Entrepreneur Talita Holzer writes about the importance of valuable feedback and how start-ups can turn ‘you’ll never make it’ into something positive.
2019 was a hard year for WaytoB. We applied for several grants and accelerators and were getting nowhere. The worst part is that we were not sure how to improve, which can be very discouraging. The few organisations that provided any feedback were very brief and usually just said we were ‘too early stage’ and needed more traction.
Around March 2019, we applied to the EIT Health Headstart programme. We didn’t make it to the pitch phase, but they were the first ones to provide us with extensive feedback on our application. We knew where we had scored ‘average’, ‘good’ or ‘very good’. We knew where we needed to focus our energy. We got an explanation for each score, accompanied by tips from the evaluators, which were extremely useful.
We also got some harsh feedback such as, “More a philanthropy than a business opportunity” and, “Will never scale and produce major benefit”.
It was hard to identify what was useful and constructive from what wasn’t. We let ourselves feel bad for a while, then picked ourselves up and took our time to go through the feedback a few times. We identified every single point that we could improve and threw it up on the whiteboard.
If at first you don’t succeed
We worked hard the next year to address these gaps including improving how we presented our business model, which had not been understood as we intended. We applied to the programme again and made it through to the pitch phase. The feedback this time was completely different, including, “One of the most well-researched and evidence-driven projects I have seen” and, “Positive impact is very clear and the business model is sound”.
We also found out the scale didn’t stop at ‘very good’, and you could even get an ‘excellent’. There was some constructive criticism, too. Barriers were identified and suggestions were made, which we analysed and discussed thoroughly. We then decided to pivot our project plan before the pitch based on the feedback.
We pitched early last week, and we are delighted we can now share that we were selected for the Headstart 2020 programme. We will be granted €40,000 to further develop our tech and run more pilots in other European countries. We know this is a small step in a very long road, but I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished in the past year.
I don’t think we would have made it if we had not received that detailed feedback. What I’m certain of is that we wouldn’t have made it this far if we had focused on the “you’ll never make it” bit, instead of the reasoning behind it.
I am writing this for two reasons. First, I would like to encourage people who work with grants, investment and accelerator programmes to be more like EIT Health and give feedback to start-ups who were not successful. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should be specific. It can absolutely change their future.
Second, I hope this story helps other entrepreneurs who are disheartened after being rejected. Ask why. Do your best to understand the areas you need to focus on. Write everything down and set goals based on each point. A lot of good can come out of it.
Talita Holzer is the CEO and co-founder of WaytoB, which is offering travel solutions with the aim of making the world accessible to everyone, regardless of their level of ability. She is also involved in several D&I initiatives and leads #GoingFar to support migrant professionals in Ireland.