Last week, Harry Gandhi was sleeping on an oversized beanbag in the Kairos Society HQ, working 18 hours a day from our loft space in SOMA, downtown San Francisco, while he is raising a seed round for the company he co-founded as a 21 year old, Medella Health. Usually, he works from an office out of the Waterloo, Canada based incubator, Velocity, and uses labs on the University of Waterloo campus with a team of six others. Every few weeks, he comes to San Francisco to take meetings with potential funders.
1. Stealth Mode: Your local community can be a safety net
Medella Health started in stealth mode in October 2013. Harry and his co-founder dropped out of the full-time program at the University of Waterloo and started filing patents for the technology behind their vision: contact lenses that will measure our bodies' health indicators, like glucose, and deliver the results to a mobile app.
Just imagine, in the not too distant future, diabetics won't need to prick themselves 3-6 times a day to evaluate blood sugar levels. They will quickly glance at an app on their phones to read real-time glucose levels with data transmitted from their contact lenses. And that's just the beginning of Medella's potential. Exciting, right?
For very early stage startups, the little victories matter, which can be as simple as having the peer support to take the leap to start your business in lieu of a summer internship. Harry and the Medella Health team were willing to make the leap from idea to action thanks to their local community: “We couldn’t have grown Medella Health to the stage that it is if the University of Waterloo and the local entrepreneurship community hadn’t supported our vision by providing us with the resources to kickstart our idea.”
2. Going Live: Join a network of peers in the same boat
When Medella Health was ready to publicly reveal their prototype, they applied to join Kairos as a K50 company, one year after launching. The K50 is our annual recognition of the 50 most promising startups from around the world that are solving complex challenges, and have founders aged 25 and younger.
At their first public appearance last fall at the Kairos Global Summit, Medella Health had a chance to pitch potential investors and Fortune 100 companies, but they also met 50 other startup founders in the same stage as themselves. That network has been a source of moral support, constructive advice, and an "extension of the network effect on steroids," according to Harry.
From Harry’s point of view, "although speaking with industry mentors and successful entrepreneurs is valuable, a bigger value comes from building a relationship with someone who is in the same situation or a couple of months ahead of you. This is extremely important because they will be able to pull from their recent experiences and provide a safe/comfortable environment to talk about the biggest challenges faced by entrepreneurs." Advice from his peers has saved Harry time and energy along the way, which adds up to a lot of value over the lifetime of a startup founder.
3. Going to Market: you need champions
Medella Health has gone on to compete–and win–in pitch competitions around the world, which has helped them fund their prototype development phase, along with in-kind support from the University of Waterloo, and grants from foundations and the Canadian government. This year, Harry is also a Thiel Fellow. Most importantly, they are beginning partnership conversations about distribution and production.
One thing the ecosystem of accelerators, incubators and funds all have in common, is our desire to see the entrepreneurs we support and fund go on to succeed at launching their businesses. On our end, we prioritize entrepreneurs connecting to each other as much as we emphasize generating exposure to funding opportunities and customers. One thing is clear: when it’s time to pitch investors and corporate customers, trusted relationships can help get you in the door quicker.
"Medella Health has taken advantage of less obvious resources from our networks, like the Kairos community, from access to top-tier investors, to a couch to crash on in SF while fund-raising," said Harry.
Right now, Kairos Society is accepting applications for this year's cohort of K50 companies, as well as planning our 7th annual Global Summit. The next cohort can look forward to meeting a group of incredible peers and learning lessons from the trenches from inspiring founders like Harry Gandhi.