5 Surefire Tips to Help Your Startup Land TCF Funds
2nd October 2015
By: Alex Kopicki
So you are starting up your business in Maryland, congrats it’s a great State – one that I’m proud to call home for both my business and my family. But let’s be real, it’s not Silicon Valley so let’s not even try to draw comparisons. In Maryland, investment money is more calculated, there’s less of it, and there’s plenty of competition (from very smart people) for every last dollar. You likely already knew this and if the thought of navigating through adversity doesn’t sit well with you then stop reading – you likely shouldn’t quit your day job to startup.
Ok you’re still with me…well you likely know there are lots of different paths forward when funding your venture such as bootstrapping, friends and family, conventional loans, convertible loans, angel, venture, and the list goes on. There are tons of resources out there for you to consume on each of these topics so I’m not going to try.
I want to share my experiences starting up in Maryland and specifically raising funds through one particular vehicle, TEDCO’s Technology Commercialization Fund(TCF). I was successful in raising TCF funds for my startup (Kinglet) and found myself giving others advice, advice that others appreciated and used with success, so why not share the learnings.
Here’s are my 5 tips on landing your TCF startup dollars:
1. Get Started
Pull together all of your salient business materials from your back-of-the-envelop notes, to pitch deck, to full blown business plan if you have one. Copy and paste into your TCF Application “war room” folder. If you have been thinking about your venture as much as you should, I bet you already have plenty of existing materials to pull into your application. Now go pull up a list of companies who have successfully landed TCF funding and ask to buy them coffee if they’re willing to lend an ear. Ask for their opinions on your model, on your plan, on your approach and just start a dialogue if you aren’t sure if this funding platform is right for you. Like most entrepreneurs, I’m a sucker for a good story model and a cup of coffee.
2. Be Concise
You are starting with a written application as part of the first phase so don’t half-ass it. If you haven’t put all of your thoughts down on paper and only have a pitch deck that’s fine, think of this stage as an opportunity to write down your talk-track. Read it out loud, is it full of industry terminology / jargon? If yes, then rewrite it in plain English. Assume the reviewer doesn’t know your industry. They are looking for well organized thought, your perspective on the landscape / industry you’re tackling and a clearly delineated plan of attack. Don’t make it overly complicated.
3. Don’t Get Cut
I’ve heard from some of the program administrators that a handful of the monthly written applications get rejected because they are incomplete. That’s ridiculous. If you are applying for funding, any kind of funding, you better take the time to follow the procedures. The procedures might not always be the easiest to follow so ask a lot of questions if you aren’t sure about a specific approach. I sent A LOT of questions in to make sure I was following all the rules. Get it right the first time because the end of the line isn’t the place you want to be. If you end up not making it to the interview carefully read through the feedback and go back to Step 1.
4. Have Conviction
This section addresses your post-application interview. Congrats if you’ve made it this far - now it’s time to pitch. My pitch deck for TEDCO was 11 slides and that was way too many. Boil it down to only what you absolutely need to address and cut everything else because you won’t have time. I also pitched with my Co-founder and honestly it probably would have been easier if it was just one of us. It can be a bit nerve racking watching the play clock tick away to zero while you are trying to race through a whole bunch of material.
Once you get to the Q&A, and I can’t stress this point enough, make sure you are answering questions with straightforward response. I like to think I excel at this, honestly I fielded a difficult question about our revenue model during our interview that I believe saved our application. I wasn’t afraid to disagree with the reviewer and stated my case with conviction. Just remind yourself going in, this is my industry, I’m the expert, I’m well prepared, I got this.
5. Get Organized
So you passed your interview, whoop whoop. Now it’s time to bank those funds right, wrong. Get your paperwork in order beforehand. This is good practice to have all your essential business registrations, operating agreements, certificates, etc. all put together. If your business is about to take off or just getting started it doesn’t matter, you should have your records well kept. If you’re sloppy then you’re only going to hurt yourself by delaying your initial closing.
These were just some of my experiences which served me well. I’d recommend you look inward to figure out a path forward that fits. As you can tell, I’m a fan of the TCF funding platform, it’s an entrepreneur friendly investment vehicle that has a clearly outlined process. Since the program is funded through a mix of capital sources including the State, job creation and business generation are important considerations along with ROI. So why should you care? Well, that means that money is cheap(ish) and there are limited barriers to apply.
So don’t delay, go get some. And best of luck.