Catalyze Chicago

Meet the Lab Host: Catalyze Chicago

Meet the Lab Host gives you an inside look at the innovative, creative, forward-thinking Chicago organizations hosting CIW 2014 Labs.  To learn more about 2014 programming, consult our online schedule.  Tickets go on sale to the general public September 2, 2014.

Turn a problem into a pitch with Catalyze Chicago Co-Founder Bill Feinup Saturday, October 18 from 3 to 6 p.m.

Catalyze Chicago

Catalyze Chicago provides the tools needed to grow Chicago’s network of hardware and manufacturing startups.

Catalyze Chicago is a co-working space and manufacturing network built to accelerate the growth of hardware startups in Illinois. Catalyze Chicago has put its own tips to startup growth into practice: Since launching in February 2014, the nonprofit organization has doubled its space and expanded to serve 32 members. We went behind the scenes of the manufacturing accelerator to learn how the organization pairs physical tools with mentorship to build a network of successful startups.

In three sentences or fewer, what is your organization’s manifesto or mission?

As those who have tried know, manufactured products are difficult to bring to market as they require expensive equipment, long development cycles and vast supply chains. We experienced these obstacles firsthand after trying to launch companies of our own, and decided to prototype a solution. Catalyze Chicago is helping entrepreneurs tackle these challenges by providing four key benefits: mentorship, prototyping equipment, a network of local manufacturers and a community that inspires open collaboration and creativity.

Why Chicago?  Tell us why this idea or organization is based in Chicago, how you think the city has supported the project and how you think the project contributes to our city. 

Chicago is a city built on manufacturing and industry. We made a name for ourselves as a trading powerhouse and pioneered the great railroads that shaped our fledgling nation. We reversed the flow of a river, reformed public health, built the first skyscraper, split the atom and threw the greatest World’s Fair in history. That hard-working, can-do attitude lives on today. The downward trend of American manufacturing power is beginning to turn as higher costs of importing and quality shortcomings necessitate bringing work back within our borders. The “reshoring”, lean startup and open-source movements are gaining momentum, yielding a perfect storm of entrepreneurial opportunity.

Catalyze supports a new generation of designers, engineers and innovators, giving the hardware startup community a much-needed home and plugging them into Chicago’s great manufacturing ecosystem. As a crossroads between applied engineering and academia, startups and the private sector, Catalyze inspires synergy, creation and collaboration.

Give us a sneak peek of what we should expect at your Lab.  What hands-on, interactive activities do you have planned for participants?  (But don’t tell us everything—keep some of your Lab a surprise!)

You should expect to be put to work and challenged to think like an entrepreneur. You will work on cross-disciplinary teams to envision core offerings, business models and methods of manufacture to bring their solutions to life. When the Lab ends, you’ll have the plans, pitch and team poised to launch a commercializable product. To inspire attendees, the staff at Catalyze will host a tour of our studio, rapid prototyping workshop, installations and demos of select prototypes.

We want to be in the know!  Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course. 

The Harold Washington Library runs a Mini Maker Space that gives anyone with a library card access to 3D Printers, laser cutters, CNC carvers, vinyl cutters and more. They run demos, workshops and open labs that are free to the public. Walk-ins encouraged! (Editor’s note: You can get an exclusive, hands-on introduction to the Maker Lab with the Chicago Public Library’s “Making for Everyone” Wednesday, October 15 at 9:30 am)

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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