Engage, elevate: how TiE Silicon Valley helped local entrepreneurs stay the course through four months of the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to societies and businesses around the world. But life still goes on, and a range of entrepreneurship support organisations has risen to the challenge.
This includes TiE Silicon Valley (‘Tie SV’), the local chapter of the global network called The Indus Entrepreneurs, founded in Silicon Valley itself in 1992. See also our earlier profiles of resilience activities by TiE Bangalore, TiE Pune, TiE Kerala, TiE Hyderabad, and TiE Chennai.
Support for entrepreneurs
“We are doing a lot of virtual events. These events are of different formats. We recently divided our annual flagship conference into three parts and completed the first two Road to TiEcon events in June and July,” explains Neha Mishra, Senior Director at TiE SV, in a chat with YourStory.
Usually, it takes six to eight months of planning, with the support of over 300 volunteers, to pull off this major conference. “In this virtual set up, we have divided it into bite-size sessions so attendees don’t get into virtual screen fatigue,” she adds. Coming up on September 2-3, the flagship conference’s themes over the years have been ‘Converge, Create, Elevate’ and ‘Start, Connect, Scale.’
Neha reels off a list of over 30 events organised recently by TiE SV, including virtual sessions on Preserving IP at a Time of Disaster, and Forgivable Loans, Low-Interest Loans, and Other Critical Assistance. Partnered events included COVID-19 Playbook of Blue Chip VCs around the Globe, and Jobs: Now and In the Future.
Foundational topics were Covid19: Fact versus Fiction, Returning to Work during COVID-19, and A Founder's Guide to Navigating COVID-19: The Impact on Global Startup Ecosystems. In keeping with trends in diversity and inclusion, a special session was held on ‘3 As’ of Unconscious Bias: Awareness, Address and Action, and one on US Immigration Policy Changes.
There were free-wheeling Ask sessions, such as Digital Transformation in the Healthcare Industry (Suja Chandrasekaran), Securing the First Thousand Customers in the Direct-to-consumer Model (Heidi Zak), and Getting the First Thousand Buyers/Sellers on your Platform (Manish Chandra).
Other Ask sessions featured the banking industry: Digital Transformation (by Dilip Venkatachari) and What Entrepreneurs don’t Understand about Selling to a Bank (by Suresh Ramamurthi). There were also 35 virtual mentoring sessions, three movie screenings of Real Moms of Silicon Valley, and an online session with Congressman Ro Khanna.
A TiE Angels virtual connect was held on Fundraising and Startup Strategy in the Pandemic, and TiE Institute conducted sessions titled Five Items to get Investor-Ready. Corporate sessions were held by Microsoft and IBM, on investments and digital transformation.
TiE Young Entrepreneurs (TYE), an initiative for school students, had its local finals in Silicon Valley. TYE University also held a local pitch competition.
“Our event attendees range in number from 100-1,300, depending on the type of event. Our annual conference every year attracts 3,000-5,000 attendees,” Neha adds.
TiE SV’s Charter Members are a mix of entrepreneurs and tech professionals. Eleven percent are entrepreneurs, and 30 percent are founders and CEOs of their respective organisations. “This 41 percent composition reflects the core mission of TiE – fostering entrepreneurship,” she explains.
Tips and advice
TiE SV is headed by President B.J Arun and Marketing Chair and Board Member Anand Akela. The five full-time staff of TiE SV is working with different partners to identify and deliver relevant programmes for entrepreneurs. “We have been featuring them on our website and promoting them under the TiECares program,” Neha says.
An online COVID-19 resource section covers topics like small business grants, economic relief measures, cash management, and employee retention credits. Other topics include cloud infrastructure and customer experience excellence.
Despite the challenges, there are opportunities emerging for startups in the coronavirus era. These include healthtech, cybersecurity, edtech, and gaming, Neha observes.
She offers a range of business tips for entrepreneurs as well. “Stay away from upfront capital expenses. Explore options for minimising office expenses when the office infrastructure is not being used now and maybe not be used at all for a long time,” she says.
“Use digital infrastructure such as cloud services. Use digital marketing techniques to generate leads,” she adds.
Role of government
“Leverage government programs to get help for payroll and other expenses,” Neha advises entrepreneurs. This varies with local and national contexts. For example, in the US, the government offers Paycheck Protection Programme (PPP) loans, which are very useful for startups and small businesses.
“Our chapter also brought in Congressman Ro Khanna to talk about the CARES Act,” Neha says. The online session was moderated by TiE President BJ Arun. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27th, 2020.
Mental fitness is a key success factor for entrepreneurs in the long and rough road ahead. Studies show that the psychological price of entrepreneurship is real. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index revealed that 34 percent of entrepreneurs (four percentage points more than other workers) reported that they were worried, and 45 percent of entrepreneurs said they were stressed (three percentage points more than other workers).
“We recently did a panel on mental wellbeing during stressful times,” Neha explains. The online session featured Dana Udall (Chief Clinical Officer) and Russell Glass (CEO) of Ginger, an on-demand mental health company.
Other upcoming events by TiE SV include Virtual TiEcon 2020, Healthcare CIO Forum, TiE Young Entrepreneurs 2020-2021, and TiE Institute sessions for startups and entrepreneurs. There are also mentoring sessions and informal Meet and Greet events with Charter Members.
“We are working with our partners to help promote each others’ events and programmes. For example, we are working with Meet the Drapers to put together a pitch session for our entrepreneurs. We are working with our radio partners and other affiliates for our conference, where they get to exhibit at our virtual expo and spread the message,” Neha signs off.