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These connected health and fitness companies are ready to be 'sales machines' - Technical.ly Brooklyn

December 15, 2017


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The auditorium inside Under Armour’s Building 37 had the big screen primed for pitch slides, and intrigued tech community members in the seats.

To begin the night, entrepreneur and author Patrick Vlaskovits talked about what sets startups apart through a story involving a fly.

“All of a startup’s basic motivations and actions and behaviors center around their perception of time,” he said. “A year is an eternity to a startup.”

With those elements, the Wednesday night event to close out the first M-1 Ventures cohort had the look of many a demo day. As the pitches proceeded, it followed a familiar format, albeit focused on connected health and fitness in line with the accelerator’s charge.

But along the way, there were a couple differences that stood out.

As with many pitch nights, there were winners. Fitness platform BurnAlong and health data platform b.well each picked up $25,000.

The path to choosing the winners took a slightly different approach. Along with Johns Hopkins, VilCap Communities was a partner on the accelerator. With the latter’s involvement, the members of the cohort used Village Capital’s peer review model to select who would be the winner.

The pitches also had a focus on making money – revenue, that is, rather than investment. Paul Singh, an investor who co-directed the digital health and fitness-focused accelerator that was housed at Johns Hopkins Fast Forward East this fall, noted it was a key focus of the accelerator.

“Everything we did over the last four months was focused on sales,” he said, noting that’s a distinct difference from focusing on the technology and innovation.

In part that may be a result of the needs of the companies Singh and co-director Tony D’Agostino were assisting. Accelerator programs often bring in companies at the earliest stages, but the M-1 Ventures companies already had working products, funding and revenue. So sales are what they need to grow.

The pitches bared that out. b.well CEO Kristen Valdes reported an increase on that front. “We have gone from pipeline to firehose mode,” she said.

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Pitching BurnAlong, co-CEO Mike Kott talked about the company’s five-year revenue plan.

For the companies, the focus also meant a change in mindset.

While talking about how Philly-based RoundTrip is a “a single touchpoint that applies for the ordering of medical transportation” and how the company worked with Johns Hopkins to add predictive analytics features, CEO Mark Switaj had a fresh characterization of the company.

“We want to be a sales machine that happens to be doing transportation,” he said, adding that the company entered four new states during the cohort.

A similar note came from Aimee Martin, who leads the surgical training platform Milemarker. which was developed by surgeons at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. She talked about an increase in sales leads from five to 200. “We are a sales company through and through,” she said.

It’s an approach that Singh and D’Agostino encouraged. While those who pitched were health and fitness companies, it’s easy to see how that focus could be applied to any startup in the city. The customer development focus was also a focus at this month’s closing of ETC’s Pioneer Baltimore program, where the winner was the company that had the most customer contacts.

It underlines the point that while building a company has a lot of moving parts, growth is always front and center for startups.

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