April 13th, 2020
TakeShape is revolutionizing enterprise businesses with a software platform for developing web applications faster. By empowering front end developers to do full stack development without writing backend code, the TakeShape platform gives companies powerful tools for significant savings. TakeShape cofounders Mark Catalano and Andrew Sprouse participated in the 2019 Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator Powered by Techstars, landed a pilot with Comcast NBCUniversal, and closed a pre-seed round of funding.
When Mark Catalano was running his own creative agency in Brooklyn with his friend, Andrew Sprouse, he didn’t plan on starting a new technology business. And he never imagined that his first major customer would be Comcast NBCUniversal, the nation’s leading entertainment and communications provider.
An engineer by trade, Mark ran the creative agency with an engineering mindset, prioritizing the technical side. As he and Andrew built software tools to help the creative team work more efficiently, it quickly became clear that they were solving a significant challenge faced by most web developers—they were enabling front end developers to do the work of backend developers without having to write any backend code.
Those insights evolved into a new platform that gives frontend developers the tools to be full stack developers — without a special skill set. “We effectively wanted to take away the bottleneck that is backend development,” explains Mark. Realizing the platform had serious potential, Mark and Andrew established a new startup, TakeShape, in 2018.
Mark knew that even though he’d led a creative agency, he needed new skills to successfully launch a startup, so he applied to the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator Powered by Techstars. “I really wanted to learn in an environment surrounded by people that have gone through that process before,” Mark explains. The Techstars Accelerator mentorship model, in particular, he notes, “seemed a lot more personal and our style.” Although excited about the program, Mark was slightly skeptical the walk would match the talk. “Having now gone through it,” he says, “I can say that my actual expectations were exceeded.”
In the whirlwind 13-week accelerator program, TakeShape and 10 other startups set up residence at Comcast NBCUniversal, working with Comcast business leaders and Techstars entrepreneurs to refine their products and pitches. Weekly meetings with entrepreneurs like Moisey Uretsky, Founder of DigitalOcean; Christina Flashen, CEO of Pandium; and Adam Johnson, CEO of IOpipe, helped inform TakeShape’s market approach.
The Techstars Give First mentality was also on full display. When Mark, a self-proclaimed “bad memorizer,” found himself unable to pull together his pitch two days before going on stage, NICKL founder and cohort mate Sumorwuo Zaza worked with him on memorization techniques for two hours until Mark was presenting like a pro. The truly game-changing support, however, came from Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs and the unlimited access Mark and Andrew had to the company’s business units and leadership.
All departments within Comcast NBCUniversal were primed to support the Accelerator companies. “I thought that was amazing,” says Mark. “I could reach out to anyone and say, ‘I'd love to pick your brain about this, and would you be willing to set up a meeting?’”
As Danielle Cohn, Vice President of Startup Engagement at Comcast NBCUniversal, explains, “Our goal during the program is to help the companies get access to our decision makers and get proof of concept done. From there, we hope to have an even greater ratio of companies that get an actual deal done — that are paid to do something with Comcast NBCU.” And as hoped, after Mark had a conversation with Comcast’s Distinguished Engineer Chris Lorenzo, first Chris tried TakeShape, then Chris’ team started using the platform, and finally TakeShape landed a once-in-a-lifetime paid pilot with Comcast NBCUniversal.
The partnership is truly a win-win. According to Danielle, “the opportunity is really big for TakeShape to help upskill frontend developers into working faster and doing things without waiting for backend developers. And that’s a big deal that could save our company a lot of money.” That big deal is now playing out. TakeShape is finishing up their pilot and working through the details of a commercial agreement with Comcast. “If the product is successful after a yearly term, we hope to offer TakeShape as an enterprise platform for all teams,” says Danielle.
Since the accelerator program, Mark and Andrew raised a pre-seed round of funding where, once again, Techstars was instrumental. “Our Managing Director, KJ Singh, stuck with us the entire time during this fundraise,” Mark says. “We bounced ideas off of him, got introductions from him — doing this without Techstars would be much, much harder.”
“You know,” says Mark, reflecting on the future for TakeShape, “We have lofty goals, but what drives us every day is the desire to have an impact. Whatever financial success comes, it’s because we want the things we build to help other people, make them smile, and make them happy.”
Learn more about the work TakeShape is doing with Comcast NBCUniversal in this online Ask Me Anything.
Learn more about how to be a great mentor: read the Techstars Mentor Manifesto.
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