A national youth entrepreneurship program is bringing its Demo Day to Chicago, and showing off local teen startups in the process.
Catapult Incubator, a national leadership and entrepreneurship training program, selects particularly motivated teens with business ideas or an interest in working in startups for a four month long intensive program. The incubator brings students together with industry mentors to develop a business idea that can be shown off to investors. Due to a partnership with University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the Midwest demo day showing off student work will be Monday, April 20 from 9 am to 11:30 am at Booth’s Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago.
So what kind of businesses are teens starting?
STANDUP creates “leadership kits” that help students create a movement against child abuse in their community. The Bridge Initiative connects people with disabilities with employment opportunities by partnering with regional job training centers. Venture Q offers a platform to help entrepreneurial minds connect in a certain geographic area. YourShaveKit is a subscription service for customized shave kits. And these are just a few of the many ventures being shown off by 37 students from around the country at demo day on Monday.
YourShaveKit was founded by a student from the South Side, while VentureQ is almost entirely composed of students from the North Side. Josh Collins, founder of Catapult, added there are Chicago-area students on almost every team, something that reflects Booth’s commitment to be sure this program benefitted teen entrepreneurship in the city.
To get into Catapult, students have to apply either as a “founder” meaning they have an idea for a startup, or a “free agent” meaning they just want experience in the start up world. Tuition for the program is $2,500 though Collins adds that 30 percent of the participating students are on scholarship. Once they get in, they largely work together remotely on a weekly, though will come together to work in person with their team and advisor three times throughout the four month period at the host university.
Collins is quick to point out the program has a purpose outside incubating startups.
“We can not only help them get their start up off the ground, we can help them learn some really important life lessons,” he explained. “We use entrepreneurship as a vehicle to teach fundamental core problems around leadership and technical skills.”
For example: “How do you deal with failure?” he said.
With this in mind, advisors (in this case, Booth students) take on an extra responsibility, even talking students through decisions such as where to go to college and how to balance entrepreneurial ventures with class and extracurricular activities. “They are not just mentors, they are straight up life advisors,” said Collins.
The goal is to train these highly motivated students in every capacity of entrepreneurship so they can either continue with these ventures or move onto the next thing. To date Catapult has worked with over 150 students whose ventures have generated over $1,000,0000.
One of their recent success stories is Henry Belcaster, a current senior at Oak Park High School, who participated in the program last year. His product, Vitalives, is like Toms for vitamins– when you buy vitamins from Vitalives, they donate the same amount of vitamins to a malnourished family. They just received an order to be stocked in all the Whole Foods in Illinois. Belcaster will be one of the judges at Demo Day on Monday.