Written by Jordan Randall
Photography by Catapult
Behind every thriving city exists a team of people willing to champion the entrepreneurial endeavors of its citizens. For Lakeland, that team is Catapult.
“We got to start from scratch, step back, and look at our entrepreneurs and figure out what they needed. And now we have a three story building that’s exactly what we wanted it to be.” **Not sure where this goes**
Catapult started with one mission in mind: to foster the growth of startups. And that mission has remained the same throughout seven years, twenty-seven startups, and over two-hundred entrepreneurs. As Catapult operates out of their brand new space––located at 502 E. Main Street––coworking and incubator program members are able to experience even more exclusive tools at their disposal to help shape and build their dreams into reality.
“While we were building this new space, we visited over a hundred spaces throughout the nation to try and bring the best ideas back to Lakeland. We wanted to make the space as useful as possible and recreate what we saw in some of those other spaces. We started from scratch, took a step back, and analyzed what our entrepreneurs needed. Today, we have a three story building which is exactly what we wanted it to be,” says Christin Strawbridge, Catapult’s President.
Catapult began seven years ago in the basement of the Bank of America building, started by the Lakeland Economic Development Council. “The [Lakeland Economic Development Council] takes a variety of trips with members of the council to visit other cities and analyze anything from healthcare to the downtown area. The goal is to learn from these other cities and bring ideas back to Lakeland,” explains Strawbridge. “The council quickly realized that several of the cities they visited had driving entrepreneurs in their community, which didn’t necessarily exist in Lakeland.”
Catapult Lakeland is an incubator and co-working space that has served as a driving force for the small business scene in Lakeland, cultivating a city that is teaming with entrepreneurial life. For Strawbridge, a born and raised Lakelander, the growth in Lakeland as a result of Catapult’s opening can be seen firsthand. “When you walk through the weekend farmers market, over 10 of the food-based businesses are Catapult members. These people are able to sell their goods because they now have access to our kitchen and to our maker space. Because of Catapult, Lakeland residents can enjoy the farmers market and the variety of products from local entrepreneurs.”
Catapult has been a major player in creating an environment of possibility in Lakeland. No matter how long your exposure is to the city of Lakeland, the ripple effects of Catapult’s mission are felt by all. When you think of Lakeland, you think of potential. And you can thank the team behind Catapult for that.
“People already want to live here, but beyond that we [Catapult] want to launch companies that create jobs and therefore boost the economy in Lakeland and improve the quality of life,” says Strawbridge. “We also love to give tours to the next generation of entrepreneurs. What we are doing here is really important to me. My heart for this city and its entrepreneurs is what drives me to show off the possibilities of what exists here in Lakeland. From college graduates to high school students, whatever an entrepreneur’s story looks like, the possibilities are endless, and there are people who want to give back.”
“People already want to live here, but beyond that we [Catapult] want to launch companies that create jobs and therefore boost the economy in Lakeland and improve the quality of life.” – Christin Strawbridge
People give birth to new ideas everyday. All they need is access to the right tools and proper guidance. Tim Cox, former Publix Creative Services director of many years, is now at Catapult to help provide young startups with some of that much needed guidance. Cox is an expert in the field of branding and now serves as the expert in residence for Catapult, providing mentorship to members in search of bringing their brand/idea to a higher level of branding and marketing.
If the last few years have reminded us of anything, it’s that life is precious and our time is valuable. We won’t always have all of the time in the world to take that leap or to shoot for the stars. The only time we have is right now. Strawbridge wants Catapult to be the community that will rally behind you as you take that leap of faith.
“Life is short. You only get one go at it. So you might as well go for it…”
“Life is short. You only get one go at it. So you might as well go for it. You know what I mean? You might as well start that way. You don’t want to get to the end of your life and say, ‘What if I had started ___ ?’ And so our hope is for those people that are really wanting to do something and wanting to take that risk and go out on their own… that they know they can come to Catapult and find resources and people who want to support them and people who are in their corner. Entrepreneurship can be lonely, and it can be difficult. And we just want people to know that you don’t have to be alone in that.”