Roniin, a Newfangled Startup Factory in Chicago, Emerges with $3 Million in Funding


illustration of factory robots picking packages off conveyor belt
Image Credits: T.Dallas (opens in a new window) / Shutterstock (opens in a new window) (Image has been modified)

Over the last decade of so, Paul Lee had enjoyed a nice career as a venture capitalist. Last year, an idea began to nag at him, though, and in November, he left his job of several years, as an investor at Lightbank in Chicago, to pursue it with two other former Lightbank colleagues, Ryan Jeffery and Kathryn Saluke, and their friend Arman Ghosh.

The fruit of their labor: nine-month-old Roniin, a Chicago-based startup that spins off other startups — with a few twists that we haven’t seen before.

Here’s how the whole thing works. Roniin has raised money from lots of high-profile angel investors, many of them serial entrepreneurs like Sam Yagan. These investors are mostly busy running other companies – Yagan is the CEO of Match Group – but every once in a while (the thinking goes), one of them will have a business idea that they don’t have the time or inclination to pursue on their own.

Russ Fradin, for example, came up with the idea for Attendant, a maker of software for the funeral services industry.

Fradin is already the CEO of the social market company Dynamic Signal. So rather than explore the viability of his idea, he handed it off to Roniin’s 17-person team, which then sprang into action, combing over its database of C-level startup executives who might be enticed to head up a new startup. In Attendant’s case, the CEO that Roniin recruited was Alex Kruger, who worked previously as the VP of business at the Chicago-based on-demand parking-app startup SpotHero.

These CEOs get a good deal — at least, on a surface level. In addition to being handed an idea, along with a seat at the top of the org chart, Roniin takes care of a lot of the administrative stuff that nascent startups usually have to wrestle with, including figuring out what documents and vendors to use. (It mostly does this from a distance. “I’m a big believer that each company has to develop its own culture, and I feel like being housed in our studio takes away from that,” explains Lee.)

Roniin also gives the CEO the biggest stake in the newly formed company. Lee declined to say just how big a stake that is, but he says that Roniin itself looks to own between 10 and 30 percent of each company, and that it gives people like Fradin – who come in as the chairperson of the company – another 5 to 15 percent.

“We all get diluted together with any funding coming in,” Lee notes.

Roniin’s companies are, in fact, attracting funding. Attendant has already raised $700,000 from angel investors. Another company, Officeluv, which sells modern commercial office cleaning services, has raised $800,000 in seed funding. (Jai Shekhawat, cofounder and CEO of Fieldglass, a Chicago-based company that reportedly sold to SAP for more than $1 billion, is Officeluv’s chairman.)

Lee says a third company has also raised seed funding, though it isn’t ready for its close-up just yet.

As with any startup, larger questions remain. In Roniin’s case, just one centers on its ability to recruit the right people into the roles it is creating. Though the company is in “constant dialogue” with many potential founders — from venture-backed startups to larger businesses where individuals are running their own units — Lee admits that “finding the person with the right experience and the right timing is hard.”

Still, investors seem willing to give the company – which was named after an ancient samurai with no lord or master– a shot. In addition to a host of angel investors, Formation 8 recently led a $3 million seed round in Roniin. 500 Startups, Pritzker Group, Launch Capital, and Dom Capital also joined the round.

[Correction: This post originally confused Attendant — along with its mission and CEO — with another company whose app is called Attendant. Apologies for the mix-up.]

More TechCrunch


Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

5 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?