Catapult Ideas Blog

Sharing stories of young entrepreneurs, what it takes to run a successful startup, and more.
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31 Pictures Leading Up To Demo Day

3 months of customer discovery, prototyping, revenue models, acquisition, and many, many late nights, comes down to 1 Day, Demo Day. 

Demo Day is the culmination of the Incubator program.  A 5-minute pitch to judges from across the startup community, followed by a sometimes grueling Q&A session.

Teams spend 3 intense days prepping. See what happens behind the scenes in the days leading up to the most important event of a startup’s life.

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From Side Project to Startup

If you’re a high school student, and a young entrepreneur, turning a side project into a startup is one of the most important steps in your journey. Done well, this transition builds the determination and commitment that’s necessary to overcome the challenges of a startup that lie ahead. Done half-heartedly, the transition can be toxic for both the fledgling startup and the rest of your commitments (like school, extracurriculars, and sports)

Many Catapult entrepreneurs have gone through this, and in making the leap from side project to startup, they focus on three steps in particular that we think hold true for other young entrepreneurs.

1. Leave the Safety of Side Project Land

Side projects are fun because you get to work on something in a vacuum. No negative feedback or responsibilities. Going from a side project to a startup, however, means going from building something that interests you and is fun to spend a few hours on every now and then, to building something people want.

The best way to develop your side project into something people want is to talk to real users about what you’ve built. This sounds scary and painful (and it can be), but it’s here that young entrepreneurs actually have a unique advantage; you’re already surrounded by thousands of supportive and helpful testers (your classmates, school alumni, and peers).

There are a few effective ways to make the most of this advantage:

  • Email relevant school clubs/groups (robotics, business, school govt) asking to chat with people for 15 minutes about your project (this is also a great way to meet cofounders)
  • Demo your product to students at school, at club competitions (DECA, Debate, Mock Trial, Robotics, etc), gatherings of young people in your area.
  • Submit your project into pitch competitions (be wary of competitions that require too much time – the application shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes). Often times there isn’t as much competition as you think!
  • If you’re selling your product to businesses, search LinkedIn or your school’s alumni directory for alumni that could use your product and include “(~Your School~ student)” in the subject line of your cold email

2. Dream Bigger

Your side project probably started as something that you found interesting or amusing, not something that you thought could impact the world. But turning your side project into a startup means figuring out why your creation really matters, and a larger vision is a key part of that. We’ve found two questions in particular to be helpful with this:

Think carefully about the problem that made you start your side project in the first place. How would the world be different if your startup solved that problem?

About a year ago, Mohammed came to Catapult having built one of the heaviest lifting commercial drones available. With his team, they started thinking about how could these drones but put to the best use. They decided on using the drones for humanitarian disasters, delivering aid and being used to survey areas rapidly. From side project to literal life saver, that is pretty cool.

If you have some early users, figure out how your product makes them feel and build your vision from that.

Airbnb is a great example of this. Meeting an Airbnb host and staying in their place makes guests feel at home in foreign places. The company’s vision of helping their users “Belong Anywhere” captures this feeling in a powerful way.

In thinking about these questions, we find these resources helpful:

3. Commit Real Amounts of Time

The final step is the hardest but also the most important. If you’re like most busy young entrepreneurs we’ve met, you’re probably spending about 90% of your time on some combination of academics, athletics, extracurriculars, and social activities, leaving 10% for your side project. But for your side project to even have a chance of becoming a successful startup, you’ll have to flip that ratio and spend almost all of your time on your company.

The best way to enforce this drastic change is to set ambitious deadlines. How can you get your idea off the ground in 3 weeks instead of 5 months. Instead of going on spring break with your family, stay home and make it happen. This summer, don’t get better at video games, build your idea, or apply to Catapult. It’s ok if the first version is buggy, feature-deficient, and ugly. You will know at that moment that what you are building is more than a side project.

In Conclusion…

We’ve focused primarily on the “how” of this transition instead of the “when”. There is no right answer for ‘when’ except that you’ll know in your gut. Really it’s when the difficulty of the three steps described above still can’t deter you from making the leap. In a How to Start a Startup lecture, Paul Graham explains that you should either “be a real student and not start a startup or start a real startup and not be a student”. The choice to make the leap or not is a binary one.

special thanks to Paul Dornier Founder of Meetingbird and Y Combinator alumni who first wrote an article on this topic.

Great Entrepreneurs Start Early

Launchies and Laurie!

Practice Makes Perfect

We believe entrepreneurship is skill just like any other. Sports, music, hobbies, all of them take practice to get good at. So does entrepreneurship. Famous author Malcolm Gladwell shows it takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly master something. That’s over 1 full year, of 24 hours a day practice to become a master. Better get started now!

At Catapult, we work with students who have a variety of exposure to the world of entrepreneurship. Some students don’t have much of a background of startups, but have the passion in another subject to make up for it. Other students, however, come with their own impactful entrepreneurial experiences and are well-prepared for the intensity of Catapult’s Incubator. These students have gotten their feet wet already, but are thirsty for that “next step” in their entrepreneurial journey.

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28 Pictures that show what it’s really like at Catapult – Chicago Edition

Catapult is the No. 1 ranked startup incubator for young entrepreneurs. It gets that ranking because it is challenging, building a startup isn’t easy, but if you are serious about entrepreneurship, it’s the place for you.

One of things we don’t talk about much is how exhilarating it is to be surrounded by driven peers, in the most innovative cities in the world, having an experience you cannot replicate.

Catapult is flat out fun. And instead of tell you how fun it is, we’ll just show you. Here are the moments in between, where the entrepreneurial journey is happening in the real world. Some of our favorite candid shots from Chicago

And don’t miss our favorite 31 pictures from San Francisco

In a very particular order, here are our favorite 28 pictures Read more

Catapult Mentors and Speakers Dominate Shark Tank

High School Shark Tank – Catapult Mentors Lead by Example!

Catapult mentors and speakers Laura D’Asaro and Rose Wang, Founder of Chirps, won a $100k deal on Shark Tank from Mark Cuban! But they aren’t the first Catapulters to impress the sharks. In honor of their deal, we are featuring the long history of Catapult Mentors and Speakers being featured on Shark Tank’s eight seasons.

Read about all the Catapult Speakers on Shark Tank (there have been 4)
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How to turn your passion into a business: A true story with 500,000 downloads

Brandon LaRouche

Brandon LaRouche is a self taught software developer, successful teen entrepreneur, and founder of Double Trouble Studio. Most recently, he’s released the addictive iOS game Lowest, and is working on QBeat, an app that makes music social and geolocalized (watch the videos to find out what that means)

In this 4 part series, Brandon shares his background and how he went from a 6th grader with no programming skills, to a high schooler developing 30+ mobile apps with 500k+ downloads, and now a college student studying computer science and continuing to launch new ventures.

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How to Get Additional Funding for Catapult: Summer Incubator

Young Entrepreneurs Working on A Startup Venture

How to Get Additional Funding for Catapult’s Summer Incubator

We’ve already told you about our Needs-Based Scholarships and our Merit-Based Tuition Awards worth up to $1000, but today we are talking about how to get additional funding for Catapult’s Summer Incubator. We are highlighting two main routes: personal crowdfunding and local scholarships.

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What it’s really like at Catapult – San Francisco Edition

Day at Google

Being an Entrepreneur is fun. Being a young entrepreneur at Catapult, is the bee’s knee’s.

We get a lot of questions about what Catapult is really like, when you are there. And we usually answer with all the incredible skills and tools you will learn all adapted from the best startups and most innovative businesses. And we always talk about how much fun we have. But instead of just tell you, today we’ve decided to show you.

Here are the moments in between, where the entrepreneurial journey is happening in the real world. Some of our favorite candid shots from San Francisco.

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10 Habits of Great Ideators

Catapult Alumni - ultimate ideators

10 Habits of Great Ideators

Creativity is a Skill that Can be Learned

It’s a commonly held belief that some folks are born with an innate ability to be creative, and others aren’t. Actually, everyone can have great ideas with the right environment, prompts, and habits. Creativity isn’t about creative people, it’s about creative acts.

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Young Social Entrepreneur: Drones for Humanity Founder Feature

Mohammed answering questions from investors during demo day

Mohammed Nasir, a young social entrepreneur and Founder of Drones for Humanity

Today we are excited to feature a young social entrepreneur: Mohammed Nasir, the Founder of Drones for Humanity which participated in our Spring 2016 Chicago cohort.

“Drones for Humanity is a social enterprise aimed at using a system of heavy-lifting and rapidly-deployable drones to deliver humanitarian aid, ultimately saving many lives that would otherwise be lost by the conventional disaster response system.”

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