Innovation Blog

MassChallenge Alumni and Experts Weigh in: Key Insights & Advice for Early-Stage Founders in 2024 

Early-stage founders are the architects of tomorrow’s success stories, and navigating the complexities of today’s business world requires a blend of innovation, resilience, and foresight. For early-stage founders, 2024 demands a strategic mindset, adaptability, and perhaps above all efficiency. 

The startup landscape is poised for a distinctive journey this year, a sequel to the significant contraction in venture capital during 2023 as investors adopted a more cautious approach, tightening their fiscal reins, and companies embraced cost-cutting measures. 

Despite these challenges, there are many areas for optimism. The buzz surrounding Artificial Intelligence (AI), a robust stock market, and an influx of additional talent stemming from the aftermath of numerous layoffs last year collectively contribute to a potentially favorable landscape for startup leaders in 2024. 

To this end, we wanted to roundup advice geared toward early-stage founders for 2024. Below, we’ve collected insights from both industry experts of MassChallenge and MassChallenge alumni founders.  

Key Insights and Advice for Early-Stage Founders in 2024  

 Dr. Charmain Jackman, CEO and Founder of InnoPsych 

The top three focus areas are: your business model, your team, and your mentor. What I struggled with early on was clarifying my business model, articulating how I would generate revenue, and advocating for support to reach your business goals. Your team is also crucial and when you have the right people on board it can make the difference for you and your business growth. Finally, securing a mentor is a great strategy for growth as they can help you access resources and can offer a reality check for you as a leader. 

On the MassChallenge experience:

MassChallenge comes with many resources including introduction to technical support and investors, industry leaders who serve as mentors, and other founders like yourself. I would say try to take advantage of as many opportunities that are available to you. I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to pitch your business to the MC ecosystem when you get a chance. This can open doors you never knew existed.

Shanti Ramakrishan, MassChallenge expert in growth and scale 

Always focus on customers (who to serve and how to serve), understand their needs (unspoken and anticipated), build a product roadmap and deliver the most valuable product/solution first (vs Minimum Viable Product that may not be that valuable).  

While the entrepreneurial dream should be big, pragmatism demands demonstrating evidence of delivering on expectations. So, set and manage expectations constantly. 

  • Remain flexible to change course when needed. Reduce the gap between external expectations and internal capabilities through brutal assessment of progress. 
  • Build a team by acquiring necessary skill sets first and defer build out/scale as the business gathers traction. By being clever and creative, it is possible to find talent even if the company doesn’t have finances to hire!!! 
  • Ask mentors and advisors to candidly share ‘what not to do’ in addition to ‘what to do’. Learning from other’s mistakes or failures is an excellent strategy.” 

On the MassChallenge Experience:

MassChallenge offers comprehensive and sustained “intangible benefits” which are worth more than explicit investment or visible support for entrepreneurs. For example, time, candid counsel and advice from MC staff, mentor network, partners, connections are most important for an early-stage company to help “prepare” for the ultimate goal of advancing through every stage of an entrepreneurial journey. MC helps you best prepare and remain competitive in this game. 

Mark Newberg, MassChallenge expert on impact and cross-industry 

My simplest advice for any early-stage founder is to figure out your ‘North Star’ as early as you can…and to include your team in the process. 

 The ‘North Star’ is the thing that always motivates your company. It’s the problem you’re trying to solve, the purpose behind the problem, and the way you navigate challenging decisions whenever they arise. And they will arise. So instead of starting with raising money, or what might be possible, or anything more complicated than pen and paper, ask yourself: What do we want to do? How do we want to do it? Why do we want to do it? Combined, that’s your company’s ‘North Star.’ Now, go chart your course by it! 

On the MassChallenge Experience:

  1.  Talk to as many people as you can, and attend as many programs as you can, while asking yourself, “what can I learn today?” 
  1.  Help as many of your peers as you can, without asking for anything in return. You’ll gain far more than you give in the process. 
  1.  Make specific asks of the MassChallenge team. They’re here to support you. But a specific ask (“Do you have an industry contact with expertise in translating CAD models to 3-D printing?”) is far easier and faster than a non-specific ask (“I need help with manufacturing.”). The faster they can help the faster you can succeed!” 

Michelle Wu, Medical Device Expert 

My biggest advice for 2024:  Build revenue, or if you’re not there yet, other forms of ‘traction’ that show support for your product or service.  Depending on where our venture is at, these other forms of traction can look like testimonials from potential users and key opinion leaders, letters of intent, pre-orders, awards and recognition.  Success begets success!

On the MassChallenge Experience:

I’ll share 2 tips:  1.  Understand that being in MC is not just “to get VC funding.” MC gives you the mentoring, network, and tools to build the most successful venture you can.  2. Connect, meet, and network.  And repeat continuously.  Not only to learn and gain from others, but also to share your experiences to help others.  Even first time founders have experience that will help a fellow founder and open the doors to receive the help they need in return.  

Devon C. Campbell, Founder, Prodct LLC + CPO, myBiometry 

Start with the End in Mind: My advice to early-stage founders is to envision your startup’s future in several years and reverse-engineer your path. Align every effort with the long-term vision, ensuring each step adds value towards your goal. Whether aiming to sell, go public, dominate a market, or make a global impact, this perspective guides decision-making today. Stay honest about your present position for a clear trajectory toward your desired future. Keeping a keen eye on the end goal ensures each step contributes meaningfully to your startup’s ultimate success. 

On the MassChallenge Experience:

To unlock the full potential of the program, leverage the broad and diverse MassChallenge community. Engage mentors strategically in areas where your team lacks expertise; facilitate both one-on-one discussions and group mentor meetings for diverse insights. Tap into the collective experiences of your peers, honestly and vulnerably sharing your challenges and triumphs of startup life. Don’t underestimate the power of authenticity and openness in building meaningful connections. Lastly, explore the rich insights of MassChallenge alumni, gleaning valuable feedback from those who have walked the same entrepreneurial path before you. Maximize the MC community’s strength to enhance your startup journey. 

Hannah Le, Re.Statement, MassChallenge U.S. Early-Stage 2022 

Map out your resources, goals, and priorities as soon as you can. You will have many opportunities coming your way – make the most of them, but don’t forget where your priorities are. MassChallenge has so many corporate partners who offer SAAS products, legal advice, web services, and more. I had to really learn to prioritize what I needed first and learn what to ask for. 

Many of the big-name partners are willing to meet startups at the stage they’re at to help them grow. Not only do some offer up to 90% discounts on their services for the first year, but others even host virtual workshops, fireside chats, and round table discussions to help startups think more strategically. 

This partnership network is constantly in process of growing, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked for help from MassChallenge and they pointed me in the direction of a partner they had been talking to. 

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