As the old adage goes: You win some, you lose some.
While there is some literal truth to this statement, I've come to learn over the years that having such a black and white take on the outcome of a particular event is extremely limiting to growth. Doug and I have been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu together for the past 2 or so years, and something we always say before competitions is "You either win, or you learn."
I've always loved the growth mindset of this statement. But...it's missing something. I think it's time we take a bit of the "black and white" and mix it with a bit of the "growth".
You win some, you lose some, but you ALWAYS learn.
This is the mindset that we embody at Synaptek. It's rooted in reality but not so firmly planted that we can't see the opportunity to learn and grow from each milestone.
Synaptek started back in late 2018 as just an idea in Kate Van Pelt's mind. As a concussion researcher, she saw the pain points that athletic trainers were encountering in their day-to-day dealings with concussion data. She saw trainers constantly testing athletes on pen and paper, filing the results away in a filing cabinet, and then never having access to them on the sideline to make an appropriate real-time diagnosis.
Kate decided to take a leap in to the entrepreneurial world and join the University of Kentucky Entrepreneurial Bootcamp. Doug joined her early on in the process, and I came in to bring the product to life around April of 2019. After what seemed like ages of time—it was really only a couple of months—we ended up winning the Bootcamp! Sweet! Win #1. Let's keep these wins coming!
Fast forward to May of this year and we're deep in the trenches of a new startup venture. While actively exploring potential investors, Kate applied for the WomensNet Amber Grant—a grant for female-founded startup ventures. Drumroll please..........and we won! We got to add $2k to our (newly formed) company bank account and started to realize that we might actually have a real company here, folks!
Riding high from the past couple of months, we decide that it's time to enter our first public pitch competition: 5 Across hosted by Awesome Inc. If you're familiar with the startup scene in Lexington, then you're no stranger to 5 Across. It's the OG in the #startupLex scene. Started roughly 10 years ago, 5 Across gives 5 startups 5 minutes to pitch to a panel of judges to win $500. The 5 winners throughout the year go on to pitch for their end-of-year prize of $5,000!
After a few conversations with Keith at Awesome Inc., and some encouragement from the amazing community that we had recently become apart of, we submitted our application to 5 Across. About a week later we go word that we were in! We were excited, nervous, but ready. Kate knows her stuff, and we knew she'd give a kick-ass pitch to the audience. Let's do this!
A couple of weeks passed and we were all-hands on deck working on the pitch. I'm redesigning the website, Doug and Kate are working on the pitch and answers for the follow-up Q&A. It's a family affair. Everyone has their role, and we're focused on executing. Even Buddy—the team dog. He's working on destroying a tennis ball during our numerous team meetings to review and revise the pitch. Very serious stuff.
A week before the big day—June 26th—we met with our appointed startup coach, Drew Sutton, to review our pitch. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting Drew, let's just say that "impressive" doesn't begin to do him justice. Drew is a Chief Engineer at Lockheed Martin here in Lexington. On top of having his name attached to 40+ helicopter patents, Drew is a successful businessman with years of experience consulting and advising businesses and startups. To say we hit the "Startup Coach Lottery" is an understatement. Thanks, 5 Across and Drew!
We sat down and combed over our pitch—and more importantly, our business plan—with Drew for two and a half hours. He hit us with tough questions and really challenged us to define our business model, product, and our pitch. After all was said and done, we had a big task in front of us: completely restructure our pitch. While not a direct suggestion from Drew, we knew that we had the opportunity to take his suggestions and turn our pitch in to something that would engage the judges and the 5 Across audience better. So, we did.
Kate, Doug and I sat out to completely redesign our pitch; save for the first and last slide. We were going to have 5 minutes to wow the judges, so we needed to nail it. With $500 on the line, and the potential to compete for $5,000 at the end of the year, this would be big for our newly formed and at this point completely unfunded company.
In just 2 days, we had the pitch completely redone and were ready to practice. And by we, I mean Kate. She was going to be the one doing all the talking. The three of us sat down for 3 nights in a row to rehearse the pitch that Kate would give to the panel of judges. Side-note: If you aren't comfortable giving or receiving feedback to and from your co-founders, you have the wrong team, plain and simple. The devil really is in the details with these pitches, so after each dry run, Doug, Kate and I would give feedback, make tweaks, and run it again. The night before the competition, we did our final rehearsal and Kate absolutely nailed it! We were ready.
Wednesday the 26th came and it was time to head to Mane on Main. In just 10 short years, 5 Across has grown so much that it needed to move to the 15th floor of the Chase Building in downtown Lexington. This is the same place a good friend of mine just had his wedding, and the venue is spectacular! The space was decked out. Roughly 200 chairs in front of a big projector screen, a bar stocked with delicious Alltech beers, and the crew of Awesome Inc. to bring everything together.
We were presenting second, so naturally we got there super early and anxiously chatted with anyone we could. We ran in to Evan Knowles from Middle Tech Podcast, Justin Hall from the Awesome Inc. Bootcamp, and a boatload of enthusiastic members of Lexington's amazing startup community.
If my long-winded lead up to the moment of the pitch hasn't given it away yet, I'll go ahead and fast forward to the results: we didn't win. But remember: You win some, you lose some, but you ALWAYS learn! And learn we did.
First off, a HUGE congratulations to Michael Detmer and the Innovative Therapeutix team and their amazing product, LullaFeed. Michael gave and awesome pitch, and this product and company are going to go places, trust me.
Second, a massive Thank You! to all of the people who came out to 5 Across and supported us and the rest of the teams. Another thanks goes out to all the 5 Across folks who gave such a young company the opportunity to get the exposure that 5 Across provides. We're extremely thankful for the opportunity and can't speak highly enough of the event and the team behind it. If you couldn't tell by now, we're big "Team 5 Across" at Synaptek, and will forever be grateful.
Lastly, I wanted to offer a bit of insight in to the learning that we at Synaptek took away from this experience.
None of us at Synaptek went to business school. But by taking the leap in to the startup world, we've all taken a crash course in building a business. None of us knew how to structure a business plan or a pitch deck before starting Synaptek, but we've read more plans and reviewed more decks in the past 4-6 months than I can begin to list here.
While none of us knew what we were getting in to with Synaptek, we all agree: we absolutely love this process.
If you've got a big problem you're looking to solve, are up for a challenge, and want to have some of the most fun you will ever have in your life, then the startup world is for you.
You're not going to know how to do everything right away, but if you really love the process, then you'll win some, lose some, but you most definitely will ALWAYS learn.