Houston voices

Here's what makes a startup stand out, according to University of Houston research

From pitching to value proposition, here's what you should be thinking about to make your company stand out. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

During your pitch, investors will be looking to see what your startup's value proposition is. What can you offer that your competitors cannot?

Imagine if you will, your startup develops a watch that can detect when you're about to have a heart attack, and automatically sends an alert with your location to 911.

You've perfected the design and engineering intricacies of the device. It's ready to go out and save lives, and make you tons of money in the process.

Now imagine you can't get this product off the ground because your pitches keep falling flat. Investors don't have confidence in you as an entrepreneur, even if your product is amazing. Remember, you can have an awesome product, but you won't reap any rewards if that awesomeness cannot be expressed to financial gatekeepers.

That's where the art of the pitch matters. Pitching to a venture capitalist might be the most vital part of your startup's success. This is where you express how important your product is or how in demand your services are. This is where you convince investors your product (and you) is worth investing in.

Next, you'll have to determine your company's value proposition, which is the heart of your competitive advantage. This tells venture capitalists why they should invest in your company and not others.

Investors are putting their money and reputation on the line for your company. Their leap of faith has to be as educated as possible. If you can educate them very thoroughly why your startup is different, why it stands out from the rest, investors will feel much more comfortable with their decision to reject other bids in favor of yours.

You don't only need to convince them to choose your company, you also need to convince them that rejecting the other companies won't come back to bite them in the rear. Nobody likes to live with regret, least of all people who put themselves in a position to lose millions of their dollars on a bad decision. The best way to reaffirm an investor's faith in your company is to provide a product or service that is fairly new to the market. New products mean less saturation and higher demand, especially if the product solves a problem or provides a unique function.

There are plenty of toasters on the market, but what about wireless toasters? Outdoors-people everywhere would surely line up to buy that. You're providing a product of real value to a certain sect of people. Your competitive advantage is that your toaster is wireless and portable. That would be your company's value proposition to your investor.

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

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

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Building Houston

 
 

Plug and Play, an international accelerator and investment group with a presence in Houston, joined a panel to discuss startup investment, networking, and more during the pandemic. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

It's no secret that the spread of COVID-19 has greatly affected startup ecosystems by shutting down coworking and accelerator spaces and providing economic uncertainty in the venture capital world. However, organizations focused on investment and acceleration are still working to virtually guide startups virtually.

Plug and Play Tech Center, an accelerator and investment group based in Silicon Valley that recently launched its Houston presence, is still offering support and even investments to startups as the pandemic continues on. One way they've recently done so is through Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to answer questions from Houston entrepreneurs.

On the panel, Neda Amidi, partner and global head of health at Plug and Play Tech Center, Milad Malek, associate at Plug and Play Ventures, and Payal Patel, director at Plug and Play Houston, discussed concerns and questions about the organization's dedication to Houston, advice amid the pandemic, and more. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Timing and opportunity set up the Plug and Play Houston office. The mayor and other business leaders in Houston had seen what happens in our Silicon Valley office and with all the things that are going on in the burgeoning startup community in Houston, we saw the opportunity.”

— Patel says on how Houston snagged its very own Plug and Play location. "Given the high concentration of large companies here — as well as the growing number of investment opportunities — we moved quite quickly to open the office here," she adds.

“There’s a number of great entrepreneurs here in this city. I think a missing ingredient has been the number of early stage investments — especially in that Seed or series A stage. So, we hope to make an impact in that. Our CEO has publicly stated that he’d like to make five investments in Houston a year.”

— Patel shares about Plug and Play's investment strategy in Houston. She adds that five investments in Houston a year is the bare minimum, and they actually are striving for more.

“[Investing virtually is] kind of the same process, but we definitely try to make sure we have cameras on and distractions are away, really giving that entrepreneur that same experience as we can in a face-to-face meeting."

— Amidi says on how Plug and Play's investment team approaches investment meetings and pitches during this time. She explains that during the beginning of the pandemic, most of their investments were with companies that had existing relationships with or follow on deals. Now they have made investments in companies they've never met in person. She says Plug and Play has relied on its network to give feedback on these potential deals.

“During COVID, we’ve recommended to a lot of our portfolio companies to raise more than what they needed at the time to be able to power through what’s happening now and what will happen on the economy side as well."

— Amidi says about investment advice they've given to Plug and Play startups.

“A lot of hardware companies get too intense in terms of thinking about one avenue of fundraising. Spend a lot more time thinking about fundraising strategy.”

Malek says on fundraising for hardware startups specifically. He adds that there are other options for generating cash flow, like grants. "Don't forget the business side of things" he adds. "I know early on, a lot of founders are focused on the technology and prototyping, but it's important as well to think about a compelling narrative for potential investors — even if you're pre-revenue."

"For SaaS, it’s important to have a unique differentiation. There are a lot of copy cats in this realm. It’s ok to be doing something that has competitors — every startup has competitors."

— Malek says about software-as-a-service startups pitching to investors. "It's a red flag when we're talking to a startup — especially one with a SaaS product — that says we don't have competitors," he adds, saying it's usually not true.

“A lot of investors out there prefer teams with multiple founders and not just one founder. It never hurts, at least in an investor’s eyes, to have two or three founders.”

— Malek explains, responding to a question about how to begin the process of bringing another co-founder on board. Investors, he says, value a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise.

“Take your time — it’s kind of like picking a spouse or partner. You want to make sure you’re compatible.”

Amidi adds, saying it's an exceptionally difficult process nowadays. She recommends reaching out to your network for leads on a potential co-founder or even looking into sites like AngelList or LinkedIn.

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