Resilience in the city that never sleeps: how TiE New York helped entrepreneurs during the pandemic

For over five months, entrepreneurs have been battling as cities around the world went into various stages of coronavirus lockdown from March onwards. Despite the setbacks, here’s how TiE New York has helped startups revive and thrive.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has turned things upside down for businesses and societies around the world. But creativity will triumph, and a range of entrepreneurship support organisations has risen to the challenge.

This includes TiE New York, the local hub of the global network called The Indus Entrepreneurs, founded in Silicon Valley in 1992. See also our earlier profiles of resilience activities by TiE Global and the city chapters of Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Silicon Valley, Pune, Chennai, Kerala, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Kolkata.

In March, New York was one of the epicentres of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, and almost became a ghost town. Life is slowly picking up pace again, with plans for cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum to reopen this weekend.

National and state government schemes have been launched to help struggling businesses, and non-profit organisations like TiE New York have helped build a spirit of resilience among entrepreneurs.

“There couldn’t be a better time than now to be a part of this incredible global community, where successful entrepreneurs hand-hold startups through the entire journey of building, sustaining and scaling an enterprise – and all this from folks who are volunteering their time and money,” explains Dharti Arvind Desai, President of TiE New York, in a chat with YourStory.

Support for entrepreneurs

TiE New York (TiE NY) organised a number of virtual events for entrepreneurs during the pandemic. The events drew 20-80 attendees each, with some being for members only, according to Maggie Trabucco, Program Manager at TiE NY.

The audience was made up of 50 percent entrepreneurs, 25 percent investors, 10 percent TiE board members, and 15 percent professionals and others. Event formats ranged from Open Mic Nights to online panels.

In March and April, TiE NY held a Fintech Online Panel with charter member Pankaj Jain, and an Open Mic Night with featured guest Akshata Philar (SAP). There was also a Women’s Mentorship Panel with Judith Erwin (Grasshopper Bank), Maricielo Solis (BLENDtw), and Adrienne Meisels (MyPlanit).

The month of April was designated as TiE Women’s Month. The speakers shared their individual journeys as entrepreneurs, the difficulties of being a woman in the field, and their experiences during the pandemic.

The Charter Member Event on May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) raised over $2,500 in complimentary memberships, and were able to onboard several interested members with those funds. There were even themed cocktail competitions, a costume contest, and a raffle for Amazon gift cards.

Events in May included an Open Mic Night with Dr Sanjeev Kaul (Hackensack University Medical Center), a Mentorship Event with Director Sab Kanaujia, Co-founder, Mindwell Labs (‘Finding the Product-Market Fit’), and a Charter Member Exchange Meeting between TiE NY and TiE Germany. Programing ideas and best practices were shared.



In June, the Open Mic Night featured Tariq Khan (Co-founder, Games 24x7), while DK Sharma (PruVista Capital) spoke on ‘FinTech Thrives in a Post-COVID World.’ The Charter Member Event on ‘Investing Post-COVID’ had a speaker lineup of Varkki Chaco (Credit Capital Investments), Deepinder Bhatia (Bayard Asset Management), Arvind Sanger (Geosphere Capital), and Sandeep Tyagi (Estee Capital).

The Women’s Pitch Competition in July was part of the TiE Women initiative that was designed to embrace, engage, and empower women entrepreneurs all across the 61 TiE chapters around the world.

It includes masterclasses and mentorship, and one winner from each chapter will participate in the TiE Women Global finale to be held in Dubai. “25 chapters are on board so far. Three runners-up per chapter will go to an accelerator workshop,” Maggie says. Sponsors included Gust and Le Forem.

Challenges and opportunities

To help entrepreneurs cope with the unprecedented challenges, TiE NY helped members with networking, funding, and mentoring. “We’ve hosted monthly events to cover a myriad of industry topics. We have encouraged attendees to invite others to our free events, and have kept channels of communication open to encourage private interactions,” Maggie explains.

In the climate of uncertainty and unpredictability, there are a lot of things that are unknown. “We have kept our programming consistent since March, and plan all events on Tuesday nights, and even kept up with bi-annual programmes such as the Pitch Competition,” she adds.



For funding and mentoring, TiE NY kept constant access to chapter mentors and investors with Open Mic Night events on the second Tuesday of every month, and mentorship events on the third Tuesday of every month. “Real-time and consistent feedback has them coming back month after month, reporting progress on challenges like cash flow, funding, and scaling,” Maggie says.

Seven new Charter members were also onboarded. “We hope to continue that process as we head into 2021. The ability to give back in a pandemic is at a peak and we have been able to provide a lot of sponsored associate memberships,” she explains.

 

Fintech programming has been made a quarterly part of the chapter’s activities. “With the Open Mic Night becoming a virtual Open Mic Night that is free for all to attend, we are experiencing lots of new faces, both as presenters and audience members,” Maggie adds.

Tips and advice

TiE NY offers a number of tips to entrepreneurs during these tough times. “Take care of your team’s wellbeing first. Look at cheaper outsourcing alternates,” advises Dharti.

It is important to focus on sustaining an 18-month runway. Dive deeper into the LTV (life-time value) of existing customers so that CAC (customer-acquisition cost) can be controlled,” she adds.

“Pivot to ‘related’ business revenue streams with existing resources. This way, teams can be retained and revenue can still come in, thereby getting dollars to sustain the 18-month runway,” Dharti says.

With respect to mental health, Dharti and Maggie both advise entrepreneurs to not avoid spending quality self and family time via games, meditation, music, charity, and reading. “Hunkered down does not mean an end to life, or to our ability to be creative and innovative. Keep in touch with your core strengths,” they urge.

TiE NY is sending a care package to all of its Charter members in an effort to boost morale and thank members for their support over the past several months. “The care package will be sent to their homes and will consist of some “relaxation essentials” including artisan chocolate, a hand-poured candle, herbal tea, and several additional goodies,” Dharti and Maggie add.

“While this doesn’t solve everything, we’re hoping that it helps to add a little happiness to their 'new normal', and remind them that TiE New York is always in their corner,” they enthuse.

Organisational capacity

TiE NY is grateful to its board and to TiE Global for being able to turn things around positively. “New York has undoubtedly taken on the brunt of the COVID crisis in the US. Several companies are struggling financially with tremendous budget cuts, significant programming changes, and massive layoffs,” Maggie explains.

Event attendance has been fairly stable, but many members are dealing with the unimaginable. “We are proud to offer programming for our members to strengthen their companies despite the hardships,” she adds. This includes social media campaigns and features like #FeatureFriday (highlighting a different member every week) and #StartupSpotlight (featuring companies that have benefitted from TiE programming).

The team also includes a part-time Treasurer (Chris Hollinger), but the part-time Executive Director had to quit due to complications from layoffs. TiE’s board leads a number of initiatives, such as Open Mic Night (Pinaki Dasgupta, Harjit Singh), Mentorship (Craig Abbott, Sab Kanaujia), and Charter member events (Sunaina Ocalan, Ronak Jani, Rafiq Bengali).

The Charter member screening committee is co-led by Ronak Jani, Sandeep Tyagi and Sanjay Vatsa. The Pitch Competition and Angel committees are co-led by Dharti Arvind Desai, Avantika Daing, Sunaina Ocalan and Jay Parmar.

“We are so thrilled to have the Vice-Chair of TiE Women Global as our Chapter President. We are also proud of our diverse board with four power women on it,” Maggie enthuses.

“For us, the pandemic has proved to be a bonding time for our members. One of our Charter members, Tariq Khan, is a past president of TiE NY, and is on the TiE Global Board of trustees,” she adds.

The road ahead

TiE NY has a number of events in August and September, including an Open Mic Night with Gyan Kapur (RTP Seed). “Our September Charter Member event will feature Rita Kakati-Shah (Founder of Uma) and the October Charter Member Event will feature two marquee speakers from Operation Hope,” Maggie says.

Open Mic Nights and the Mentoring Programme will continue to be held through November as well, and a Chapter Exchange meeting with the TiE Hubli Chapter is scheduled for August 28. The Angel Committee Event will take place in November.

“We typically take a break from programming in December because of the holidays and also due to our chapter elections. We will also launch our TYE Programme in September, and are working to introduce the TiE University Programme next year,” Maggie signs off.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)

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