press releases

Chicago Inno Feature: How Catapult Turns the '90% of Startups Fail' Stat Upside Down

Every entrepreneur knows the statistic. Somewhere around 90% of startups are going to fail, and even the best ideas with the best execution can succumb to the risky nature of starting a new business.

But at Chicago incubator and co-working space Catapult, the numbers look a little different. In fact, since the space launched five years ago, 90% of the startups that’ve come through its doors have been acquired or are still active today.

Catapult isn’t as big and flashy as some of the competing co-working spaces around town—it’s just 10,000 square feet—but it boasts an enviable startup hit rate that you’d be hard pressed to find at any other space in Chicago.

Its member companies have included some of the hottest startups Chicago’s seen in the last half decade, including Shiftgig, Opternative, Bucketfeet, Rippleshot and Jiobit, along with Shark Tank standouts Packback and Rent Like a Champion.

Since it launched in 2012, Catapult members have raised $150 million in venture funding, hosting 43 companies that have employed 800 people. Five of Catapult’s members have been acquired, including Plantlink (acquired by Scotts Miracle-Gro), TempoIQ (acquired by Avant) and Tastebud (acquired by Raise). Among the few failures Catapult has seen is wearable tech startup Rithmio, which raised $3.6 million and shut down at the end of 2016.

So, what sets Catapult apart? Not just any startup can come in and rent desk space. Companies interested in joining Catapult must pitch their businesses to Catapult’s members, who then decide whether or not to admit the company into the space. Startups have to be beyond the idea stage, have proven business traction, product-market fit, around 10 or less employees, and generate revenue, Catapult General Manager Caitlin McAllister said.

Not every startup gets in (Catapult turned down two companies last month), and it’s a model that helps the small co-working space punch above its weight, she said.

“We’re small, but mighty,” McAllister said. “We’re looking for the best of the best. That’s why we have such a good success rate.”

Catapult, which is industry agnostic and doesn’t take equity in startups, also fosters a spirit of collaboration between its member companies and the alumni network of startups that have since moved out, McAllister said.

“People come to Catapult because they want to learn from others and receive help from others,” she said. “Businesses here are at the same stage and see the same problems that come with scale. It’s a help-me-help-you environment.”

And Catapult’s newest members have the potential to keep the co-working space’s batting average high:, an Application Delivery Network that makes a company’s apps run faster, is co-founded by Kurt Mackey, who previously founded Y Combinator-backed Compose, which sold to IBM in 2015; Rhabit, founded by two former NCAA tennis players, gives aspiring athletes access to top tennis coaches and professionals through instructional videos and online lessons; and Pay Your Selfie lets users get paid for, you guessed it, taking selfies while providing custom data to brands. Its clients include Crest toothpaste and Goose Island beer.

Catapult has also gone through a space renovation and a website overhaul to give its members even more resources to build their businesses, McAllister said.

“Companies that have graduated five years ago are still coming back for founder forums and events,” she said. “The model continues to work.”

Catapult Chicago Partners with Dynamic Signal to Drive Awareness for Local Entrepreneurs and Startups

Catapult Chicago Partners with Dynamic Signal to Drive Awareness for Local Entrepreneurs and Startups

Catapult Chicago, a digital start-up community located in the heart of Chicago’s River North neighborhood, is partnering with silicon valley software start-up Dynamic Signal to help activate its start-up community members as advocates, bringing more exposure, awareness and reach to their entire network of entrepreneurs.

Announcing Catapult's Accelerator - Nuclear Cannon!

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Announcing Catapult's Accelerator - "Nuclear Cannon!" "It was time." Said April Lane, Catapult's Executive Director. We were sitting around thinking "We've raised some Series A rounds. How do we bilk, I mean milk, er..., I mean help other startups to get to that same point?"  An accelerator immediately came to mind.

Like Catapult, Nuclear Cannon! has a unique design. Admission is determined through peer selection but it also incorporates an even more unusual feature - physical exercise.  Catapult has hired a Marine drill sergeant to also work with the companies.  "We need to whip these yellow bellies in to shape!" barked Sgt. Linville while doing push ups himself.

Though techies may be thought of as fatties eating Twinkies in to the wee hours, "we're going to change that" proffered Lane.  Thus far, the physical exercise hasn't seemed to stop young tech startups from showing interest in the program. "It's good for my top line and my bottom" urged Vishal Shah as he struggled with sit ups in preparation for the program.  Even the 45% equity requirement hasn't been a deterrent.

The name Nuclear Cannon! was conceived by Catapult's PR sponsor, Propllr founder Josh Inglis.  "We wanted a name that mirrored the meaning of the word Catapult.  And when a nuclear bomb goes off debris gets flung everywhere. It sort of Catapults that stuff. Plus, there's exercise in there which is new. So, boom!"

Look for program participants to be marching around 321 N Clark after Midnight.  And, if you think you have what it takes to join the program, drop an e-mail to

Catapult Introduces Everest Program

 Mentorship program connects established Chicago tech companies with promising startups by including personal access to “Sherpa” company founders, executives and functional experts

(CHICAGO – Dec 4, 2013) Catapult Chicago, a peer-driven collaborative community for later-stage tech startups, announces its Everest Program, a full-access mentoring program connecting established tech companies with Catapult’s promising startups. Through the program, Catapult startups get unlimited access to successful “Sherpa” company founders and executives as well as managers and functional experts.

Different from other startup mentorship programs which offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to briefly meet face-to-face with seasoned founders and CEOs, the Everest Program provides startups with deeper access across all functions within participating companies. Sherpa companies not only participate in monthly in-depth discussions with Catapult startups on various topics, but also offer near real-time curated access to their company employees through the Everest email channel. As questions arise, Catapult companies can reach out to Sherpa company employees to answer questions based on their specific functional expertise.

“We’re excited about the launch of the Everest Program to better support Catapult companies in their growth and evolution,” said April Lane, executive director, Catapult Chicago. “Unofficially kicked off over a month ago, the program has already garnered greater feedback from our companies than any other mentoring program we’ve evaluated. Between this unique resource, our service provider sponsors and the residents working together amongst themselves, I am confident that we’re enhancing the Catapult community as the place where serious endeavors come to scale.”

“In the fast-changing formative phases of a company, where time and cash are at a premium, limiting mistakes can drastically increase success in the startup journey,” said Patrick Kelly, CEO, BidMed. “Getting to pick the brains of the top minds in the Chicago business community as well as their top personnel in various areas, on what they’ve done and lessons they’ve learned has been incredibly valuable.”

cleverbridge, a global full-service e-commerce provider for software and SaaS companies, is the first (of many more to come) established Sherpa companies that has generously offered the time and expertise of their entire company to help Catapult companies through the Everest Program.

“As a company who remembers being in their shoes a handful of years ago, we are thrilled to give back with the Everest Program to help raise the next wave of successful Chicago tech companies,” said Craig Vodnik, co-founder and vice president of operations, cleverbridge. “We’ve enjoyed getting to know many of the companies as they have the same entrepreneurial passion we have worked hard to maintain in our company culture. It’s certainly been mutually beneficial program.”

For more information on the Everest Program, visit

Catapult Admits Seven New Start-Up Companies


Peer-Selection Process Reveals Ideal Collaborative Environment for Start-Ups

CHICAGO (May 22, 2012) – Catapult Chicago announced today that it has selected seven new tech start-up companies for admission to the downtown Chicago collaborative space.  Part incubator, part accelerator, Catapult is 12,000 square feet of Class A office space for some of Chicago’s most ambitiously led tech start-ups that have demonstrated business traction.  Unique to Catapult is its “peer selection” admission process, in which new companies are selected by the founders of existing resident companies.

“We are thrilled about the companies that now call Catapult home.  There are some incredible start-ups in Chicago and it was a difficult process,” said Ryan Leavitt, president and co-founder of Catapult. “We interviewed over 100 companies and the caliber of the new start-ups speaks well of our peer selection model.  These companies will add to the spirit at Catapult which, in many ways, acts as one collective start up with 15 different business lines.”  Vishal Shah, co-founder of Catapult added, “Our diverse group of technology start-ups is creating an open-door culture at Catapult.  Each team, carefully selected for their particular strengths, works collaboratively to help other Catapult start-ups. Whether you’re brainstorming the next disruptive solution or to grabbing a beer with a visiting entrepreneur, everyone is here to help.”

The seven new residents of Catapult Chicago boast impressive credentials, including graduates of Excelerate Labs in Chicago, TechStars Cloud in San Antonio, and Blueprint Health in NYC.  Founders of the new companies have diverse backgrounds as well – ranging from venture capitalists to a traveling sneaker artist.  The new residents companies are:

Dabble – Dabble is a marketplace for $20, in-person classes. With a mission to make learning and exploring one's interests easy and fun, Dabble provides a low-commitment way for people to expand their horizons. Since its May 2012 launch in Chicago, Dabble has expanded to two additional markets: Denver and Milwaukee. Two more are on the horizon for a July launch.

Buzz Referrals – Buzz Referrals empowers brands to drive new customer acquisition, increase current customer engagement, and build positive buzz through referral marketing promotions.  The company’s referral platform enables its clients to run engaging, on-site promotions that incentivize customers for specific actions through a suite of digital rewards.

Shiftgig – Shiftgig is a professional networking site for the service industry.  Through innovative vertical-specific features, Shiftgig provides connections between people and businesses in the restaurant, nightlife, hotel and hospitality industries for better employment and profitability.  Shiftgig has hundreds of Chicago service industry employers and nearly 12,000 people since its January 2012 launch; Shiftgig has recently launched in NYC, LA, and Miami.

Tempo – Tempo is the data layer for the measured world- a database service purpose-built to store and analyze the massive streams of time-series data (ex: measuring thermostat temperatures, network latencies, heart rates) that break traditional databases.

Procured Health – Procured Health is a web-based application that helps hospitals discover and evaluate medical devices in order drive much-needed savings.  A comparison engine for devices, clinicians and administrators are able to examine options based on analysis from peer hospitals as well as structured data from the FDA and suppliers, and the Procured workflow solution streamlines the evaluation process.

Kula – Kula is a peer-to-peer, mobile marketplace app that helps users to Share, Buy, and Sell nearly anything based location. With Kula, everyone is a business and the world is your storefront.

Bucket Feet – BucketFeet is Artist Designed Footwear.  The company provides a manufacturing, distribution, e-commerce, and social media platform for artists to directly connect with consumers from around the world.

"Buzz Referrals was first attracted to Catapult because the space allowed our sales and marketing team to work independently, and there was a really great vibe of collaboration among the companies," said Jordan Linville, co-founder of Buzz Referrals.  "River North is becoming the de facto hub of Chicago's start-up scene, and being here has also provided great access to other companies and events in the area."

The above new residents of Catapult will join the five original permanent residents of the tech start-up incubator. They include VLinks Media, MentorMob, StyleSeek, Tech.Li and 5Degrees.