CEO and Co-Founder of Eosera Inc., Elyse Dickerson, started her own business because she wanted to use business as a force for good in the world.
After spending almost 18 years in corporate America, Dickerson realized that corporations did not value the people whose lives they were supposed to be improving.
Fort Worth-based Eosera Inc., a majority woman-owned biotechnology company, is committed to developing products that address underserved medical needs.
Photo: Good Crowd
Dickerson said preparation was the key to making their mission of healing humans successful.
“We spent the first year with our own money,” Dickerson said. “We also prepared for six or seven months before even asking for money. A lot of people make the mistake of “winging it” but we wanted to be prepared.”
After Eosera won $50,000 in a business pitch competition hosted by the Dallas Entrepreneur Center (the DEC) and Comerica Bank, Dickerson’s company received press and attention from potential investors.
“This was my first time fundraising and I was terrified to ask for money,” she said. “I experienced investors trying to change the terms with me… I experienced that ‘gut’ feeling of something being off with an offer – all of these ten tips are based on my personal experience.”
The two-year-old company raised $1.2 million in three months.
Here are Elyse’s ten tips to successful fundraising:
1. Read. A lot.
Educate yourself on the angel investment world. Read books, take classes, and meet with people in the industry whether it is venture finance or starting a business. In a nutshell, you need to be smarter than your investors so that you can feel confident in your deals.
2. Bootstrap your business
The more business milestones that you can hit on your own dime, the higher the valuation you can place on your company when it’s time to raise capital. Investors want to see that you have skin in the game.
3. Set your terms and do not deviate from your plan
Angel networks and investors will try their best to get the upper hand in a deal. It is your responsibility as the founder to be in control of your company and negotiations. If an investor really believes in you and your company, they will invest on your terms.
4. Be Passionate
If you don’t believe in your idea, no one else will. The investors must feel your passion and believe that you have what it takes to pull off the plan.
Joe Griffin, Eosera’s CSO and Co-Founder said Dickerson’s confidence and passion were obvious during her pitch.
“You could see the passion in her pitch and her audience could too,” Griffin said. “I think that is why we were so successful. We truly believe in our cause.”
5. Remember that you are bringing value
Too many founders feel guilty asking for money. Remember that you are bringing a valuable opportunity to the potential investor.
When I first started, I felt like I was begging for money or looking for handouts. But eventually I had to reframe my mindset to realize that I was the one bringing potential investors a valuable opportunity to make money.
I think as women, we are afraid to ask for money and we are just bad at closing a deal and asking for that investment. But we need to change our mindset to empower ourselves to realize that we are worth the risk and our ideas are valuable.
6. SELL, SELL, SELL
I quickly learned that if you don’t ask, they won’t offer- even after hearing your pitch. But the second you ask, people are more open the idea. You have to be confident about what you want.
Your full time job is fundraising. Every breakfast, lunch, and dinner should be booked with potential investors or connectors. Give your pitch to everyone and ALWAYS close by asking for an investment.
7. Practice your pitch
OVER and OVER and OVER again. You have 30 to 60 seconds to grab someone’s attention, so make your introduction is dramatic. You will most likely have only five to six minutes to pitch your full idea, so make sure your presentation tells a story that the investors can relate to. Also make sure you are fully prepared. You never know what a potential investor will ask.
8. Find a lead investor that you trust
The first investor is the most important. The lead investor acts as a beacon for other investors. If the lead investor is accomplished and has a vast network, other investors will follow.
9. Don’t hurt the ones you love
Friends and family money should be cash that they will never miss. You don’t want someone taking out their retirement or a second mortgage to support your dream. You need to be able to sleep at night if you can never repay them. If friends and family want to invest, be straightforward and tell them ‘don’t invest if you can’t afford to lose it.
10. There is good money and bad money
Steer clear of any investor (or investor group) that gives you a bad “gut” feeling. Don’t be afraid to turn money down if the investor wants to change the terms, seems over bearing, or wants to take control. Remember, that once you take an investors money, you and your business are married to them.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.