For the past couple of months we’ve had the chance to participate in the Grow America Springboard competition. It was tough to decide if we should enter, since our time is already spread so thin. However, like-it-or-not, it takes money to run a business, and this felt like a good fit. Looking back, we are really glad that we entered. We did not win any money, but we learned a lot and gained confidence in our ability to communicate what we are doing to business folks (especially when they’re not research geeks).
It was inspiring and enlightening to see other entrepreneurs going through the same things we’re going through. We’re not the only ones that are young and somewhat inexperienced, but trying to fill “executive” shoes. We’re just normal people trying to make something out of an idea we believe in. Seeing these other companies succeed gave us that “if they can do it, we can do it” feeling.
Seeing the companies that are a little further along than we are gave us a vision of the next steps we need to take. Some of these steps are exciting and some are a little intimidating. It’s exciting to think about actually having our first product out there, in the hands of the people that want it, and to start making a difference! It’s intimidating to realize that we need to build partnerships with other businesses. It’s easy for us to connect with like-minded people, but business-to-business is a whole new ballgame for us.
The actual competition process helped us as well in two ways.
First, it reminded us of something we already know: our business plan needs to be a living document, not something that we dust off once a year. When we were writing our business plan for the first time, we talked about that, but we apparently needed a reminder. With each round of the competition we would have new insights about our business or a slightly new way to look at what we are doing. It’s not that what we were making big changes, but we received deeper insights, like baby steps of refinement. Thinking through the big picture again validated our thoughts and helped us make sure we were staying on track with our goals. Had anything gotten in the way? Were we missing something important?
Second, we had to step way outside our comfort zone during some parts of the competition. We’ve wanted to take on video production for various things in the past, but have never felt like we had the skillset to do it. As part of the second round of the competition, we needed to submit a two-minute video. So guess what?! We learned! It may not be ready for an Oscar nomination, but we thought it was pretty good for three days of crash-course-style experience. (It also got us out of a jam when we had technical difficulties at NGS because we were able to fall back on the video we had created for the competition.) It’s given us confidence to take on a video in the future (hopefully with a little more time to put it together). The other major way we were thrown outside of our comfort zone came in the final round. We pitched to an angel investor. We have never done that before and the thought had always been scary. Now that we’ve done it, it’s not that intimidating anymore. They asked us hard questions, and we were able to answer them with confidence. The more questions they asked, the more I felt validated in our business approach and decisions.
The competition also gave me an even greater appreciation for those that are in fields of research. Research is challenging in any field. It is also challenging to explain research to someone that has never done it before—let alone explain it in 2–3 minutes.
Overall, this experience gave me encouragement to take those next steps. I recognize now more than ever that we can be successful. There is nothing stopping us.
P.S.—Another random realization: adrenaline can make up for a lot of lack in sleep. But the letdown after the adrenaline stops is brutal.