Growing and scaling startups –  Coaching session with Hack for Earth

Marie Claire Maxwell and Mikael Ahlström
Marie Claire Maxwell and Mikael Ahlström

Hack for Earth, which took place during COP28, was a global hackathon held online and at the COP28 event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The event aimed to address the challenges of climate change by seeking tangible solutions. With over 1000 teams hailing from 112 countries, this competition transcends borders to address the pressing challenges of sustainability.

The winning teams of Hack for Earth aren’t just celebrated, they’re granted an invaluable opportunity to present their groundbreaking solutions through a compelling pitch for Build for Earth. This platform allows them to showcase their innovation, creativity, and commitment to addressing the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges to a global audience.

Mikael Ahlström from The Park and Marie Claire Maxwell from Business Sweden recently engaged in a coaching session with the winners of the Hackathon, focusing on strategies for startup growth and scalability. Ahlström and Maxwell shared valuable insights and tips for startups during their coaching session. Here’s a summary of their advice.

Combat Fear of Launch

When you meet with investors, your idea confronts reality. You may have a perfect idea and grand aspirations for how customers/investors will embrace your concept. However, upon meeting them it’s important to acknowledge that reality may not always align with our expectations. Reality provides invaluable feedback, empowering you to refine your idea. It’s crucial to take note of the questions and feedback received, learning from each pitch to potentially make enhancements or clarify aspects.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the most cost-effective method to introduce a product to the market. We strive to avoid aiming for perfection right from the start, as this delays receiving feedback. A popular saying goes, ‘If you’re not a little bit embarrassed by the product when you launch it, you’ve launched it too late.’

When receiving feedback or questions, it’s crucial not to take them personally. Instead, view them as opportunities to analyze and improve both your idea and your pitch. It’s essential to maintain an open mind during meetings with investors and to be prepared for the cultural nuances of the audience you’re engaging with.

Pivoting towards success

Changing direction is not always a bad thing, but a way to improve and optimize your idea through different angles. Pivoting plays a vital role in the entrepreneurial journey, requiring entrepreneurs to begin with a single idea and recognize when it proves ineffective. You know your idea is solid, however, it may require additional features or enhancements. The idea might not immediately succeed; it could be premature. Yet, by shifting towards a B2B model or another direction, its value may evolve. Pivoting the target audience could prove essential.

Getting investments

In the past, startups found it easier to secure investments. Nowadays, the process takes longer as investors prioritize safeguarding their funds and expecting returns. They seek quick returns and require assurance of customer/client acquisition and interest in the idea

When speaking to investors, one goal is to minimize risks. Having already proven yourself in the market with another concept reduces risk. Investors prefer to hear that the foundation of the idea is already established, but startups are adding a unique twist to it. Don’t hesitate to pitch; it’s an opportunity to receive feedback. Remember, you’re not finished yet; you’ve just begun. The more open you are to receiving feedback, the better.

So minimize the risk to ensure a safe investment and then add the next level of the idea that can scale into great returns. Present your idea with all its functions and features to make investors feel confident. Then, introduce the next level: ‘When we have built this, we can add another feature.’ Plant the seed of an exciting next level.

Preparing the Pitch

The best preparation for a big pitch is to engage in numerous small pitches. Seek out environments where you can test your pitch, such as mingling events and dinners, and practice with short, concise pitches. If your audience asks questions, it indicates that you’ve sparked their interest; if they divert the conversation, it may signal the need to rethink your pitch. Take advantage of every social opportunity.

What do investors focus on during a pitch? Highlight your idea rather than dwelling on problems or solutions. Ensure they grasp the essence of your concept. Dive into your idea swiftly, rather than dwelling on the issues

Engage with various types of investors, including government funding and family offices. Attend tech events, startup gatherings, and conferences. Ask yourself, ‘Where do I need to be to meet investors, customers, or clients?’ Identify the venues where networking opportunities abound, ensuring your work gets noticed and people become aware of your endeavors. Actively seek out these environments.

Team is everything

Who are you, the person turning this idea into reality? Investors may inquire. They might not invest in a great idea with a weak team, but perhaps in a strong team with a less stellar idea. A capable team can overcome most challenges and drive the company’s growth. It’s crucial to instill confidence in the investor about the team’s abilities.

The future together is paramount. How effectively does your team collaborate? How committed are its members? Establishing psychological safety within the team is crucial. Consider the “Shareholders agreement”, it sets the groundwork for the group. What if a team member pursues another job? Do they retain their position within the company? What if someone dedicates themselves full-time to the project? Address these matters beforehand, establish principles and rules so everyone understands the game plan

Initiate these discussions as things start gaining momentum. Provide a clear answer to the investor regarding the group’s rules and principles. This will help the investor understand your need for the investment.

When it comes to roles in a growing company, it’s crucial to maintain flexibility in the team setup. Every individual should be challenged about their positions every six months. Perhaps you need to accept that your role may change, and instead of becoming frustrated, you should seek out a new role. Companies may grow faster than individuals, necessitating the redefinition of roles. Meeting with investors introduces a new reality where pivoting begins to occur, significantly impacting group development. This may require making decisions that not everyone agrees with.


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