‘It’s not all gloom and doom’: Tips for tech start-ups in a downturn

13 Oct 2022

Eshna Gogia. Image: Republic of Work

In a tough time for entrepreneurs, Republic of Work’s Eshna Gogia discusses the opportunities in tech and gives her advice for start-ups getting off the ground.

Eshna Gogia has been part of the start-up and innovation ecosystem for more than seven years and has worked with start-ups across all tech sectors, especially deep tech. She is currently the programme manager at Republic of Work, the co-working and entrepreneurship hub in Cork that is part of the national NDRC accelerator network.

A resource recovery and sustainability engineer, Gogia has been fascinated about molecular manufacturing and the potential that new technologies hold to solve major global challenges. She also loves to write about new trends in the ecosystem to bring forward tools and technologies that hold the potential to transform our society.

‘Funding slowdowns, falling valuations and layoffs have been the headlines this year … But it’s not all gloom and doom, deals are still being done’

What does your work with start-ups entail?

In my role as the programme manager at Republic of Work, I lead the regional NDRC early-stage support programmes for the south-east region, and work on designing programmes such as Teamwork Catalyst to support the local start-up ecosystem in Cork.

Through these support programmes, I get to meet founders and start-up enthusiasts from across the island as well as beyond the borders. For example, every Friday all the NDRC hub programme managers host one-to-one sessions known as Office Hours with anyone who’d love mentoring or would like to learn more about the ecosystem in Ireland. Sometimes, it’s about signposting start-ups in the right direction in terms of what might be a more suitable support for their stage.

As one of the core team members of a deep-tech start-up based in Cork, I’ve been on both sides of the entrepreneurial world; within a start-up and with organisations empowering start-ups to scale.

Prior to joining Republic of Work, I was managing the mid-east region start-up ecosystem, MERITS, an initiative set in place by Kildare County Council and Enterprise Ireland for Kildare, Wicklow and Meath. I’ve also worked extensively with several life sciences start-ups in India through my role at Atal Incubation Centre- Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.

In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

Synthetic biology is a great example of a sector that holds a great scope. It integrates several fields like nanotech, biotech, biophysics and medicine or even arts. Imagine using microscopic factories to convert raw materials into finished products like dyes, leather, food additives – it is beyond fascinating. It definitely is helping us move closer to sustainable production and consumption.

Ireland is a hotbed for some deep-tech sectors such as biotech, medtech, agtech, sustainability. It’s exciting to see every year the number of research and innovation-based start-ups receiving funding from the EU Commission. Irish SMEs have been granted over €215m to support research-based businesses.

It’s definitely great to see the likes of Gasgon Medical and Helixworks, two European Innovation Council grant awardees and Cork-based companies, scaling up.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

People often forget that founders are driven by passion – which is powerful, but that’s certainly not enough on its own.

The ability to identify a problem and quickly adapt is a sign of a great entrepreneur. Collaborating across organisational boundaries would also be a great trait to foster.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day? What tools and resources are a must?

Time and money are the two most valuable commodities for any founder. Plan your day and block out times where you do your best work. And sometimes it’s alright to pass certain opportunities that don’t fit within your current set of goals. Be selective about how you want to spend your time. ‘No’ is an important word. Respect your time, and the time of others, equally.

There are so many management tools out there. If you use them adequately you can manage everything on one single app. I love Notion and swear by it! It seamlessly integrates with almost every other tool out there and gives you access to everything in one place.

Miro and Trello are some great tools as well. Whatever you choose, stick with it, they are all there to make your task management and collaboration better.

What are the critical ingredients to start-up success?

A good team, market validation and being resilient.

In the early days, your product or services don’t define your company – the team and their ability to promote the business does.

Spend your time understanding and articulating the problem you are trying to solve. This will enable you to understand if you’re resolving a pain.

Have resilience and know when to pivot. Often, founders get stuck with the idea that what they’ve developed is for a specific problem without seeing that it could have another use case. Especially when you look at the digital tech space, it’s important to listen to the market, keep yourselves as updated as possible.

How can founders assemble a good team?

Find people with a similar drive and enthusiasm. Easier said than done!

It’s tough to build a good team, however CEOs and founding team members know what they’re looking for. So it’s not only important for your team to have the skills but also the drive to succeed.

Early employees are the building blocks of the company so consider what skills you have, find individuals to fill the knowledge and skill gaps, and think about what kind of people will fit into your company culture. You want people who believe in your company’s core values, vision and mission.

What advice do you have for founders who are starting to look for investment?

Funding slowdowns, falling valuations and layoffs have been the headlines this year. The world of tech has been knocked off.

The year started on a great note with chunky cheques, but investors are exercising caution more than ever. Give yourself ample time and start preparing for it months in advance. Early-stage VC especially has become more focused and the timelines are longer. But it’s not all gloom and doom, deals are still being done.

So make sure you do your due diligence on the investor before you reach out to them. Explore different funding options, which might work better for your company – crowdfunding, grants or even angel investment.

Be prepared, make sure you are well organised, have your documents in order. Make the process easier for you and for the investors.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

The urge to launch the ‘perfect product’. Most of the products we use in our day-to-day lives like Snapchat or Instagram weren’t perfect, nobody really remembers their launch date. So release the clunky version and spend time on the data you gather from your market research; think about customer segments.

Don’t lose out on your vision. Don’t take on too many tasks, streamline work on one thing at a time and complete the task end to end. Overloading yourself can lead to burnout and there’s nothing worse than getting lost between tasks and feeling overwhelmed.

It’s essential to constantly think about the market changes and competitive landscape and what sets you apart.

What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?

Mentorship is an important and integral part of any start-up ecosystem. It’s a great way of filling knowledge gaps. You’d be surprised to see the value mentors bring into your day-to-day activities.

Great mentors listen and act as a soundboard – it’s all about being as honest as possible with your mentee.

What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Just go for it! If you’ve decided to start up, commit to it fully and pour your heart and soul into it.

Be open to new challenges, new ideas and criticism equally. It won’t be a smooth road, but listen and refine the feedback you receive. Sometimes you just need to hear your thoughts out loud.

As you go along the way, grow your network, build on peer support and collaborate to build bigger things. You want to be surrounded by people that inspire you and push you beyond your limits.

There are so many programmes in the ecosystem today in Ireland and across the EU. Explore and find yourself the right mentors and the right programmes – don’t jump from support to support, you’d eventually be wasting a ton of your time.

Use LinkedIn – people have become quite open to the idea of hearing from outside of their network and you’d be surprised the number of doors that will open up.

Enjoy the journey and eventually you’ll have your moment.

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