As a startup, you have submitted your business model and pitching documentation multiple times for approval or feedback to your mentors, to an acceleration program, to receive grants and subsidies or to fundraise.
As you are honing your skills and providing the most pertinent information in order to achieve your goals of fundraising or grants and subsidies as well as being accepted within local incubation or acceleration programs, you are looking for feedback and constructive criticism.
Having read through hundreds and hundreds of business plans and pitching decks in my function of independent evaluator, I wanted to share my main takeaways and most important lessons of over 5 years of experience in the field as well as being an active Business Angel and Entrepreneur.
1. Innovation? Are you sure?
Ideas converge! Even though you may think that your “new” idea is brilliant, more often than not your idea is unfortunately not novel. Most ideas come up at the same time in different corners of the world or even more frequently, most ideas that you have had were actually variations of things you have seen somewhere else in the world or in a different sector.
That is per se not a problem but if you want to scale and expand internationally, you will quickly be confronted with local competition in other countries which makes it difficult and costly to grow fast.
What to do? A comprehensive competitive analysis is of essence. If you are not sure how to do one, start with a simple Google search with keywords being your business plan keywords. As an example, if you wish to build a marketplace for yachts in the Nordic countries, look for: “Yachts to rent Nordics”. On top of a simple Google search, start reading Start-up blogs and newsletters and check out Angel List or Crunchbase as well as CB Insights. You would be surprised how many “novel” ideas can be “denoveled” by a simple search online.
Don’t get caught in a presentation where the jury or evaluators know more about competition than you do. It does not shine a favorable light on you.
2. Highlight your ability to learn from others
You probably heard this often beforehand: you should learn from your mistakes. I would like to go even further as I work with many first-time entrepreneurs who literally have not made any mistakes that they can learn from yet. So, don’t only learn from your mistakes but be smart and learn from other people’s mistakes.
As before, information is key. Working on an isolated island (figuratively or literally) will not bring you any critical input. It will also not expose you to people who will share their mistakes with you. You would be amazed how talkative people become when you ask them about their mistakes and what they have learned. This is especially true in the startup sector as it is almost considered a badge of honor to have failed. Use that sharing mechanism to learn as much as you can from the people around you. Go and look for exchange with entrepreneurs and other start uppers. It will make you more competitive and will give you insights for free which would otherwise cost you a lot of time and money.
Diversity matters! This is of course not only true for employees you may hire but also applies to the mentors, start-ups and overall advice givers you converse with. The more people you talk to from different backgrounds and with different views, the faster you can find and remedy challenges that your business model will have: Invest into relationships which will give you the most comprehensive set of views on your business.
How does the above help you impress evaluators? You can demonstrate your knowledge and your ability to learn from others by highlighting in your business model or deck that your choices for this business model are based upon learnings and mistakes from others. For example: Consider you would want to build an app for a B2B distribution of services. Highlighting your distribution choices by explaining your choices with referencing other start-ups or companies is a great way to showcase your research and openness to learn from others.
3. Incubators and Accelerators
So, where can you find all these amazing people as detailed above? Yes, at incubator and accelerators. I&A are a huge value add within local ecosystems. This is clearly proven by the fact that well equipped ecosystems demonstrate a much higher quality of projects!
Yes, you can find that one gem which has never gone through an incubator or accelerator and is an amazing business. Of course, I am not saying that you cannot have a great business idea or business if you don’t use the proposed services of local incubators but rather, it is easier and faster if you can use the tools and advice provided by local and international experts available in the incubator network.
Be picky with which incubator or accelerator you wish to work with. The better connected the incubator is, the more value add it will bring you. Thus, if you are open to learning and want to move and grow fast, they are a great resource in your toolbox.
How does this help you with evaluators looking at your business? Being able to point to prestigious incubator or accelerator programs in your business model and pitching deck, gives you a competitive edge and also makes everything you say a bit more credible. Be careful though not to overdo it. If you move from one program to the next one, you will hurt your credibility more than help it. It shows lack of focus and commitment and thus I would strongly suggest to pick your incubator and accelerator very strategically.
This is not an exhaustive list of variables but it is a great start for anyone looking for pointers in the right direction.
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