Catapult Chicago http://catapultchicago.com Where Startups Come to Scale Sat, 22 Nov 2014 14:59:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Opternative Graduates Catapult http://catapultchicago.com/opternative-graduates-catapult/ http://catapultchicago.com/opternative-graduates-catapult/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 22:26:58 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3253 Congratulations to Opternative, graduating from Catapult and moving into their own office space. Opternative joined Catapult in November 2013 and what a year it has been! In February, Opternative closed a $1 Million seed round of funding and generated a lot of great press surrounding its reveal to the public. In September, they were one of only […]]]>

Congratulations to Opternative, graduating from Catapult and moving into their own office space.

Opternative joined Catapult in November 2013 and what a year it has been! In February, Opternative closed a $1 Million seed round of funding and generated a lot of great press surrounding its reveal to the public. In September, they were one of only 30 midwest tech startups selected to participate in the first Chicago Venture Summit. Check out co-founder and CEO Aaron Dallek’s interview on Bootstrapping in America, and cofounder and EVP Dr. Steven Lee’s interview with Catapult from our Catapult Company Profile series.

Opternative is creating the world’s first online refractive eye exam that gives you a valid prescription for glasses and contacts (for $30). The company that is aiming to revolutionize the eye care industry is also raising a lot of eyebrows among eye care professionals – not surprising for any company disrupting the status quo.

Opternative has been a vital part of our Catapult community (and a large part of it as they have outgrown two large offices), and we’ve certainly enjoyed all the free eye exams! We wish Aaron, Steven and the entire Opternative team the best of luck in their new digs.

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Chicago Creative Spaces – ContextMedia http://catapultchicago.com/chicago-creative-spaces-contextmedia/ http://catapultchicago.com/chicago-creative-spaces-contextmedia/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 17:26:13 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3209 ContextMedia‘s new office captures the essence of the company with its physical space. Watch the video from Chicago Creative Spaces, showcasing the amazing features of the new office (from treadmill desks to collaborative spaces to glass wall of employee photos), while also highlighting ContextMedia’s company culture. The office was built by Leopardo with furniture by Henricksen, a Catapult […]]]>

ContextMedia‘s new office captures the essence of the company with its physical space. Watch the video from Chicago Creative Spaces, showcasing the amazing features of the new office (from treadmill desks to collaborative spaces to glass wall of employee photos), while also highlighting ContextMedia’s company culture.

The office was built by Leopardo with furniture by Henricksen, a Catapult sponsor. What an amazing job they did with the innovative, functional and comfortable digs!

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Learnerator Company Profile http://catapultchicago.com/learnerator-company-profile/ http://catapultchicago.com/learnerator-company-profile/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 20:47:06 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3128 Luke Liu started Learnerator from his dorm room at Northwestern University in 2011, but it took a few years of trial and error (and day jobs) “to find our direction and focus.” The perseverance and hard work paid off – in January 2014, Liu and cofounder Will Yang officially launched their test prep platform. They raised $300K in seed funding […]]]>

Luke Liu started Learnerator from his dorm room at Northwestern University in 2011, but it took a few years of trial and error (and day jobs) “to find our direction and focus.” The perseverance and hard work paid off – in January 2014, Liu and cofounder Will Yang officially launched their test prep platform. They raised $300K in seed funding in June and moved into Catapult. Since that time, the still-young startup has been a full time effort for the two cofounders. (Also, check out an interview with Liu on Bootstrapping in America from July.)

At its core, Learnerator is an education company. Their online test prep platform provides comprehensive, challenging and interactive practice questions – to engage students but ultimately to best prepare them for the test. Currently, courses represent the higher end of the academic spectrum (AP, ACT, SAT). This is just the thing Liu would’ve wanted when he was taking 11 AP exams in high school! His love of learning, entrepreneurial spirit, and drive to succeed has always been a part of Liu.

We sat down with the cofounder to get the answer key to all things Learnerator.

Tell us about where Learnerator is right now? What has your team been working on recently?

Right now we are working to expand our content base and develop better features for teachers to monitor their students’ progress. We are expanding to subjects outside of AP exams, which has been our core product, while better understanding how educators would ideally use our platform.

Where do you see your company in the next 2-3 years?

We see ourselves becoming the most trusted and accessible source for exam prep materials online for a variety of standardized exams.

How do you market your business?

We generally market through search and social media. People find us very organically because of the breadth of our content and its openness to search engines. We also work to build a strong reputation with teachers and parents through our blog and social media.

How do you handle conflicts among the founders/leaders of your company?

We split the company up into functional areas and each founder has final say in their domains. Although we sometimes have heated arguments that are productive, that respective person has the final say to make sure that we don’t get bogged down in debate. Making a bad decision and adjusting quickly is better than making no decision.

What would you say is the most important skill needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

I think it would be to have an acute sense of rebellion and dissatisfaction. You have to be willing to challenge things that may not seem to be broken, to arrive at some insights that no one else has considered, and be willing to fight for it when others do not see it also. And when you achieve more and more success, you have to keep that sense of never being satisfied to keep innovating. Perhaps not a good life philosophy, but a good startup one.

What is the best startup/entrepreneurial advice you ever received? What was the worst?

The best is from one of our advisors, Ben Slivka, who constantly reminds us to focus on making customers happy and working on only a handful of initiatives at a time. I think it is a common tendency to try and bite off more than you can chew and never building a strong enough foundation in any one area. Ben’s advice has kept us focused and I am glad that we have done so.

I think the worst advice we have gotten was to hire a salesperson when at the time what we needed was more product people. We ended up hiring a product person and in retrospect I am sure that was the right decision.

What does your team do to bond/relax?

We play ping pong and grab drinks and dinners together.

Do you ever find it difficult to take a break from your business? How (if at all) do you find work/life balance?

I personally do, but I think that is normal for most founders because we all are passionate about what we do. For me, it is easier because I am not married and don’t have kids, so work/life balance is mainly just about making plans ahead of time with friends. You also have to take breaks to achieve optimal productivity so when I am alone and need a break, I usually just play some music or watch a movie while doing some busy work.

What is most beneficial about sharing a space with multiple entrepreneurs?

It’s the ability to learn about interesting things other companies are working on, drawing parallels to your own company, and benefiting from their trials and learnings. We tend to share very similar concerns and issues such as how to hire, raising money, managing software development timelines, content marketing, etc. and everyone has useful insights to share. Most importantly, you know that their advice is candid and grounded in experience.

What is the best part of Catapult?

My favorite part of Catapult so far has been the Founder’s Forums. It really helps to build a sense of community and support of one another. They always include some funny anecdotes that only founders would appreciate and I always walk away with a better perspective about what we are doing.

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Shiftgig Raises $10M, Keeps it Local http://catapultchicago.com/shiftgig-raises-10m-keeps-it-local/ http://catapultchicago.com/shiftgig-raises-10m-keeps-it-local/#comments Sun, 16 Nov 2014 20:31:12 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3239 Congratulations to Shiftgig, raising $10 Million. This is not just a big win for Shiftgig, but for the entire Chicago startup ecosystem – all of the funding was raised from Chicago-area VC’s, including Gary Holdren of Garland Funds and Richard Kiphart of KGC Capital (who also backs Get Set, another Catapult alumni company). We’ve got all the […]]]>

Congratulations to Shiftgig, raising $10 Million. This is not just a big win for Shiftgig, but for the entire Chicago startup ecosystem – all of the funding was raised from Chicago-area VC’s, including Gary Holdren of Garland Funds and Richard Kiphart of KGC Capital (who also backs Get Set, another Catapult alumni company).

We’ve got all the great press:

Shiftgig raises $10 million — entirely from Chicago in the Chicago Tribune

Shiftgig raises $10 million from Holdren, Kiphart in Crain’s Chicago

Another Round: Shiftgig, the LinkedIn for the Service Industry, Raises $10 Million, All from Chicago in ChicagoInno

Shiftgig raised $3 Million in November 2012 and graduated from Catapult a year ago. We look forward to seeing all the great things to come!

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Rithmio Joins Catapult http://catapultchicago.com/rithmio-joins-catapult/ http://catapultchicago.com/rithmio-joins-catapult/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 19:46:14 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3235 We are excited to welcome Rithmio to our Catapult community! Rithmio is a gesture recognition software company that has developed the world’s first platform that can automatically learn new user-defined gestures in six to ten seconds. Once the patterns of movement have been learned, the software is able to automatically and accurately detect, classify and analyze […]]]>

We are excited to welcome Rithmio to our Catapult community!

Rithmio is a gesture recognition software company that has developed the world’s first platform that can automatically learn new user-defined gestures in six to ten seconds. Once the patterns of movement have been learned, the software is able to automatically and accurately detect, classify and analyze gestures in real time. Rithmio’s platform integrates easily with connected devices like wearables or smartphones and can be applied to a plethora of industries, including fitness, human-computer interaction, gaming, healthcare, and security.

“This is an exciting time for Rithmio,” said Adam Tilton, Rithmio’s co-founder and CEO. “Being a part of the Catapult community gives us a great presence in the city and accessibility to top talent, advisors and investors.” The feeling is mutual. As April Lane, Catapult’s Executive Director said, “We immediately recognize the groundbreaking technology that Rithmio has invented, and we feel that the team will be a great fit for Catapult.”

Rithmio was founded by Adam Tilton and Prashant Mehta at the University of Illinois. The company raised $650,000 in seed funding this fall and plan on growing their team with developers and sales people.

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Matchup Raises $800,000 http://catapultchicago.com/matchup-raises-800000/ http://catapultchicago.com/matchup-raises-800000/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 20:17:34 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3231 Congratulations to Matchup, on their $800,000 seed round funding! They exceeded their goal of $650,000, and hope to go from 5 to 10 employees by January. We look forward to a bigger Matchup team around Catapult! Read the article Matchup Raises $800,000 to Bring Wearable Devices to Businesses in Built In Chicago.  ]]>

Congratulations to Matchup, on their $800,000 seed round funding! They exceeded their goal of $650,000, and hope to go from 5 to 10 employees by January.

We look forward to a bigger Matchup team around Catapult!

Read the article Matchup Raises $800,000 to Bring Wearable Devices to Businesses in Built In Chicago.

 

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Catapult’s Mason & Shah on Business Rockstars http://catapultchicago.com/catapults-mason-shah-on-business-rockstars/ http://catapultchicago.com/catapults-mason-shah-on-business-rockstars/#comments Fri, 07 Nov 2014 22:47:29 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3201 Catapult co-founders Galen Mason and Vishal Shah were recently interviewed by Ken Rutkowski on the Business Rockstars radio show. You can listen (and watch) on YouTube (fast forward to around 15:30). Galen (attorney at Foley & Lardner, a Catapult sponsor) and Vishal (co-founder and CEO of LearnCore, a Catapult resident) talk all things Catapult and the […]]]>

Catapult co-founders Galen Mason and Vishal Shah were recently interviewed by Ken Rutkowski on the Business Rockstars radio show. You can listen (and watch) on YouTube (fast forward to around 15:30).

Galen (attorney at Foley & Lardner, a Catapult sponsor) and Vishal (co-founder and CEO of LearnCore, a Catapult resident) talk all things Catapult and the Chicago tech startup ecosystem. Chicago is an “epicenter of opportunity.” Rutkowski argues there are 5 keys to a successful startup scene, and Chicago has all of them:

  1. Accessibility to rent/warehouses (yup)
  2. University structure (in Chicago and throughout the midwest)
  3. Venture capital (improving)
  4. Airports (2 Chicago + Milwaukee)
  5. EDM scene (hmmm, not sure how this one fits in but OK)

In the interview, Galen and Vishal cover a lot of ground, including Catapult’s history and goals, its non-profit structure and corporate sponsors, and the unique Peer Selection process. Nice shout-outs to cleverbridge, Catapult’s Everest Program mentor, and to April Lane, “leading the charge” as Catapult’s Executive Director.

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Introducing Cocktail Courier from ShakeStir http://catapultchicago.com/introducing-cocktail-courier-from-shakestir/ http://catapultchicago.com/introducing-cocktail-courier-from-shakestir/#comments Fri, 07 Nov 2014 19:19:04 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3207 New York is the first lucky city to benefit from Cocktail Courier – a premium cocktail delivery service. Powered by ShakeStir, the premier online community for professional bartenders (and a Catapult company), Cocktail Courier delivers all the necessary ingredients (even the garnish!), along with printed step-by-step instructions on how to make the selected award winning cocktail. It’s fool proof. […]]]>

New York is the first lucky city to benefit from Cocktail Courier – a premium cocktail delivery service. Powered by ShakeStir, the premier online community for professional bartenders (and a Catapult company), Cocktail Courier delivers all the necessary ingredients (even the garnish!), along with printed step-by-step instructions on how to make the selected award winning cocktail. It’s fool proof.

Have no fear Chicagoans, Cocktail Courier is heading to the Windy City soon. We’ll keep you posted!

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Matchup Joins Catapult http://catapultchicago.com/matchup-joins-catapult/ http://catapultchicago.com/matchup-joins-catapult/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 18:11:50 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3195 Catapult welcomes Matchup to it’s startup community. Matchup is a platform – a “virtual playground” – for workplace wellness. Using fun and engaging curriculum for employers, the Matchup service is focused on changing and improving health and activity behaviors. Matchup uses aggregated data from fitness trackers to arm employers with more enhanced understanding of employee […]]]>

Catapult welcomes Matchup to it’s startup community.

Matchup is a platform – a “virtual playground” – for workplace wellness. Using fun and engaging curriculum for employers, the Matchup service is focused on changing and improving health and activity behaviors. Matchup uses aggregated data from fitness trackers to arm employers with more enhanced understanding of employee behaviors from their participatory wellness programs. This data can be used for risk premium evaluation and eventually realized cost savings.

Matchup founders Anthony Knierim, John Contreras, and Greg Williams bring a lot of experience and expertise to their business – and to the Catapult community. We look forward to getting to know them and their team!

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MentorMob Company Profile http://catapultchicago.com/mentormob-company-profile/ http://catapultchicago.com/mentormob-company-profile/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 14:30:39 +0000 http://catapultchicago.com/?p=3130 The MentorMob team spent the summer of 2013 in New York City as part of the Kaplan EdTech Techstars Accelerator. The intensive 3 month program was pivotal for MentorMob in turning their idea into a business. Co-founders Vince Leung and Kris Chinosorn, and their close-knit group of “mobsters”, returned to Chicago (and to Catapult) to get to work making their passion […]]]>

The MentorMob team spent the summer of 2013 in New York City as part of the Kaplan EdTech Techstars Accelerator. The intensive 3 month program was pivotal for MentorMob in turning their idea into a business. Co-founders Vince Leung and Kris Chinosorn, and their close-knit group of “mobsters”, returned to Chicago (and to Catapult) to get to work making their passion become a reality.

The goal of MentorMob is to create a community of lifelong learners through its crowdsourced lifestyle learning site. From kitesurfing (Coolest.Sport.Ever.) to parenting, from photography to wedding planning, MentorMob allows you to master a skill or lifestyle. With MentorMob, you “learn more and google less.” We were lucky to get a sneak peek at the future MentorMob website, and were wowed by its enticing content, visual beauty, intuitive learning process, and ease of navigation.

Catapult sat down with Vince, co-founder and Chief Technology “Mobster”, to talk about where MentorMob is heading and the entrepreneurial lessons he’s learning along the way.

Tell us a little bit about where MentorMob is right now?

We’ve proven that crowd-curation of high-quality content from around the web is easy to do and extremely useful to those who would have otherwise had to do a lot of Googling themselves to find the information. We’re working on the next big jump in product and user experience – something that has been missing in virtually every online product focused on learning. This is the opportunity that has gotten a lot of investors really excited.

How has your idea evolved since its inception?

It’s the same concept since the inception, to make it easier for anyone in the world to learn a new hobby, interest, or lifestyle as well as to interact with like-minded people in each of those communities. We’ve been iterating on the product and user-experience since then. We’ve learned a lot about how our users around the world use our product and what works well.

Who is your ideal customer? What is your target market?

Ideally every person in the world who has ever done a Google search to learn a hobby, interest, or lifestyle, such as photography, salsa-dancing, or even how to be a cancer survivor, is an ideal customer of MentorMob. Since we have a finite amount of resources we’re targeting topics that are more female-centric and those that have a high-degree of activity and require a lot of content to learn from.

How do you generate new ideas for your business?

We read a lot of news and blogs, and not just within our industry. We also observe how users accomplish different tasks, both online and offline, to better understand how they can translate into our product experience. We also brainstorm a lot since we have a variety of perspectives on the team.

Where do you see your company in the next 2-3 years?

MentorMob will be a recognized and trusted brand to learn and to interact with like-minded people.  We will have expanded the number of topics we offer and have made life easier for millions of people around the world.

What have been your biggest business/entrepreneurial challenges?

The most difficult challenge has been to create a product that hasn’t existed before. Facebook was able to borrow concepts and design elements from previous social networks (Friendster, Myspace) and just execute it in a different way. We’ve had to build MentorMob through a lot of trial and error and looking at different products and industries for inspiration and ideas.

What have been your biggest triumphs?

We’re proud of the the team that we’ve put together as well as the group of supporters, from family and friends to investors and users. Also everyone on the team is really smart and excited about the problem that MentorMob is tackling. It’s also humbling to know that competitors, who have raised 40 times as much capital as us, have “borrowed” design and marketing ideas from us. I suppose it’s true that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

How do you handle different opinions and conflicts among the leaders of your team?

Just like any relationship we have our ups and downs. Luckily we have an odd number of leaders so we always have a tie-breaker!

What does your team do to bond/relax?

We try to do BBQs and celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries.  We’ll also do “off-sites” to work at different locations to keep things a little more dynamic and less stale.

Do you listen to music while you work? What’s on your playlist?

Absolutely! We switch it up from Empire of the Sun to Jack Johnson to Motown. We try to play music aloud so it’s a more open environment.

What do you find to be most beneficial about sharing a space with multiple entrepreneurs? What’s the best part of Catapult?

Being able to get access to a variety of perspectives on a given topic. You don’t feel alone as an entrepreneur. Catapult has a great vetting system to choose which companies come into our community. We value being around startups at around the same stage as us since we all face similar challenges.

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