From plight to fight: how TiE Seattle rallied entrepreneurs during the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating consequences for businesses and societies around the world. But the human spirit will triumph, and a range of entrepreneurship support organisations has risen to the challenge.
This includes TiE Seattle, 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, New Delhi-NCR, Silicon Valley, New York, Melbourne, Pune, Chennai, Kerala, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Kolkata.
There are 64 TiE chapters in 14 countries, with a 20,000 member base of entrepreneurs, advisors, and venture capitalists. TiE supports entrepreneurship through education, mentoring, networking, incubation, and funding.
Support for entrepreneurs
TiE Seattle was founded in 2000, and is spearheaded by Madhu Singh (President) and Minee Verma (Executive Director), along with Manpreet Kaur (Marketing Lead) and Kamelia Vineva (Executive Assistant). It is ably supported by the Board of Directors.
TiE Seattle organises a range of events throughout the year for entrepreneurs, many of which went virtual over the last five months.
“The online events drew audiences of 50-250, made up of 60-70 percent entrepreneurs. The rest consisted of corporates, investors, academics, thought leaders, and other professionals,” explains Minee Verma, Executive Director of TiE Seattle, in a chat with YourStory.
For example, the programmes of TiE’s Entrepreneur Institute for Small Business (EISB) went online in March. Sessions spanned marketing and fundraising for small, community-based business. Speakers included Shirish Nadkarni, serial entrepreneur and TiE Seattle Board Member.
In April, a session was held on ‘Entrepreneurs Plight: Managing your Company during these Unprecedented Times.’ It featured local entrepreneurs Mikaela Kiner (CEO and Founder, Reverb), Akhila Tadinada (Co-founder and CTO, Xemelgo), and Vetri Vellore (CEO and Founder, Ally). They shared how they boosted morale, managed cash flows, raised funds, and strategised on contingency plans.
‘Investors on Hold - or Full Speed Ahead,’ featured investor strategies during the pandemic. It included Kellan Carter (Ignition Partner) and Nitin Rai (Founder and Managing Partner, Elevate Capital). Legislative measures during the pandemic were addressed in an online ‘Conversation with Congresswoman Susan DelBene.’
In May, five separate sessions were held on ‘Entrepreneurship Fundamentals in Challenging Times.’ Specific themes included product-market fit, investor pitches, Go-to-Market (GTM) strategy, and building a sales organisation.
In June, a health session was held on ‘Restarting the US through Pandemic Modeling.’ Dr Ali Mokdad provided suggestions for the safe and effective re-opening of the economy. Strategies have varied across countries and states. The session, moderated by Akhtar Badshah, shared insights on the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) models.
TiE’s upcoming flagship TiEcon conference has been listed as one of the 10 best conferences for ideas and entrepreneurship by Worth Magazine, along with TED and the World Economic Forum. Some previous TiEcon events have attracted more than 5,000 attendees from 22 countries, according to Madhu Singh, TiE Seattle President.
To help bring high school students into the entrepreneurial fold, the TiE Young Entrepreneur (TYE) programme held workshops, pitch sessions, and a competition among eight teams. This initiative at TiE Seattle was successful thanks to the efforts of Program Chair Vinita Ananth, Educator Hemanth Srinivas, Mentor Vrushali Gersappe, and the coaches and parents.
Over the past 11 years, 15,000 high school students have participated in the global programme, and many have gone on to found their own companies. Instructors, mentors, and industry experts teach design thinking, customer validation, prototyping, and business models through hands-on workshops. Students develop essential life skills, risk-taking mindset, teamwork, innovation, and leadership.
Team Althea, the winning team, presented a plan to tackle the growing number of suicide rates using a combination of helplines and AI chatbots. The app helps build emotional intelligence, positive self-image, and resilience in youth. The team represented TiE Seattle at the TYE Global Competition.
In July, the TYE Global competition was hosted by TiE Seattle and TiE Global. This year, the top 23 teams from 23 cities around the world participated. The event’s speaker lineup included Vivek Ranadive (Founder and Managing Director, Bow Capital).
“This is an era of transformation like we’ve never seen before. But you will have to drive passion and have a sense of urgency,” Vivek said at the event (see video here). “Don’t think about failures. Learn and move forward. Everything that has been done can be done better,” he added.
Team BWI (TiE Atlanta) bagged first place, followed by Team Findr (TiE Hyderabad), and Team iDentistry (TiE Dallas). TiE Seattle’s team took the prize for Best Customer Validation.
TiE Seattle helped founders deal with challenges during the pandemic, and also spot opportunities. “The Top Three challenges faced by startups are the ‘3Cs’ of Creating Visibility, Customer Acquisition, and Continuous Growth,” explains Ezhilarasan (Ez) Natarajan, CEO, Corestack.
To tackle these challenges, TiE Seattle helps startups get visibility through avenues like the TiE50 Awards, which is now in its tenth year. Corestack, the multi-cloud governance platform provider, is itself a TiE50 winner for two years in a row.
An estimated 84 percent of TiE50 winners and top startups have been funded at a total of over $1 billion. Many of these companies went on to acquisition or IPO stage, with 29 of the exits at over $100 million, according to Ez.
Deals are won not just by product merits but founder and leader trust, Ez adds. “A word of commitment from fellow TiE Charter members to a buyer or decision maker can help speed up the final contract execution,” he says.
“The TiE network, being broad and deep, helps a startup move the needle faster in terms of growth, hiring talent, and expanding to new geographies,” Ez affirms.
“Every crisis brings an opportunity. Seattle was one of the first US cities to be impacted by COVID-19. Seattle tech entrepreneurs explored new ideas to create innovative solutions,” says Malay Verma, TiE Seattle Charter Member. There was a surge in investments and growth in valuations of many privately held tech companies despite the economic slowdown.
Sectors that gained during the pandemic were edtech and SaaS, according to Shirish Nadkarni, serial entrepreneur and member of the TiE Seattle Board. He pointed to Bloomz and Ally as examples of startups in these sectors.
Bloomz is a solution for teachers to communicate with one another. “They are experiencing an 8X demand for their paid solution as compared to last year,” he explains. Ally, a SaaS solution for managing OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is doing particularly well in the WFH era.
Startups have also benefited from support by the University of Washington. “It is a key innovation hub in the region that has spun off a number of startups. The university is funded partly by the state government,” Shishir observes.
Tips and advice
The TiE Seattle community also offers tips for founders on cashflow, pivots, and mental wellness. “Plan, plan, plan, and then execute flawlessly. For entrepreneurs, time is the first and best cash available. If you know how to use time effectively, then you know to use cash much better,” Ez of Corestack emphasies.
“Be prudent in every spend. It doesn’t matter if it’s an expense claim, new hire, strategic investment, or sales and marketing spend. Track the progress with data and make data-based decisions on a regular frequency to correct or improve the cash flow,” he adds. The board of directors or advisors can also provide useful inputs at this stage.
Pivots can help take advantage of market conditions and unexpected traction. “Pivots can reduce frustrations due to lack of progress despite all the right efforts. If you have to pivot in such a way that the core offering itself is different, then it is better to revisit the business idea itself with your core team, advisors, and board members,” Ez cautions.
Mental fitness is also key in the long haul during crises. “Entrepreneurship requires ‘3 Us’ - unrelenting passion, unshakable optimism, and untiring perseverance,” Ez evocatively explains.
Founders should not let themselves be disturbed by negativity. “If you see discouragement or words of doubt beyond critical questions, keep the emotions out. Engage with the questions objectively and choose to engage less with people who might be spreading negativity,” he adds. Adequate sleep and health routines also help overcome weakness.
The road ahead
In the coming months, TiE Seattle plans more events like the ‘Go Vertical Startup Creation Workshop,’ which will include a demo day and competition judged by investors. Winners will also receive follow-on mentorship.
A session on ‘Opportunities even during the Pandemic’ will show how a focus on the future brought together two outstanding companies, 4C and MediaOcean. Moderated by Malay Vema, it features Charter Members Anupam Gupta and Karan Khanna.
Other upcoming events will address 5G, healthcare and marketing. In sum, the TiE Seattle community has rallied together to help local startups revive and thrive through the pandemic, Minee signs off.
Edited by Teja Lele