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By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship
“We’re not the experts.” That’s what Therese Flaherty told entrepreneurs over and over again in her 14 years as Director of the Wharton Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Therese believed in the power of entrepreneurs to transform their businesses, and she created a consulting framework based on asking thoughtful questions and challenging assumptions—with the entrepreneurs themselves making decisions, because they’re the experts in their businesses.
By David Lindsay, Co-founder of Oncora Medical
If you’re thinking about starting a company with VC money, I have a few tips for you! My company, Oncora Medical, is a Philly-based digital health company that just raised a $1.2M seed round; it builds predictive analytics software for radiation oncologists. While fundraising for Oncora, I learned some valuable lessons.
1. Act on good advice. When a venture capitalist takes time out of their day to discuss your business with you, validate them by actually implementing their advice. They may have agreed to introduce you to a potential advisor, key opinion leader, or future collaborator. Follow up with those introductions in a timely manner and try to learn as much as you can from the interaction. If the person you are meeting with gives you a specific suggestion about your product or service, make sure you at least look into the value of their suggestion. If you make progress in the areas that they have identified, you have the perfect excuse to reach back out to them with results. A month or two after the initial email, shoot them a specific update email.
I did this with Oncora after meeting Dr. Gary Kurtzman, the managing director of Safeguard Scientifics’ healthcare practice and lecturer at Wharton. He first took a phone meeting with me back in January of 2015, and strongly advised me to break our “software platform” into three discrete products. Over the next month, our team developed product names (and logos) for the three key components of our software. Dr. Kurtzman is now chairman of our board of directors, and one of my closest advisors.
2. Don’t take low probability shots. One of my advisors once told me something that felt somewhat contrary to the standard sound bite, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Paraphrasing, he basically said, “If you miss a bunch of shots, your coach is going to bench you.” When you ask for money and get a no, that is not a good thing. It lowers your confidence (hopefully not too much), but worse, it can make other VCs think they should say no, too (no one wants to buy something that no one else wants).
You can avoid this problem by not asking your VC contacts for money until you are ready (ask for advice instead). You can also phrase your request for money in the subjective. For example, I would always ask VCs the following question during calls: “for you to make an investment in a company like Oncora, what would you need to see in terms of traction, clinical partnerships, etc?” Then go do what they tell you to do and update them in a month (without being too annoying). Then once you have some traction, start asking.
3. Be genuine and nice. This should go without saying, but don’t lie or exaggerate about your progress. VCs are investing in YOU, not just your idea and your traction. When things go wrong with product development (which they inevitably will), your investors want someone they trust at the wheel. When you are genuine, things are just better.
Bio: David Lindsay is on a leave of absence from the MD/PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania and has a BS in neurobiology and MS in mathematics from UConn. He is one of the founders of Oncora Medical, a health technology startup in Philadelphia.
Scott Bierbryer WG’14, Co-Founder of VeryApt
“Please move slowly and don’t break anything,” says my Jewish mother
In a tech ecosystem that idolizes Facebook (“move fast and break things”) and Y Combinator, the Business Plan Competition feels particularly anachronistic and maybe even damaging to innovation. I couldn’t disagree more.
Virtually all the finalists have working prototypes and traction
By Mike Kijewski LPS’10/WG’12, Founder of Gamma Basics
After undergrad, I was teaching AP chemistry and physics to suburban Philadelphia seniors. My young, undergraduate vision included inspiring them to look at the world in an inquisitive and analytical way and to strive for personal evolution. After three years of trying to help them discover their own dreams, I understood that I was failing at my own teaching. While I loved my experiences inside the classroom, I realized that I wanted a career that was more entrepreneurial while still helping to improve the lives of those around me.
By Matt Carey C’07/WG’15, Co-founder of Abaris
Financial technology (FinTech) as a niche is dead. No, it’s not going away. Rather, financial technology is on the cusp of becoming so entrenched in every aspect of global finance that we’ll stop thinking of it as a niche and start thinking of it as the core of how financial services is delivered to consumers, corporations and institutional investors. The rise of FinTech will actually accelerate the already blurred lines between bank and nonbank institutions, between an algorithm and a human salesforce, and between the work of machines and the work of flesh-and-blood professionals.
By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship
At our recent Alumni Dinner in Philadelphia, Rich Riley W’96, CEO of Shazam and Lucnida Duncalfe C’85/WG’91, CEO of Monetate, sat down and opened up about what it’s really like to scale a company. If you were in the room, you got to hear what Rich Riley thinks Marissa Mayer should do with Yahoo… But even if you couldn’t be there, here are some fascinating insights from these two tremendous entrepreneurs:
By Jeff Voigt WG’85, Principal, Medical Device Consultants of Ridgewood
A not-so-quiet revolution around medical innovation is taking place in the Philadelphia area. The Penn Center for Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, the Bossone Research Center at Drexel University and the Jefferson Innovation Center are all helping startup medical companies get to market. Continue reading
By Jon Cooper WG’09/CAS’03, Founder of Life.io
Here’s where I am right now: somewhere above Europe, en-route from Dubai, a screen reads 10h 24m until touchdown in JFK. Here’s what’s going through my head:
Won’t be home until midnight. Must be fresh and ready to go to by 6 am. Duty free had a great toy selection. Thank God. It’s my son’s birthday. He will be 4. What? He’ll be 4!? Wow. Time is flying. This also means Life.io will be 4 soon. When did this all happen? Crazy.
This is my tenth JFK/Dubai leg in under a year, and my mind is racing. There are so many things to prep, deliver, adjust (no, enhance. Enhance sounds better…). With the stress, jet lag and three hours sleep, it feels like I’m caught somewhere between a good dream and an anxiety dream.