(CHICAGO, IL) Chicago startup LearnCore recently made headlines for their $50 million acquisition by Showpad but many may not know that Co-Founders Ryan Leavitt and Vishal Shah are also responsible for the creation of Catapult Chicago, the only peer-selected coworking community for later stage startups.
In 2012, Leavitt and Shah were looking for something that didn’t exist to take LearnCore (then VLinks) to the next level. Their business had already begun generating revenue and they were ready to seriously scale their company but at the time, Chicago only offered support for early concept companies and later stage ventures seeking big funding. “We decided to build a community that was completely peer-driven.” says Leavitt. “Our thought was, if we get the best people in Chicago with the best companies in the same place, amazing things are going to happen.” With that in mind, Leavitt and Shah teamed up with colleagues Chris Cain and Galen Mason of Foley & Lardner LLP and opened Catapult Chicago.
Leveraging their network of like-minded entrepreneurs, they invited fellow founders to join in this new community built on experience-sharing. Early Catapult companies include Chicago heavy hitters Shiftgig, Bucketfeet, Opternative, Lumere (formerly Procured Health) and Scholastica. Raaja Namani, founder of Bucketfeet which was acquired by Threadless and is now a founder of Rogue Advising, was drawn to the unique model. “What’s different about Catapult than other co-working or ‘incubator’ spaces in the city is that it is for entrepreneurs selected by entrepreneurs. This ensures a strong cultural fit between founders.”
Making community a priority is exemplified in Catapult’s Founder Forum, a bi-weekly meeting of current and alumni founders. “I used to call it ‘entrepreneurial therapy’.” Leavitt says. “It’s a place to be with other founders looking to grow, learn, solve challenges, and figure out how to build a sustainable high growth company.” The Catapult communal experience continues even after a company leaves the space. “Upon graduating, founders have the opportunity to continue their journey as alumni members.” Catapult’s Executive Director, Caitlin McAllister explains. “Founders are able to contribute in either a mentorship or sponsorship capacity, either giving time to current founders and the community, or by helping Catapult through event sponsorship or facility perks.”
Six years later, Catapult continues to be the only non-profit working space for Chicago tech startups with business traction using a peer-selection model. Since inception, 90% of Catapult companies are still in business or have been acquired. Ryan Leavitt remains an active member of Catapult Chicago’s board of directors, while Shah continues as an active contributor to founder forums and the Catapult network.
About Catapult Chicago
Catapult Chicago is the first collaborative community aimed to support growing later-stage
tech startups. Our peer-selection model creates a community of Chicago’s best and brightest, working together to grow the next generation of successful startups. As a non-profit entity, we are supported by the generosity of corporate sponsors that provide professional services, people and mentorship.
For more information visit catapultchicago.com.