By Alex Senson, Senior Business Strategist at Altitude Accelerator
Below we describe three case studies of technology entrepreneurs who have grown significantly while working with the Altitude Accelerator. These case studies will be discussed within the context of a framework that RIC has created and uses to manage the mentorship and resource allotment for each unique company.
Our framework describes the common stages that most ventures must go through to grow and become successful, self-sustaining businesses. This was originally adapted from the Startup Genome stages of a venture: Stage 1 – Discovery, Stage 2 – Validation, Stage 3 – Efficiency and Stage 4 – Scale. We broke down each of these larger stages into discreet sub-stages or milestones which we could then track (see the figures below).
For each milestone, Altitude Accelerator has a set of recommended resources allowing us to efficiently distribute these resources to companies where and when they are needed. Most startup ventures follow these stages, and those who are successful rarely skip past any. The length of time a company requires to complete a stage varies dramatically depending on the type of business, industry and dedication of the founders. Software based businesses are usually able to go from ideation through scale in a much faster period of time than health technologies or cleantech businesses for example. Having this framework helps founders understand where they need to go and what they need to do next to move forward and plan for the future. At RIC, we create a customized advisory plan and path forward for each individual company so we have the greatest impact while being strict and efficient with our resource utilization, so we can adequately serve our 450+ active client companies.
Case Study 1 – Veterinarium
Ivan Zakharenkov is the founder of Veterinarium. Being a veterinarian himself, Ivan knew the pain points and issues in animal hospitals and was able to innovate a solution. Their first product, Smart Flow Sheet, is a software system that helps veterinarians manage their in-patient care by simplifying process flow and documentation requirements. Ivan joined the Altitude Accelerator in February 2013 and has been working with James Sbrolla as his lead advisor ever since.
“Veterinarium is a classic RIC file where we were able to help an entrepreneur “help himself”. Ivan had some great strengths when he registered at our Centre and we were able to assist with moving his business forward through coaching in business structure and formalized planning.” – James Sbrolla
Ivan was at stage 1 when he joined the Altitude Accelerator. He was validating his solution through free trials of an early version of the product in vet clinics. Over the last few years, Altitude Accelerator has provided significant resource value to Ivan including nearly 100 hours of dedicated one on one advisor time, $16,000 worth of market research, $5,000 direct cash grant (RASF), $30,000 cash grant (VentureStart), and several live pitching sessions where feedback was given by panels of experts and advisors. The RIC team has helped Ivan by introducing him to angel investor groups, prepared him for investment presentations, facilitated introductions to insurance and HR companies, and promoted his business through social media and blog articles. These resources were made available at key stages in Veterinarium’s development, where they made sense and had the biggest impact.
It took Ivan just under four years to grow from stage 1 through to stage 4 where he’s scaled massively into over 3,000 hospitals, generating significant recurring revenue with a line of software products. Their team has grown to over 30 employees. The company raised $2 million last year, further validating the legitimacy of the products, business and founder.
Case Study 2 – ClinicSense
ClinicSense was founded by Daniel Ruscigno who has developed a clinic management software for massage therapy clinics. The software helps clinics reduce the amount of paperwork and phone calling so they can have more time to focus on caring for their patients. Daniel joined RIC in August 2014 and was in stage 2 at the time, just having launched the first version of their product on the market in the previous couple months. They had a handful of clinics using the product at that time. Daniel joined the Altitude Accelerator at a great stage, where coaching and mentorship on go to market strategy and company growth would have the greatest impact. About two and a half years later, ClinicSense is at stage 4, having grown 240% year over year. He is currently focused on maintaining this momentum with a well devised plan to scale the business further.
Daniel took advantage of many expert perspectives, having spent time with two Entrepreneurs in Residence and multiple volunteer advisors adding to nearly 50 hours of one on one advisory time. He received about $20,000 in market research, and attended multiple workshops and seminars. We introduced Daniel to intellectual property lawyers and accounting experts for free consultations. Daniel was also coached on pitching and invited to present to a group of Altitude Accelerator advisors on two occasions at our Champion Series event where he received valuable feedback.
Daniel’s current Entrepreneur in Residence, Paul Barter, is optimistic about the future of ClinicSense.
“I first met Daniel shortly after I joined the Altitude Accelerator in early 2016. Daniel is a thoughtful entrepreneur who along with his partner had finished the first version his product and was in market delivering value to owners of massage therapy clinics. Daniel’s next challenges were the blocking and tackling type challenges that all successful entrepreneurs go through. He needed to attract more customers and to continue to build out the value that existing and new customers receive. In the subsequent year it’s clear that Daniel and the ClinicSense team have done exactly that. It’s gratifying to have been able to work with them as they continue to grow their business across North America and around the world.” – Paul Barter
Altitude Accelerator can’t do an entrepreneur’s work for them, but rather we act as coaches and guides, make value added business connections, and lend much needed support when things are tough. When a founder’s expectations and understanding are aligned with our service offerings, great value can be realized. The founders still do the heavy lifting. Daniel has made excellent use of Altitude Accelerator resources, where and when he needed them most.
“The Altitude Accelerator has played a significant role in helping us grow ClinicSense. Specifically, they have helped us navigate government grants to accelerate our growth and have connected us to advisors who have provided guidance on marketing, sales, and channel partnerships. With the help of the Altitude Accelerator, we were able to move from initial product development to significant revenue growth at a much faster rate than going at it alone.” – Daniel Ruscigno
Case Study 3 – Micharity
The founder of Micharity, Rob Nour, created a all-in-one fundraising solution to change the way charities and non-profits collect donations online and engage donors. They help the charities and non-profits run faster, raise more and chart the path ahead intelligently while keeping costs low. While their competitors are primarily focused on processing donation transactions, Micharity also excels at finding more donors and retaining those donors – something which solves a burning problem for their customers.
When Rob registered with RIC in October 2015, his business looked a lot different than it does today. His focus, target market and even his company name were different. He had a minimum viable product which he was testing in a niche market, but was uncertain the best strategy to take it to market. This put him in late discovery / early validation, or stage 1 / 2. The first thing Rob’s RIC advisor, Geoff Simonett, helped him with was an endorsement for the OCE SmartStart program, from which Rob was successful in obtaining over $60,000.
“Geoff, our RIC advisor provided us access to his network and industry leaders and some unique and refreshing perspective on direction with our platform during the early stages. He pushed us to focus and add features to our platform that would challenge and disrupt the industry.” – Rob Nour
After this, Rob was invited to present formally to the RIC Champion Series pitch panel in February 2016. We worked on refining his pitch deck and presentation through multiple iterations and practice runs. By June 2016, we felt he was making rapid progress and was ready to pitch to the RIC Investment Review Panel to get him ready for pitching to investors for a larger round. Raising a substantial seed round often takes many months, and in late 2016 / early 2017 Rob successfully raised a $750,000 seed round with a valuation of $13.6M from Brown Capital. His objective in 2017 is to shift Micharity’s efforts towards increasing demand and growing their customer base. They are using the seed fund to scale up their infrastructure and operations to increase revenue, which is already significant this year. To date, RIC has provided Rob with over 30 hours of direct advisory service as well as multiple events, workshops, and direct business connections.
“We started working with Micharity when they were early in their beta process. Rob and I have met on a fairly regular basis over the last 1.5 years to help guide the company through their early growth. We have assisted them with funding applications, prepared them for presentations, helped them with the process of securing funding, introduced them to valuable contacts but most importantly, been a sounding board to asset the Rob with the strategic direction of the company. Today they have moved passed the beta process, rebranded, closed one round of investment, and have close to 100 clients, generating significant monthly revenue and growing rapidly. The RIC centre has been helpful in all parts of this journey.” – Geoff Simonett
It’s All About Progression
Rob Nour was successful in growing his company from late stage 1 through to early stage 4 in about a year and a half, which is faster than average. All three companies profiled in this article are ICT / software products, and yet the time taken to progress is significantly different between them (as shown in the graph). This illustrates the fact that the progression through stages and the associated milestones is dependent on a multitude of factors including the nature of the business and customer, nature of the product, industry, potential regulatory hurdles, experience and resourcefulness of the founding team, and a little bit of luck. There are many RIC clients who have only progressed from stage 1 to 2 in several years, and yet we count these to be highly successful as well. As mentioned previously, success is measured relatively and based on realistic goals and objectives that should be set during the business planning process. These ventures may be in highly regulated industries such as cleantech, advanced manufacturing or life sciences where progress is generally slower and more expensive. Regardless, the framework presented here generally applies to most different businesses, as we’ve applied it to about 1000 startup companies so far and found it helpful in allocating resources and providing support. The data collected over time can assist in understanding and benchmarking different industries in terms of identifying the most common stages where companies get ‘stuck’ and gauging how long, on average, a particular stage or milestone should take in a given industry or sub-industry. The main goal for startups is progress; always move forward day after day, continuously re-evaluating and pivoting as necessary.
If you operate an innovative technology business, register for Altitude Accelerator services so we can help guide you through the stages and milestones you’re currently tackling. To be the first to hear more stories like this, subscribe to our newsletter.