The world is in a self-induced economic coma to dent the spread of Covid-19. But it's a mistake to conclude that startups can't raise capital these days. I got proof of that last week in my Babson College entrepreneurship course when I gave six teams of students two days to find and convince potential investors to invest in their startups.
When I introduced the assignment last week, one of my students thought I had lost my mind. As she said, "Given the state of the world right now, don't you think that everyone we ask will ignore us or tell us not to waste their time?"
My response was that I did not know what would happen and that the outcome she predicted struck me as quite reasonable. However, I told the class that whatever the outcome, I thought it would be a good learning experience.
Two days later I was shocked that one of the teams received commitments to invest $2 million in their business idea -- which is at least 10 times more than any other team has achieved over the past seven years that I have been teaching this course.
To be sure, reality crept in to this exercise: one of the groups received commitments for over $100,000 but only after the economy recovers, which would of course be useless for these students were they to start operating their company at the end of the semester.
Although this class project does not mean you will have no trouble raising a few million dollars to finance your startup, it does offer some useful implications for founders.
Maintain a positive mental outlook.
The first thing leaders must do to raise capital these days is to take a hard look at their emotions and mental outlook. To be sure, everyone these days is more stressed out than usual. However, before you start the process of trying to raise capital, make sure you can find solid reasons for a positive mental outlook.
I was surprised to discover most of my students had few problems with that before they pitched to investors. But I can see why. The students were excited about their companies, energized by the challenge I gave them, and they felt safe wherever they were living.
Develop a compelling business idea.
When you are pitching to investors, you must have a compelling business idea. That is more true in trying times than ever. What does that mean?
You should have a capable management team with deep knowledge and passion for the problem being solved and the skills needed to turn an idea into a large company. You should also be solving a problem that matters to potential customers for which no other company is offering a great solution. You should make sure the market you're targeting generates at least $1 billion in revenue and your proposed product solves the problem effectively.
Network with the right investors.
When you have yet to make your first sale, it's best to start by asking friends and family -- ideally ones that know you, have money to spare, and find your idea compelling. If you don't know any friends and family who fit the bill, don't give up. Search LinkedIn for successful founders who have sold a business in your industry. Try to get introduced to them through a mutual colleague.
Use a winning pitch to close the deal.
A winning pitch should get to the point quickly. In three minutes, make a compelling emotional connection by telling a story about the customer pain you are trying to alleviate; how your solution will solve that customer's problem, how large the market opportunity is; and how your business model will work.
Do these things and you may be as pleasantly surprised by your success as I was by my students' last week.