Written by Ed Voelsing on October 10, 2023

Three Ways You Can Support Startups

Picture of the welcome slide from September 2023 PitchBreakfast meeting.

Starting a new company can be simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.  At the start, it’s a race for startups between getting enough momentum to be self-sustaining before the pile of cash burns out – whether it’s venture capital investments, friends and family, or your retirement savings.  Later, the race continues as a company builds scale, success starts to happen, and challenges multiply.

In my practice as an executive recruiter, I often sit down with early-stage startup founders to discuss the importance of having the right talent from the start.  They need to know how to surround themselves with a team that can both amplify and complement their skills and abilities.  Later, when they have a good head of steam, I often get engaged to help them “professionalize” their company – by attracting and hiring experienced executives to help continue the growth. 

Many of these founders are risking everything to solve real-world problems.  Some are fresh from college, or the military, or have stepped out of a successful corporate career (or their startup is a side hustle to their day job).  In addition to risking financial ruin, there can be a tremendous strain on mental and physical health, personal relationships, and career progression.  It takes a special kind of person to sign up for that. 

It’s more than most of us could do or are willing to risk.  Failure is a high probability.  But like the early pioneers of the space program, they choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.  And the world is often better for it. 

Going to early-stage pitch events like Charlotte’s PitchBreakfast, or TFX Capital’s Veteran Startup Showcase, I am always impressed by the passion, grit, and determination these founders have. 

Most people are not able to risk their careers for the uncertainty of a startup or have the capital to invest.  For those of us NOT in the arena, how else can we help these founders get off the ground?  There are several ways, but I will highlight three that the average professional can do easily that can make a profound impact on their success:

  1. Engage & Amplify.  Unless they are in some super stealth mode, most founders & startups have some presence on social media like LinkedIn, X, and Instagram.  They might have an email newsletter where they send out news about the company.  As the YouTubers say, “Like and subscribe.”  Engage with their posts, follow their company, and share with your networks.  It does not cost you anything and can mean everything if their message reaches the right people.
  2. Give Time & Expertise.  Many founders are world-class experts in one thing.  They are not experts in everything.  Many startups stumble in areas like marketing, finance, logistics, or HR.  Areas that you might be an expert in.  You might not be in a position in your career to join a startup, or they might not be able to afford someone with your expertise.  But they might be open to having you consult with them, paid or otherwise.  Being generous with your time and expertise can mean the difference between success and failure. 
  3. Make connections.  One of the easiest ways you can help startups be successful is to make connections for them.  Maybe your college roommate is a great patent attorney.  Or your neighbor is a fractional CFO.  Perhaps your friend works for a VC or investment bank.  There could be a customer of yours who would be excited to use or buy the startup’s product.  Making connections is easy and can make a world of difference. 

Why is it important to support startups?  Well, startups are drivers of job growth.  They also accelerate innovation – often more so than more established corporations that are more risk-averse.  Many of their inventions can potentially be world-changing, whether it’s like advances in human health, reusable rockets, or capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  If they take off, they often become anchors in local communities – providing jobs and providing support for everything from youth programs to the arts and non-profits. 

Speaking of amplifying, if you are interested in learning more, here are some resources for you:

PitchBreakfast – Monthly event in Charlotte where early-stage startups can practice their pitches to investors in front of a panel of judges.  (They also have a great YouTube page – that is a must for startups.)

Charlotte Inno – The Business Journals has a subset of startup news.  In Charlotte, it’s Charlotte Inno. 

Bunker Labs – National and local resources for Veteran-led startups.

TFX Capital – Sponsor of the annual Veteran Startup Showcase, TFX is a Veteran-owned VC with a focus on early-stage tech startups.

Wherever you are, chances are there is a startup incubator or program for startups in your area.  A simple place to start getting involved is to find one near you and sign up for their email list.  Then maybe attend a networking or pitch event.    

Going to early-stage pitch events like Charlotte’s PitchBreakfast, or TFX Capital’s Veteran Startup Showcase, I am always impressed by the passion, grit, and determination founders have.  It’s motivating.

It takes a special kind of person to start a company – odds are they will fail, but even if they do, many will try again and succeed.  If the rest of us can do what we can to improve the odds, however big or small, everybody wins.   Let’s all do our part.

Thanks for reading.  Ed Voelsing is the founder of the Rivet Group – a Veteran-owned recruiting firm based in Charlotte with a focus on middle-market-sized firms in the US.  I work with companies to build their teams that will help execute the vision and take them into the future.  If you are hiring, and need help, we’d like to hear from you. 

Article written by Ed Voelsing

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