Houston Voices

7 ways to escape the Valley of Death, according to University of Houston research

Finding funding is tough and might get you in the mother of all holes — the Valley of Death. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

To walk through the valley of death means that death and misery are low points (valleys) in the human experience through which we all must inevitably walk and experience.

Although not as morbid, in the world of startup businesses, the valley of death is still grim. It is a low point in your startup's life where your business suffers and all seems lost. Specifically, it describes how hard it is to cover negative cash flow while you wait for your startup to start generating revenue from actual consumers. Sadly, only 10 percent of startups will survive the valley of death after the first three years, according to a Gompers and Lerner analysis.

"Our startup overcame the valley of death by making believers out of investors. Often, you have ideas that are worthwhile, but you have to find investors who also believe that," says Jason Eriksen, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and chair and co-founder of Alzeca Biosciences.

Alzeca develops advanced imaging technology that helps physicians detect Alzheimer's at a much earlier stage than ever before. Alzeca is one of 28 groundbreaking and innovative startups changing the world at UH's Technology Bridge.

"Initially, our investors rejected us because they were disappointed that we couldn't cure Alzheimer's, and that we could merely stage it. That sent us spiraling into the valley of death. We overcame that by making other investors believers. We made them believe in our technology for detecting the disease early and that it would be life-changing for millions of sufferers," Eriksen says.

Here are another seven ways to dig yourself out of, not just a hole, but the mother of all holes: the valley of death.

1. Gather resources.

Planning your business is a good way to minimize risk. Such preparation involves determining how much money you will need to get to the revenue generation stage, and how much money you will need to cover costs in the likely event you fall into a financial hole. The more resources you've accumulated beforehand, the more padding you'll have if you fall on your face.

2. Don't quit your day job.

Keep your day-to-day job to keep money coming in and your personal finances covered. Use your weeknights and weekends to put in work on your company while you wait to generate revenue. You'll be making money while you wait for money. This way might take longer, but with proper planning, you can ensure that your lights will stay on while your startup struggles to bring in revenue while spiraling in the valley of death.

3. Find funding from friends and family.

"Angel investors and venture capitalists will feel a lot better about investing if they see you already have money at stake," Eriksen says.

That pre-investor money usually comes from friends and family. There is some weight to the idea that you should never mix business with family, but there are exceptions.

You're more likely to secure funding from friends and family if you show them you have a more-than-solid business plan. Your loved ones will want to see figures and metrics that have tracked what your business has done or what it is projected to do. They will also want to see that you are an expert in your business. It would also help to show them a payment plan where you outline when and how you will pay their money back.

Once you have friends and family funding secured, you're a lot more likely to acquire more funding from investors, and the long, hard road out of the valley of death begins.

4. Call for crowdfunding.

One smart way to jet pack out of the valley of death is to launch a crowdfunding campaign. If you know your tech, service, or product is a game changer, crowdfunding will put that to the test. This is where you'll obtain funding from everyday people who like what you have to offer enough to put all their faith in it in the form of dollars and cents.

5. Enter competitions and apply for grants.

Enter as many competitions as you can.

"Because of the government's recent surge in focus on tech-based and energy-based startups, there are now more startup competitions available in major VC (venture capitalist) geographic hotspots like San Francisco, Boston, New York, LA, and San Jose," Eriksen says.

While those cities are the startup hotspots, their activity reflects the current market for startups all over the country. Thankfully, that activity is at an all-time high, so you can rest assured that startup competitions are abundant in your own city, too.

This is your chance to show the world your hoverboard and attain funding you don't have to pay back, all without even relinquishing any equity. These competitions are, get this, competitive, so it would wise to register as early as you can.

6. Consider joint venture.

There might be a company out there that sees your product or services as congruent to their own business. Reach out to them and try to convince them that a joint venture would behoove both companies. This approach is not uncommon, and companies have been known to advance funding early on with the expectation that you'll reimburse them once your revenue starts rolling in.

7. Borrow if need be. 

Somewhere out there is a loan with your name on it. Wallowing in the valley of death can really leave a business owner feeling desperate and alone in the world. So desperate, that is, that they might mess around and apply for a loan. This alternative is the nuclear option. A last resort. It's only a viable approach if you're willing to put your home or other big assets on the line as collateral.

Typically, banks will only approve loans to startups that are cash-flow positive. So maybe this option is best if you've succeeded with a few of the aforementioned approaches so much that they helped your company start generating revenue. Once you've reached that point, that's the prime time to apply for a loan or line of credit.

"The phrase 'valley of death' is appropriate because it is a death sentence for the vast majority of startups," warns Eriksen.

That doesn't mean you go down without a fight.

When Buster Douglas fought Mike Tyson, every fan, expert, and sportswriter counted him out. For the entire fight, they were right. His defeat was inevitable. Then the tenth round happened.

Not only did he not go down without a fight, he won the bout. He beat the champ, and the odds. If you want your best chance at beating the odds, you do everything you can. You fight. Loans, competitions, crowdfunding, joint ventures; whatever it takes.

"The valley of death is only a death sentence if you allow it to be."

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

The author, Rene Cantu, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Life Time Work opening its first Houston location is among this roundup of Houston innovation news. Courtesy of Life Time Work

In the Houston innovation news cycle, it's hard to keep up. Three higher education institutions are celebrating big wins within innovation and entrepreneurialism, a new coworking space joins the scene, and a health tech competition launches out of the Texas Medical Center.

Here are all the short stories within Houston innovation that you may have missed.

Texas AI company makes international partnership

Photo via hypergiant.com

Hypergiant Industries, a Texas industrial AI company with a presence in Houston, announced that it has received funding from and has entered into a partnership with Japan-based Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. The relationship will allow the company to enable and accelerate Hypergiant's AI-driven innovation initiatives across over 900 Sumitomo subsidiaries and associated companies.

"We're proud to be backed by a global leader like SCOA," says Ben Lamm, CEO and co-founder of Hypergiant, in a release. "SCOA is a company that has advanced so many industries with critical technological breakthroughs decade after decade. This relationship will ensure that both SCOA and Hypergiant remain ahead of the competition in AI for years to come."

The funding amount wasn't disclosed.

Bauer College of Business gets top marks

Photo via bauerticker.uh.edu

The Deshpande Foundation has selected The University of Houston for its 2019 Entrepreneurial University Award, recognizing the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the C.T. Bauer College of Business.

"Over the past decade, the Wolff Center's reputation as one of the nation's leading entrepreneurship programs has grown tremendously, and this award from the Deshpande Foundation reinforces that Bauer College is empowering students to innovate through a world-class program that emphasizes experiential learning and personalized attention by dedicated mentors," says Paul A. Pavlou, incoming dean of the Bauer College, in a release.

The award was announced by the Massachusetts-based organization at the Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on June 11.

Life Time Work opens its doors

Courtesy of Life Time Work

Life Time Work's first Houston-area location has opened its doors in City Centre Five at 825 Town & Country Lane. The next location has already been announced to open in downtown Houston next year.

"Life Time Work is a natural extension of the lifestyle brand we have built in our athletic resorts over the past 27 years," says Life Time Work president, James O'Reilly, in a release. "With Houston's continued growth and diversified business and entrepreneurial community, City Centre is the perfect location for us to unveil this concept. We look forward to helping our members in their pursuit of a fulfilling and healthy work life."

The 25,000-square-foot space features 79 desks, 48 offices, lounge spaces, eight phone booths, two phone rooms, five conference rooms, and more features.

JLABS @ TMC opens contest for health care startups

Photo via jlabs.jnjinnovation.com

Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the Texas Medical Center, and AngelMD have teamed up to launch the Breakthrough Medical Technologies QuickFire Challenge, which is looking for game-changing medical device ideas from all over the world for a chance to win prizes.

The winner — or winners — will "receive up to $250,000 in convertible notes funding from TMC, entry to the TMCx accelerator program, one year of residency at JLABS @ TMC in Houston, Texas, and access to the Johnson & Johnson, Innovation - JLABS global ecosystem," according to the website. Also on the line — an additional convertible note investment up to $100,000 from AngelMD's Catalyst Fund.

The competition is looking for innovations within a wide range of health technologies, from oncology to 3D printing.

Houston hospital ranks No. 1 in the state for being one of America's Best Employers

Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Forbes partnered with market research company Statista to identify the best employers in each state. In Texas, Houston was represented at the top. Houston Methodist ranked as the number one company on the Texas list.

Royal Dutch Shell, which ranks at No. 11, is the next Houston-headquartered company on the list, followed by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (No. 19), Katy Independent School District (No. 22), and Texas Children's Hospital (No. 23.)

HCC recognized for innovation of the year

Photo courtesy of HCC

Houston Community College received the Innovation of the Year Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College. HCC won for its Zero Textbook Degree initiative, which launched in 2017 and has grown from 28 to 98 sections across five HCC campuses.

"The Z-Degree program is managed by an entire group of hardworking and forward-thinking HCC faculty who are all deserving of the accolades currently bestowed on them," says Chancellor Cesar Maldonado in a news release.

Textbook prices have increased 88 percent since 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and, according to the release, textbooks could end up costing some HCC students more than their tuition.

Rice University hosts inaugural program for future entrepreneurs

Photo courtesy of Lilie



Rice's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship got a jump on molding its young minds. Lilie hosted 44 incoming freshmen as a part of its inaugural Lilie Change Maker Summit. For four days, the to-be students had the opportunity to get get a taste of the program and entrepreneurialism through workshops, guest speakers, and more.

The summit was led by Jamie Jones, executive director of Lilie, and Hesam Panahi, lecturer in entrepreneurship at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business and a faculty member at Lilie.

"We truly believe this will be a game changer in the Rice entrepreneurial ecosystem," says Caitlin Bolanos, associate director at Lilie, in an email to InnovationMap. "We were able to connect with these students and build loyalty before they even officially started in the fall, and the students are so pumped to have found each other and to continue working on their ideas while at Rice."