OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | WeekWise: Seven and Eight
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WeekWise: Seven and Eight

Week 7

After a long 4th of July weekend, founders were back to the daily grind at TMCx on Tuesday for the first pitch practice. As the founders prepare for the Bayou Startup Showcase, honing and refining their pitches will be vital to successfully expressing the problem they are solving and their solution. To help them, our leadership team along with a band of pitch coaches will meet with the teams a total of nine times for pitch practice before the big event. In the first pitch practice, our teams started off a little shaky, but showed significant improvement after the first round of feedback. We encourage our mentors to use a no-holds-barred approach, critiquing the pitches so founders can maximize the short time they have left in crafting the best pitch they can for the big reveal.

After all of the startup teams had pitched two times, we gathered together for our weekly Founders Meeting to discuss the ups, downs and sideways of the last week. Chowing down on delicious Italian food from Buca Di Beppo, founders recounted their biggest successes and challenges over the past week— it was like a family dinner back home. After heavy-duty carb-loading, founders went home to their pets and families armed with direction for the week to come.

The next day was packed with a concentrated dose of Disciplined Entrepreneurship. The morning session led by Hesam, mapped the sales process. This process includes how to enter the market, refine a sales strategy over time, and ultimately establish a inexpensive long-term strategy for customer acquisition. This process is an important factor in determining the cost of customer acquisition and the lifetime value of a customer, two major factors in determining a company’s profitability.

After lunch, we assembled for an afternoon session on determining the cost of customer acquisition (COCA). After mapping out the sales process, determining the COCA should be built realistically for different timeframes. It is important to not let optimism blind the projections for the COCA in order to get a sense of the business cycle.

Thursday was a busy day for our leadership team, but a great opportunity to have a productive work day for our founders. As we hosted 1-on-1 meetings with each startup team to gauge their progress and ask for feedback, founders had nearly an entire day to continue making progress on their interviews, deliverables and pitches.

And thank goodness it was Friday. Our leadership team and startup teams met up at Lucky Strike for an afternoon of bowling and finger foods. However, we quickly learned that not a single member of our cohort was good at bowling. Despite our disappointment in our ability to roll a ball and knock things over, we discovered the fried Mac’n’Cheese—which was infinitely more delicious than our pride.

Week 8

Week 8 began with another session with our branding guru, Jessica Fleenor, to help our founders develop a storyboard for slide decks. Part of the art of a good pitch is to draw listeners in with a story and problem they can relate to and logically assert why you are best able to solve that problem. The other part is a visually compelling slide deck. Jessica taught our founders to follow the three C’s: concise, convincing, and concrete.

Founders then broke off to begin drafting their storyboards. Graphic designers Ben Alcaraz, Edgar Cordova of Rubrika Design, and Andrew Douglass of Dark Water Creative joined the scene, providing input on storyboards and getting to know the startup teams.

Later that day, founders divvy’d up  into rooms for the second pitch practiceof the season. We brought in even more mentors this time from the Houston entrepreneurial community to analyze and critique each piece of the startup teams’ pitches. One of the biggest challenges for the founders with pitch practice is the amount and variation of feedback. More often than not, founders will receive directly conflicting advice from different mentors., It is the founders’ responsibility to synthesize all of the advice they receive throughout pitch practice, and at the end of the day, implement the advice that works best for their startup. This week’s roundup of pitch coaches included Melanie Jones, of Marketing Interface, Keith Kreuer of RedHouse Associates, Mike Evans, Tom Kraft of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Beth O’Sullivan of Rice University, Gayle Moran of Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, Anderson Ta of Open Factory (OwlSpark Class 3), Jordan Szymczyk of OcuCheck (OwlSpark Class 3), Matt Pena (OwlSpark Class 3), and Kyle Dixon of Towbee (RED Labs Class 3).

Tuesday had a single theme: financial modeling. Danielle Supkis Cheek of D. Supkis Cheek, PLLC held office hours and advised founders on key accounting principles. Even though startup teams are at very different stages in their business models, Danielle’s expertise is a critical resource at every stage. No matter how good an idea is, it is destined to fail if the money isn’t managed well. One of our mentors, Matt Bell, said it best, “Watch the cash. No matter how much you think you are going to be worth, if you run out of money before you get there. You are toast.”

That evening we had our weekly Founders Meeting once again, giving all of our founders a chance share their highlights from the week and ask the OwlSpark and RED Labs cohorts for help in an area of their choosing. One of the most important parts of the roundtable-style Founders Meeting is that it forces the teams to reflect on a singular aspects of their previous week and the week ahead.

The next day we took a step back to focus on reflection. In the morning, Hesam led a session on identifying and testing key assumptions. After ranking and prioritizing the assumptions they had not yet validated, startup teams developed empirical methods to confirm or refute the assumptions they had previously made. It is very important for startups to move quickly through this process of validation in order to mitigate the long-term risk.

Our afternoon and evening were filled with guest speakers, first being Aly Dossa from intellectual property (IP) law firm, Osha Liang LLP. Aly gave founders a quick run through of of IP law, touching on how and when to file patents, the pros and cons of doing so, and the general timeline in the intellectual property process. Later in the evening, Chris Church, founder and CEO of MacroFab joined us for Startup Founders Series. Chris told us his story and how he first entered the world of entrepreneurship when he founded Alert Logic in 2002. Mostly covering on the importance of the role of CEO, Chris went over what he believes are the most important aspects of managing a successful company. What Chris stressed most was the importance of using every dollar and every minute to the fullest in order to acquire more customers. In his experience, the best way to build a successful company and validate the product is to find a customer and sell to them as fast as you can.

Our lineup of guest speakers continued Thursday morning as we were visited by Paul Pryzant from Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Specializing in mergers and acquisitions, Paul taught founders about the legalities of corporate structure. Delineating choice of entity, capital structure, issuing stock, and how to raise money, Paul covered the vital information founders need as they move forward and grow their startups. As a bootstrapped startup, there are very few legal obligations, but once employees are hired or investors are financing the venture, complex legal procedures become prevalent.

Thursday afternoon was again filled with 1-on-1 meetings between our startup teams and the leadership team. In preparation for the second mock Advisory Board Meeting on Friday, founders reviewed their key talking points.

On Friday, founders had a second mock advisory board meeting with mentors. The advisory board meetings are a unique opportunity for founders to come in with unique and specific asks and have them answered by experienced entrepreneurs and board members. The board meetings also gives founders the opportunity to create connections and develop relationships outside of the walls of TMCx.

Another crazy week has come and gone, and we are inching closer to the big day: Bayou Startup Showcase. Founders have made significant progress over the past few weeks, experiencing the ups and downs of #startuplife, but they always hop back in the saddle.


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