startups, getting ready for the Fourth of July has never been easier.

Looking for the perfect outfit to pledge allegiance? Take StyleSeek’s StyleGame to find the clothes that will really show off your patriotism.

Speaking of fashion…how about some red, white, and blue Bucketfeet to complete your look? With plenty of styles and artists to choose from, you’ll have everyone asking, “where did you get those shoes?”

While you’re relaxing by the lake, catch up on the latest happenings with The Black Sheep. There’s no better time than now to relive your college days and celebrate your independence.

After you’ve read all about the bar specials near you, take a break and go fish! Fishing Enthusiast has got you covered with gifts for the fishermen in your life (and there’s nothing wrong with giving a gift to yourself!).

Nothing gets you ready for the holiday quite like a solid playlist. Tactify’s Sharetapes allow you to make a playlist on YouTube, Spotify, 8tracks and more, then write it to a blank tape and share it with your friends. Tim McGraw, anyone?

Want to host an American-themed party but don’t know where to start? Dabble and Knoitall can help you find a class to make party planning easy. Soon you’ll know exactly how to bake festive pastries and create the perfect party table.

If all else fails and you still can’t find anything to do? Play some games! can tell you which Disney princess you are and what type of vacation you should take.

Hope everyone has a safe and relaxing July 4th!

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