By Cheryl Goodman
Entrepreneurs are exceptional at seeing a market need where few others do. What’s more, they are relentless in their pursuit of developing solutions and are steadfast in their commitment to realizing that vision.
This is especially true for women entrepreneurs who have the courage and conviction to launch and build companies. What’s more, women are typically more generous in helping other women do the same. That’s why the recent Athena “Funding The Female Founder” workshop I moderated was standing room only.
I had the privilege of engaging an esteemed panel of technology and life science entrepreneurs who happen to be women. They provided great insights into the trials and tribulations of securing investment and customers for their companies. Each of them was candid about their journey toward entrepreneurship. One common theme was the fact that every figurative knee scrape, every single point of rejection and every single setback became part of the makings of a strong foundation that ultimately lead to their success.
Here’s a summary of some of their other guiding principles to launching a company:
Martha G. Dennis, Ph.D., Principal, Gordian Knot
- Take a leap of faith in yourself and your ability. Know that you can do it!
- Be persistent. I worked with Qualcomm Founder Irwin Jacobs. He never gave up. He just kept going and going until he sold his idea to someone and made it happen.
- Securing investment and customers for your business idea takes perseverance. When I started, I developed a lot of calluses on my knees from begging and warts on my lips from kissing a lot of frogs before I got my ventures going.
- It’s not enough just to talk to investors about the merits of your invention. You need to sell how it’s going to turn into a business that will put money back in their pocket.
- Find other routes to securing funding and customers. Network the hell out of it.
Kim Walpole, Founder and CEO, Trials.ai
- Be true to yourself. Don’t try to be something that you’re not.
- Fight for what you believe and never quit.
- Often women are too hard on themselves. It’s okay not to get it right the first time.
- Challenge assumptions, particularly your own.
- Recognize that we all have an unconscious bias. There are plenty of times in a venture capital board room that the investors will turn to my male colleagues instead of me as the CEO. They apologize soon enough, but you’ll need to understand that it does exist.
- There is a far different dialogue about funding in San Francisco than San Diego, where the venture capital market isn’t as developed. However, this city is a far more supportive environment than others to vet ideas and get valuable connections.
- Sell! Nothing generates investor interest more than proving that customers want your product. Get out there and see who’ll buy or at least give you a letter of intent.
- Have a passion. People love that!
Susie Harborth, Managing Director, BioLabs San Diego
- If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
- The low success numbers are there for a reason. It’s a tough climb that is worth it in the end.
- Do 100 percent more than you normally would, because that’s what’s required.
- Don’t be upset with the rejections. They’ll help you tell your story better next time.
- Come in with a confidence stance. Act like you belong there.
- Know what your investor’s motivation is. It’s important to know that if you want to close a deal.
- Dress the part. If you’re asking for money, wear a suit.
My big takeaway was the fact that there is no secret handshake nor special potion to getting funding or securing customers for a startup. It’s all about the drive, desire and willingness to hustle. If you possess those traits, the sky’s the limit.
Cheryl Goodman is executive director of Athena, a nonprofit organization championing professional growth, programming and advocacy for women executives and rising managers in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics fields. She is a former Qualcomm executive and a serial entrepreneur.
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