Catapult Chicago

Chicago’s tech economy is growing. According to BuiltinChicago.org, nearly 200 digital start-ups launched in 2011, almost double that of the previous year. The total dollars raised by Chicago digital technology companies was $1.45 billion — 393 percent higher than 2010 and nine percent more than the previous 10 years combined.

More capital, talent, and excitement are flowing into the city than ever before. Established firms like Foley are supporting these start-ups by leveraging their experience, resources, and professional networks to further accelerate the successful growth.

Catapult Chicago is at the epicenter of this fast-growing tech market. Catapult comprises Chicago’s most promising tech start-ups and entrepreneurs that have demonstrated business traction. Part incubator, part accelerator, part corporate headquarters, it provides not only flexible office space and access to experienced business and legal counsel, but also a collaborative environment of motivated entrepreneurs; it is a collective community designed to foment the right Chicago elements from which “the next big thing” will most likely spring.

In the summer of 2011, Foley Partner Christopher Cain and Senior Counsel Galen Mason recognized that a new market was developing in Chicago, and that Foley was not only in a position to differentiate and establish itself as the go-to law firm in the Midwest for this market but that with the firm’s existing resources and talents, Foley also could play an integral role in helping to foster and accelerate the market’s economic development. “We thought there was a real need for a collaborative space for more established tech companies that were on a similar growth trajectory, and we knew Chicago’s established business acumen was already top-notch,” said Cain.

The two attorneys collaborated with Foley’s senior management and entrepreneurs Ryan Leavitt, Vishal Shah, and Kris Chinisorn to create and become a founding sponsor of Catapult Chicago. Catapult Chicago took up residence in 12,000 square feet of Foley’s downtown Chicago Class A office space. The space itself, originally designed for lawyers, consists of a large, open area surrounded by private offices and shared conference rooms. Cain and Mason soon realized the space’s layout — which had for decades been conducive to the exchange and cross-checking of ideas by Foley attorneys — was just as ideal for generating idea-sharing and collaboration among Catapult residents.

In addition to providing space and pro bono counsel to Catapult, Foley lawyers from a variety of practice areas hold regular office hours for Catapult residents, participate in various presentations and programming, and open up their professional network. Foley also helped Catapult secure similar support from other established Chicago businesses with expertise in accounting, human resources, marketing, and real estate. Connecting Chicago’s know-how with the most promising leaders of the new market had begun.

“The word Catapult captured the concept of what we’re trying to do here,” said Mason. “These companies have business traction already, their idea is close to or ready to go, they’re spring-loaded but for some business and execution seasoning. And if there’s anything Chicago knows well, it’s business execution.

Our goal, as well as our fellow sponsors’ goal, is to do everything we can to push obstacles out of the way and get them as far as possible toward their proven mission. Hopefully, we’re pushing Chicago’s tech critical mass forward.”

Six months after Catapult opened, it was at maximum occupancy with 12 start-ups and nearly 100 founders and employees. In the first six months alone, resident companies have raised nearly $10 million in venture capital.

Seeking the best and brightest Chicago companies and entrepreneurs that have demonstrated business traction, Catapult pays close attention to those companies led by founders that recognize the need for an expanding critical tech mass in Chicago. When there is an opening, new resident companies are chosen by meeting with or “pitching to” the founders of existing tenant companies — a process Catapult refers to as “peer selection.” Tenants sign six-month leases, and tend to have anywhere from five to 15 employees. Each company’s progress is reviewed periodically by the group, but the typical time spent at Catapult is expected to be between six and 18 months.

Catapult resident companies include:

The Black Sheep: 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. This includes print newspapers, web, mobile, localized social media channels, and on-campus marketing teams. The Black Sheep’s humorous content is written by students, for students, on a local level.

BondingPoint: A custom branded, fully managed, engagement solution. The BondingPoint solution provides new ways to incentivize and reward your target audience for advocating your brand. Whether it’s by spreading the word through social media, attending an event, or reaching an achievement, members are rewarded for taking action.

Instant E-Training: A leading provider of on-demand digital marketing training through its extensive on-demand library of training videos, and through online web conferences and certification programs. Since its launch in 2011, Instant E-Training has trained thousands of adult professionals in all areas of digital marketing including Social Media, Search Engine Marketing, PPC, Content Marketing, and Web Analytics.

LearnCore: An end-to-end interactive training solution where managers author curriculum, deliver courses, and track results. With PitchIQ, its proven learning technology and methodology, LearnCore is modernizing the corporate training experience.

Learnerator: An online test prep platform, combining 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.

Matchup: 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 to arm employers with more enhanced understanding of employee behaviors from the “participatory wellness program.” This data can be used for risk premium evaluation and eventually realized cost savings.

MentorMob: Allows users to create and edit free Learning Playlists that show the world what you know, but also open your knowledge to people who share your skills so they can help you refine it by adding and editing your Learning Playlist.

Occasion: Helps merchants easily accept bookings and appointments online, from their own website – not a 3rd party page. Customers can easily and quickly complete their booking in one step from smartphones, tablets or computers, using a seamless and intuitive interface. Thanks to Occasion, businesses and their customers benefit.

Rithmio: A gesture recognition software company that has developed the world’s first platform that can automatically learn new user-defined gestures in 6-10 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 with connected devices like wearables or smartphones and can be applied to a variety of industries including fitness and physical activity tracking, human-computer interaction, gaming, healthcare, security and more.

Roompact: Predicts, prevents, and reduces roommate conflict in college and university Residence Halls. Roompact works with industry leaders to analyze data about roommates and help university staff take action. They help eliminate paper waste, save staff time and effort, and improve retention.

Scholastica: Makes it easy to manage and publish peer reviewed journals online by streamlining administrative tasks and helping you find enthusiastic, qualified reviewers. Scholastica’s powerful platform lets scholars focus on finding and publishing great content without worrying about complicated technical issues.

Supply Vision: A cloud-based, logistics software company that provides easy to use applications for small to mid-size transportation and logistics providers in North America. The combination of their cloud-based Transportation Management System (TMS), Warehouse Management System (WMS) and related logistics modules – enhanced by a robust reporting engine and specialized customer service – makes Supply Vision the right partner for cutting-edge logistic companies.

Team Interval: A private communication tool for member-based organizations, especially sports teams. They enable all of the stakeholders of an organization – from the front office (Athletic Director/General Manager) to the athletes themselves – to share all their information through effective reporting, time management, and document sharing capabilities. Now communication is instantaneous and simultaneous across the entire organization.

Foley attorneys throughout the country have long shared the entrepreneurial spirit embodied by Catapult companies, It is, after all, how many of our largest clients began. Along with providing a full range of legal services for emerging companies, we actively partner with clients as business strategists — and even investors. Our commitment to our clients’ success means, literally, that we put our money where our mouth is. We created Foley Ventures, a $4 million venture fund comprising contributions from our partners that is invested exclusively in our clients. Foley has so far opened up the Foley Ventures fund to current Catapult resident companies StyleSeek, Shiftgig, Procured Health, and former resident company Techli.com. Foley also offers fee deferral packages for select start-ups — a common offering on the coasts and something Foley has imported to Chicago from those offices in more established markets. In addition to co-founding Catapult, these resources are yet another way we can demonstrate our confidence in and enthusiasm about the potential of these start-ups.

Foley is thrilled not only by the early success that Catapult start-ups have seen so far, but also by the numerous returns it is generating for the firm and the Chicago tech ecosystem. “Not only is this good business, but it has many additional benefits. For example, this gives young transactional attorneys at Foley the opportunity to work with very senior people at a company on important matters,” said Mason. “They not only develop authentic professional and personal relationships, but they work with companies at the same high level as Foley’s more senior lawyers might with our more established larger corporate clients.” By showing early and committed support, we believe that we will have the opportunity to expand the services we provide to these companies as they grow. We also believe that, given Catapult’s focus on the best of the best, the relationships we make now — in an industry likely to be a big part of our economic future — will shape our firm for decades to come.

We also see genuine big picture benefits to Chicago through job creation, capital formation, and the development of the city’s own critical tech mass — all factors that raise the bar for tech companies that are built in Chicago.