A Start-Up Trek – Iterations

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Elevator to Nowhere – Creative Commons picture by levork

I am starting a new prototyping lab in Huntsville, Alabama, based on the fab lab model. I’ve dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur and have done a fair amount of research on the topic. But this is my first attempt at starting a business. Here is where I document weekly my mistakes and successes in creating a business from scratch.

I am taking my family on vacation this week so this will be a short post.

Now that I’ve decided to pursue an SBA loan as my primary source of external funding I’m creating a business plan. Banks are tight about lending right now so I need to have a very good plan worked out to maximize my chances of success. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been walking my business plan around and talking to as many people as I can about it. This would have seemed tedious to me a few years ago but now I find it invaluable. I learn something new with each pitch. Sometimes it’s just being able to refine my “30-second pitch.” Most people I’ve talked to have not heard of a fab lab so my elevator pitch has to describe a fab lab as well as a business model built around one.

In my day job I supposedly research advanced propulsion systems, but really I spend most of my time convincing people to put money into my research projects. And then I get to do a little research. Lately it feels like my chasing research funds to doing research ratio is about 80% to 20%. My point is, I’m used to walking into offices and giving cold pitches about complicated projects. That doesn’t make it any easier.

In several discussions I’ve been encouraged to emphasize less on individual users and more on corporate users. My desire has always been to build a community of makers in the Huntsville area. But, corporate users may very well be more willing to use the lab, especially in the critical first few months. I also de-emphasized corporate users because I didn’t want to spread myself too thin. I thought the bank would be concerned if I tried to do too many things at once. Clearly I convinced myself that focusing on a few markets would be perceived well when the opposite is true. Showing my plans around has given me a perspective I couldn’t have reached on my own.

I could go on here about all the other things I’ve learned but I have to go get on a boat now. Showing my idea to others has always been tough; it isn’t fun when it’s criticized. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s an absolutely critical part of the process of getting a idea funded. And those that criticize the most can be the ones that are the most useful. I’ve had several close friends suggest that this company is not a good risk; strangely those are the ones that have helped me refine my idea the most. All this presenting of crazy ideas, both in my day job and this business concept, has helped me develop a thick skin.

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