5 Lessons from Competing in a Startup Challenge

How We Took ‘I Am A Creator’ From Passion Project To Business Contender

Jaclyn Cole fills in the I Am A Creator’s business plan with the GriffinWorx Business Model Scorecard.

By: Jaclyn Cole & Acquania Escarne

This past weekend was one of the most exciting and exhausting experiences we’ve had in our 15-year friendship. Competing our new business concept for I Am A Creator: The Collective in a startup competition provided us more business mentorship and useful feedback in 48 hours than we had in the past few months of brainstorming alone. Through this process, we developed some key takeaways that we know will take us to the next level of this competition, and more importantly in our business.

1. Make A Plan

We stumbled onto the eBay StartUp Cup Challenge, a business model competition, through a friend’s Facebook post. We were already sketching out how to transition I Am A Creator from a passion project to a startup when we decided to compete. Although we were still in the planning stage, we knew we had to take advantage of this inclusive entrepreneurship initiative that focuses on developing emerging entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. Using the Startup Cup’s application, we were able to further define parts of our existing business plan. And on the first day of the competition our plan went into hyper drive as we began using a Business Model Scorecard — a unique, visual design you can use to hone your business concept and build your business model. This amazing tool was created by GriffinWorx, one of the largest business building organizations in the world and co-sponsor of the Startup Cup. By the end of Day 1 we had a business plan and a clear plan of action.

2. Be Coachable

The DC Startup Cup, hosted by the Inclusive Innovation Incubator (in3) near Howard University’s main campus, is the first business competition eBay’s Foundation has ever sponsored in the United States. This competition brought us in front of dozens of business leaders from different fields. The mentors visited each team and provided one-on-one coaching to improve our business model. Unlike a pitch competition, these judges were not just interested in critiquing our plan or our delivery of the information. They pushed us to rethink key aspects of our business model with tough questions and discussions. For example, one coach gave us a great idea to provide introductory consultations on creative marketing design in addition to long-term social media management to create a new revenue stream. With every coaching session we took notes and quickly made adjustments that really improved our business.

Jaclyn Cole & Acquania Escarne of I Am A Creator advance to the next round of the eBay DC Start Up Cup.

3. Know Your Core

While we got tons of great advice from coaches, we also learned we needed to be discerning about changes we made because they could impact the future of our startup. We founded I Am A Creator around a clear value proposition: to affirm every person of color has value as a creator. We believe creativity is key to self-expression, self-care, personal and professional growth, and transformation in our communities. We are now preparing to provide a set of innovative products and services centered around this vital self-affirmation. Some coaches, particularly artists, found it difficult to understand our idea of labeling other fields as creative and thus thought we would have trouble marketing our concept. We took the critique to heart, but ultimately decided this idea is core to our brand. So we instead made a commitment to invest more time and energy into our own creative marketing so our potential clients clearly understand why being associated with creators, and our services in particular, will benefit them personally as well as their bottom line.

4. Do Some Sh*t

After presenting our model to several coaches, a staff member from in3 challenged us to take immediate action to test our new ideas. More specifically, he told us to “go out and do some sh*t.” So we hit the streets of Washington DC’s Georgia Avenue to ask real businesses would they invest in our products and services. As a result, we have more than just a cool idea; now we have serious leads on potential clients.

Our recommendation: Once you have a plan generate a list of real action you can take immediately.
Acquania Escarne engages with Jumpstart Juices at the Funky Fabulous Market Place.

5. Be Curious (and Collaborative)

A major part of the startup competition is not only sharing our business plan but learning about the businesses of our judges and our so-called competitors. So we made sure to wander around the room and talk to other entrepreneurs in the competition. After all, you never know they could be some of our clients or collaborators one day.

We are excited for the next phase of the Startup Cup Challenge. Over the next six months the top 25 teams will receive more hands on coaching and mentoring to hone our business model and launch our business. Win, lose, or draw we have already learned so much from this experience and are taking action to serve our community and develop creators of color into change agents. The opportunity to “do Well while doing Good” is really the big prize.

Take Action

Go to www.iamacreatorcollective.com/startup to follow our journey as we turn our creative endeavor into a catalyst for other creators. Also, watch our Facebook Live Webinar this Wednesday, June 7th to get the full details of the event and advice on what you can do to build your business. Sign up now!