Over the past year we've tackled real issues that entrepreneurs all over the world face daily through our TechConnect series. TechConnects are panel discussions that provide entrepreneurs around the world with direct access to leading U.S. experts from business and academia, but without the travel and other related costs. Young science and technology entrepreneurs can engage with experts and the larger GIST community to learn about best business practices and startup resources. The information shared during these candid conversations can be what takes your startup to the next phase and it is our goal to ensure this information is accessible to you whenever you need it. With that in mind we've compiled a few tips and tools from some of our favorite episodes to share with you. Make sure to watch the full episodes to build on the brief tips highlighted here.
What can ecosystem builders do to promote diversity?
“I think accelerators and incubators can do a lot, beginning with their different strategies. One is obviously to open their programs up for marginalized groups or different types of people.” said Marcia Chong, an investment analyst for Village Capital. “We must also create programs to connect investors with entrepreneurs and create a shared language where investors are able to say, ‘We will invest at a certain level of maturity. For that we need to look at a team with a, b, c or d.’”
According to Chong, accelerators tend to focus on the entrepreneur and not investors. However, if accelerators or incubators also focus on finding investors who are willing and interested in investing in startups with a diverse team, she said there is a higher likelihood that these ecosystem builders will in turn cultivate entrepreneurs from historically marginalized groups.
“The government ought to be playing an important role whether they’re the national, regional or local government,” said Agustinho Almeida, director of operations at Ruta N in Colombia. “The local government in Medellin for instance, invests in training programs such as STEM and IT, specifically for women entrepreneurs who are working on a startup. This opens doors for marginalized people.”
Diversity is an ongoing challenge for many startup ecosystems. But through partnerships with investors and local governments, the TechConnect panel said it is possible for incubators and accelerators to help more entrepreneurs from marginalized groups launch successful startups.
Watch the full TechConnect on “Diversity for Success in Business.”
Investment and Funding
What does a “No” from an investor really mean?
“If it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit,” said Elizabeth Gore, president and co-founder of Hello Alice. “If folks across the room aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, if they don’t understand it, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong – but that it’s not the right money for you.”
It’s not all bad news though. Rejection is a great opportunity to learn something about the way that you are approaching your investors or if you are even approaching the right investors.
“If a firm tells you ‘this really isn’t what we do’ but they’re still willing to meet with you, that’s probably a waste of everybody’s time,” explained Fairfield. “They’re being polite, but you will probably not be the exception that gets an investor to move outside of their lane.”
Don’t’ lose hope, as the panelists explained, NO doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad startup – it just means you need to keep looking for the right investor.
You can get more insights about investments for startups, including the different types of investments you should be seeking out for your startup, by clicking here to view the full TechConnect.
How can diversity and inclusion in investment build stronger ecosystems?
A paradigm shift is underway, led by women investors who are actively seeking out and financing women-led startups. Known as Gender-Lens Investing, these women are working hard to overcome the financial barriers many women entrepreneurs face in funding their startups.
“What I think is the best return I’ve received from investing in female founders is the ripple effect that it tends to have on the ecosystem as a whole,” said Freiha. “Our female entrepreneurs are role models. Whether you want it to be economic or not, they tend to hire in a much more diverse way. You then see the most phenomenal mixture of people, whether that’s diversity in age, in culture, in religion, in sexual orientation and gender – really represented in these companies – which breeds success.”
Watch the full GIST TechConnect discussion on “Investing in Women.”
Can you make money while also “doing good?”
A growing number of entrepreneurs are embracing the idea that it is possible to make money while also creating a positive impact in their communities. Founders who do this are known as social entrepreneurs, but sometimes being a social entrepreneur can come with a sense of guilt.
“I’ve always liked the quote, doing well by doing good,” Said Fonta Gilliam, Founder and CEO of Sou Sou. “We really tried to embed that mantra into our business model.”
“When you’re a social enterprise, you’re running a business first and foremost,” said Gilliam. “You do have to focus on the business model, because if you don’t, you run the risk of not being able to maintain your business or attract the investment you need to grow or scale – and then you’re not helping anybody.”
"We are very proactive with working with partners that have the same mission," Gilliam continued. "That helps us not only to amplify our efforts, but to create a like minded ecosystem."
Panelist Gideon Taub, founder of Pinkaloo Technologies, used that exact model to partner with banks to increase for customers access to charitable giving opportunities. Taub took a personal desire to be more socially responsible, created a product to help himself and others to do that, and then reached out to potential partners to broaden the impact.
Get more expert advice on becoming a social entrepreneur by following this link.
From Idea to Startup
What technology can be leveraged while bootstrapping?
During the global discussion “GIST TechConnect: Cloud Computing for Your Startup,” a panel of cloud computing experts discussed the attainability of cloud services for startups. According to the panel, using the cloud is one of the cheapest ways a startup can scale up while keeping costs low. The panel continued that cloud services are also not exclusive to tech-based companies and that, in fact, any startup can use the cloud.
“Getting to market, especially in a competitive landscape like the tech market, which is a place that we’re in, it’s essential to be able to get to market as quickly as possible and at as low a cost of overheard as possible,” said Tim Mullen, Founder & CEO of Intheon. “So being able to scale your business up quickly, with minimum costs and overhead is one of those advantages that cloud services do provide you.”
“I would also like to bring forth that the bigger advantage is also that the organization can really focus on the business needs and the business goals which they want to achieve, rather than creating and spending money for building infrastructure,” said Ujjwal Kumar, Principal Technical Evangelist at Microsoft Commercial Software Engineering.
You can learn more about the cloud from the GIST TechConnect panel of experts.
What is the importance of networking during bootstrapping?
As Lisa K. Garcia, I-Corps program manager at Virginia Tech University, points out, “Business is all about building those relationships and connections. This is a numbers game. Focus on the number of people you are connected to, having those conversations. You may have 100 conversations before you find the information that validates your hypothesis.”
Dr. Helder Sebastiao echoes the importance of having and using a network. “Ask yourself, ‘With the limited means that I have, how can I get my first customer? What do I have at my disposal right now to get my first customer as quickly as possible?’
Identify entrepreneurs that are already successful, both in and outside your sector, and seek them out for validation of your prototype or concept. Garcia states, “Have those conversations now.”
Watch the entire discussion “Bootstrapping Your Business.”
Marketing Your Startup
Are good pitches really important and what makes the perfect pitch?
When an entrepreneur is looking for a potential investor, partner or even customer, she makes a pitch. A pitch is the process of describing the primary features of your product or idea – generally in five minutes or less.
During the “GIST TechConnect: Perfecting Your Pitch,” a panel of expert entrepreneurs highlighted the golden rule all entrepreneurs must follow when creating a pitch: identify and understand your audience.
“An important aspect is knowing your audience – and this gets ignored often,” said Jainesh Sinha, founder of GyanDahn. “I’ve seen several of my friends using the same pitch, the same practiced pitch, to several investors. But the reality is different investors value different things, and therefore the pitch to investors has to be different.”
How do you get reporters and influencers to cover your startup?
Whether it’s the blog of a social influencer or your local TV station, gaining press attention can be the most inexpensive way to get your name and product noticed by potential customers.
So how do you get reporters and influencers to cover your startup? During the GIST TechConnect webchat, “Getting Publicity for Your Startup,” an expert panel of entrepreneurs identified two things founders can do to get media attention for their startups.
“I think it has a lot to do with relevance. You need to be able to tell the reporter or the people in the media that what you are trying to do is important,” said Pedro López Sela, chief imagination officer at Canou. “You have to be very clear about the message you are trying to send, because you need them [reporters and influencers] to react empathetically to what you are trying to do.”
“Sometimes what happens, especially with tech companies, it’s really difficult for common people to understand what you are doing,” said Dr. Almas Awan, professor at the Federal University of Sao Carlos in Brazil. “If it is a journalist, maybe he is more interested in understanding the common terms instead of you explaining your high technology with difficult terminology. So maybe you need to change the way you pitch your idea. You need to make a common person understand in really easy words what is the problem you are trying to solve and how is it going to work.”
GIST TechConnects offer a broad spectrum of perspectives on a wide range of topics relevant to early-stage innovators, ecosystem builders, and investors. The goal is to lower the barriers to bringing U.S. expertise to emerging economies and ecosystems around the globe. We hope the perspectives of these industry experts is a valuable resource for you and your endeavors along your innovation journey. GIST TechConnects contain many more insights than what we can list in a single article. You can find them all on our website.