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How Early-Stage Startups Scaled to Emerging Growth Companies

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Guest Blogger: Kiki Mills JohnstonMassChallenge

In our first post, we explored the impact of innovation and the critical role the ecosystem plays in helping inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. While supporting budding startups at an early-stage is vital to addressing the world’s biggest problems, driving economic growth, and creating high-impact jobs around the world, it’s equally pressing to activate a community of support across stages of growth.

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As young startups scale into sustainable ventures, things like establishing a brand voice, hiring the right people to push your vision forward, and leaning on external support becomes even more important.

Here are five ways our MassChallenge alumni have successfully transformed from early-stage startups to emerging growth companies:

1. Build a leadership team

Growing beyond the founding team is not only an exciting milestone, but an essential component of any startup’s sustainable growth strategy. With the right people on board—particularly those in executive leadership roles—startups are able to expand their reach and explore new tactics, markets, and even fundraising opportunities to propel the business. In fact, most investors cite “team” as one for the most important criteria when determining whether or not to make an investment.

2016 alum RateGravity knows this first hand, having raised more than $2 million since graduating from MassChallenge. To drive future growth, the organization recently appointed a chief marketing officer, who is helping to redefine how consumers finance their homes.

According to Patrick Boyaggi, co-founder and CEO, RateGravity has “focused on building an executive team that has significant domain expertise and has displayed a true passion for our mission. It’s easy for early-stage companies to hire someone with an impressive resume or someone referred to them that appears perfect on paper, but we’ve required candidates to prove it. Every executive we’ve hired has worked with us in a consulting capacity, which has allowed us to determine if they have both the head and heart built for our company’s long-term future.”

2. Establish key partnerships

When we think about startup and corporate collaboration, we often jump right to acquisition, but it’s so much more than that. Throughout each stage of a startup’s life, corporates can play key advisory roles, explore co-development opportunities, or even make strategic investments to drive growth.

Over the past few years, 2015 alum Launchpad Medical has had a unique opportunity to work with CASIS, Boeing, NASA, and SpaceX to improve life on earth through research in space. With corporate support, the startup recently launched an experiment up to the International Space Station in order to assess whether Tetranite, its synthetic bone material, can accelerate bone repair within minutes. As founder and CEO Brian Hess said in a recent blog post, “this opportunity was only possible by such collaborations… no matter the outcome of the research, the data will help steer our company’s future efforts.

3. Craft a brand voice

Since graduating in 2016, BeautyLynk has revolutionized the beauty industry by developing a tech-enabled solution that connects stylists to clients and improves the standard of living for beauty professionals, salon owners, customers, and more. Beyond its platform, they have also taken the time and energy into developing a genuine brand voice, something they advise fellow emerging companies to invest in as well.

“In order to be a company of trust, you must create the experiences and voice to build a culture,” said Rica Elysee, founder and CEO. “At BeautyLynk, we focus on building the story of how someone feels beautiful verses focusing on the work of creating beauty. It allows us to build a voice that people can add to and want to be part of, which is ultimately the goal of any brand that wants to grow.”

4. Leverage integrated marketing and public relations

Beyond hiring, partnering, and branding, one of the key steps to accelerating growth is simply learning how to tell your company’s story. As startups scale into emerging growth companies, they’re able to pull from several different communication strategies—influencer marketing, media and analyst relations, social media, digital and inbound efforts—to succeed.

One startup that has executed this integrated strategy really well is 2016 alum TellusLabs, which has raised a $3 million seed funding to answer critical economic and environmental questions through a combination of satellite imagery and machine learning. “As line of sight emerged for our seed round, we began straight away to think how to get the word out on the milestone,” said David Potere, co-founder and CEO of TellusLabs. “We took a two-fold approach, first turning to the marketing and PR team at MassChallenge for advice and assistance, and then retaining a Boston-based PR firm on a project basis. We saw a good return on a focused 6-8 weeks of effort.” As a result of these efforts, the company has landed features in TechCrunchMIT Tech Review, and more.

5. Never stop learning

According to Hitesh Tolani, founder and CEO of 2015 alum Virtudent, all startup founders have a few traits in common: “we’re all trendsetters, trailblazers, creatives, and people who think outside the box.” While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Hitesh warns that “when founders become so passionate about one thing, sometimes they close themselves off to other ideas and the bigger picture. In order to execute, founders have to focus, focus, focus.”

In the years following MassChallenge, Virtudent has raised $2 million in seed funding and grown its team to 12 full-time employees to bring its high-tech popup dental clinic to offices throughout Boston, including Uber, LogMeIn, and Wayfair. Throughout this growth, Hitesh and his team have never stopped learning how to improve their model and processes even more.

“Entrepreneurs alone don’t have all the answers. Building a company requires a community of people—each of whom can open an important door to help you succeed. No scaling business got to where they are on their own! Staying connected, learning from others, having the humility to ask for help, and accepting feedback are all important. You’ll not only meet people who are ahead of you and who can mentor you, but you also create opportunities where you’re able to give back to the ecosystem. Sharing your knowledge helps sharpen your skills and helps you become a better entrepreneur. An entrepreneur who has stopped learning, is no longer relevant.”

Guest Blog Post: Kiki Mills Johnston, Managing Director of MassChallenge Boston



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