How to attract investors: from a FemmeTech start-up that did just that
Alice Williams explains how her business Ovira went from start-up to global success in just one year, thanks to a business incubator
Alice's top tips at a glance:
- Shop around for the right incubator. And choose the program that’s right for your style and stage of business.
- Get investors to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as quickly as possible. If investors aren't interested, find out fast.
- Get reference checks from some of their other portfolio companies.
When Ovira founder Alice Williams first developed a tech product to end period pain in 2018, she knew it was a game-changer. Diagnosed with endometriosis at 21, after years of debilitating pain and blackouts since her teens, Williams used her science degree to research the effectiveness of electrical currents on pain management.
The result – based on a prototype made by an engineer friend – is a portable, egg-shaped device with two sensory pads that are placed over the lower abdomen. The device produces electrical pulses that ‘confuse’ pain receptors in the brain by overloading the body’s nerves and blocking these signals. Small enough to be worn all day, it managed to eliminate Williams’ intense period pain in a matter of minutes.
There was one problem: she had no idea how to market it. “I had zero experience in business and felt my product wasn’t good enough or new enough,” remembers the 28 year old.
I had zero experience in business and felt my product wasn’t good enough or new enough”- Alice Williams, Ovira
“My background is in film production, where I worked as a production manager. Entering the start-up industry, I wasn’t hugely familiar with entrepreneurs or tech in general.”
Getting started with Startmate
The turning point came when she found out about the start-up business accelerator program Startmate, through an acquaintance. “The accelerator program really ups your ambition,” Williams says of the initiative, which she describes as “an intense pressure cooker, in the best possible sense”.
Startmate is competitive and results driven: more than 500 start-up founders sign up for each business accelerator course. This number is then whittled down to 30 through quick-fire interviews, with business mentors then voting on which 10 start-ups proceed further.
“The three-month course operates as a full-time job, where you attend a workspace five days a week. There are meetings throughout each week with the mentors, but Startmate recognises that you’re trying to build a business, so everything is optional.”
The importance of mentors
Through Startmate, start-up founders are introduced to a community of business owners who function as mentors and potential investors. “Before joining the course, I operated from the philosophy of ‘under-promise and over-deliver’, but I learned from a mentor, James Tynan, a delightful human and CEO of Startmate at the time, that this is not the way to go.”
Before joining the course, I operated from the philosophy of ‘under-promise and over-deliver’, but I learned from a mentor that this is not the way to go.”- Alice Williams, Ovira
As part of the program, Tynan, who is now a principal on the investment team at Square Peg and a stakeholder in Ovira, was in weekly contact with Williams, and his advice proved pivotal. “He told me, ‘Alice, I’m looking at this product and I’m hearing the way you talk about it and it doesn’t match! You have a bloody great idea – start talking it up!’”
It was, says Williams, one of those lightbulb moments.
“James taught me that it doesn’t matter if you fail, nobody cares, as long as you try. It’s better to shoot for the stars and miss than not go for your dreams. It’s OK to aim high and tell people about it. From that point on, I had much more confidence in what I was doing.”
A product that speaks for itself
By February 2020, equipped with unshakable belief in her product and her ability to pitch it, Williams had her first major investor. In their first 100 days, Ovira attracted 1000 customers; within the next 100 days, that figure jumped to 10,000. With dedicated customer bases in Australia, US and Canada, the company is now expanding into the UK market.
It’s an impressive record considering Ovira’s only advertising is through social media. “Along with ads, we work with micro influencers,” explains Williams. “We’re working on expanding that, but our emphasis will always be on authenticity. That means all our reviews are from happy customers – they’re not paid for. If you don’t like the product, you don’t have to endorse it.”
It’s an outlook that extends to Ovira’s 100-day money-back guarantee. “I have absolute confidence in the product, and this is proof of that,” says Williams. “But because every single body is different, there will always be that tiny percentage of women for whom it may not work. I know from experience what it’s like to have doctors tell you something will take away your pain when [in fact] it doesn’t, so we don’t want to make those claims.”
Williams, who says doctors often dismissed her pain and wanted to put her straight onto the contraceptive pill, wants to make sure women feel like more than just customers. “My aim was to create not just a brand but a buzzing online community that addresses women’s emotional isolation and pain around menstrual health, which is still mostly overlooked,” she says. Ovira’s 10,000 members on Facebook and 20,000 followers on Instagram is a clear testament to that.
Alice’s four tips on how to secure an investment
Make the most of mentors’ time. “One of the best bits of advice a Startmate mentor gave was to maximise what he called ‘mentor juice extraction’. It means being unafraid to ask questions or look dumb in front of people who know more than you.”
Get investors to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as quickly as possible. “Your time as a founder is precious and if they’re not interested, it’s best to find that out up front.”
Get reference checks. “If an investor gives you a ‘yes’, always do a reference check with some of their other portfolio companies. This will give you an idea of how they have found working with the investor since taking on their capital.”
Shop around for the right incubator. “I’d advise any potential start-ups to do their research and talk to other businesses that have been through accelerator programs. Then, choose the program that’s right for your style and stage of business. For example, there is an accelerator out there for women-led businesses, as well as programs that cater to mid-level businesses that have already raised their capital. It’s about finding the right fit.”
Natalie Reilly is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review. Photos: Alisha Gore.
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