Deaf web developers and founders of Eventida, Elise (aka “Lisi”) and Lee Whitworth, have been selected from hundreds of applicants to participate in this year’s Women’s Startup Lab accelerator program!
Before they can go, they need your help! Watch the video of the announcement in ASL (American Sign Language) or read the full announcement here.
“We are excited about the mission of Eventida and the difference it can make with its focus on accommodations and accessibility in the event industry.”
– Goretti Heinz, Director of Operations at Women’s Startup Lab.
On July 24, Women’s Startup Lab will kick off a year long accelerator program with nine founders, hand selected by the board. For the first two weeks, the group will be fully immersed on site at Menlo Park, with lodging and three meals a day provided. Elise and Lee Whitworth has a one in a lifetime opportunity to participate in this program. Their goal with Eventida is to make “Accommodations Marketing” a new standard in the event marketing mix.
The Whitworths have had a negative experience with accommodations at many events, as Deaf parents of hearing children, and as business owners at networking events and conferences. Elise also has a soy allergy and has experienced difficulties arranging for her meals. They prefer to attend events that already have interpreters or where sign language is the primary language, but these events are hard to keep track of. There are very few news and media sites that cater to the Deaf community on the local level.
Their personal experience, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit and strong background in both web development and events, have prepared them to build the ultimate online event accommodations tool that solves the problem of coordinating and profiting from accommodations, by attracting underserved niche audiences to their events. 34% of Americans either have a disability, an allergy, or speak/sign a different language.
Instead of equity, the accelerator program charges a fee to cover costs, $10,000 per person. It has been 9 months since Elise and Lee decided to wind down on client services – only barely doing enough to keep food on the table – they don’t have the money. So they have set up a fundraising drive, selling ads and collecting contributions at Eventida.com/fundraise.
The funds raised will ensure the continued upkeep of free features: event listings; event sites; event lists; pages that attach to event sites and/or lists; accommodation requests; and embed functionality.
About the Accelerator from their website
Mission – Women’s Startup Lab is a founder development accelerator in the heart of Silicon Valley whose mission is to catalyze women-run startups and guide them to victory through powerful leadership training, an influential network of coaches and advisors, and the ongoing (lifelong!) support of a community of founder alums.
Values – We believe a startup’s success starts with the founder. We believe in accelerating people, not just products. We believe in winning through collaboration, and not only by competition. We believe well-trained, well-supported, and well-networked founders accelerate faster. We believe in having fun. (Mo-Hitos anyone?!) We believe women are born leaders and the world needs more of them, damn it.
The Story – How it Happened, Told by Elise
Ever since we made the decision to wind down creative services and make Eventida our priority, I began studying the various incubator or accelerator programs available and what they are looking for. My main takeaway was that we need a kick-butt pitch deck – a very summarized business plan in 10-20 slides, basically – and shared my observations with Lee. I even tried to make one using Google Slides, a great starter template I learned about through an article on the Business Insider,
Our conversations went like this “…not feeling ready to start pitching Eventida to investors. It feels impossible to fit everything into a few slides. What if we give away too much equity for too little? Suppose we wait another six months and build traffic, will we get better offers then? ….. We aren’t the most polished presenters, how can we pull it off?”
We decided to wait until Eventida had gained more traction and keep studying, reading up meanwhile.
I kept checking out various programs, to get a feel for the landscape, and came across the Women’s Startup Lab (WSL). Of course, as a woman leading this company, it caught my eye. I quickly became a huge fangirl – tours of major tech companies such as Google, Facebook? *swoon* Coaching, one-on-one mentoring and personal development? Yes! We’ve spent the last 15 years working intimately with a few clients and the rest of the time, our heads have been stuck in the development sandbox. As a result, our weakest area is with professional social and presentation skills.
A while ago, I worked with Global Deaf Women to mentor six aspiring businesswomen at an intimate weekend retreat. It was a wonderful experience, connecting and gaining insight from one another’s perspectives as we shared our visions and ideas with one another. I also love going to conferences and workshops, soaking up information everywhere I go. This program is the perfect fit for me. I only wished Lee could have a similar experience.
Best of all – WSL is an accelerator program with no equity stake involved, like most others. Typically, these programs are investing in a company and taking on the cost of training, providing support, and other expenses, with the goal of accelerating the company’s growth until it yields a return on investment. WSL is more interested in helping to foster the growth of women-led businesses and getting founders such as Lee and I into a position where we feel ready to pitch Eventida, and then connecting us with investors. Most founders in the program manage to raise funds well beyond the $10,000 program fee and build equity far greater.
I did not apply straightaway, though. I waited until we had finished enough on Eventida before I submitted my application. Time was getting closer and I knew the odds were getting lower, but I held out – first impressions are so important. Once I had finished setting up a new blog section on Eventida and reinstating old articles and revamped the “About Us” page, I immediately filled out the application.
Two days later, I got an email from Goretti Heinz saying she would like to call and ask a few questions about Eventida. I was thrilled to make it through the application round, and prepared all morning, thinking of different questions and answers, pulling up reports with statistics, ready to fire off numbers and do my utmost to impress. And… most importantly, I reminded myself about 1,000 times not to ramble. Anyone who knows me knows that I can talk about Eventida and event promotions all day!
The best part of this whole experience is likely to come, but right now I can say that it is already making a big difference – the validation, the fact that a board of Silicon Valley professionals see merit in our vision is huge. Thank you, Women’s Startup Lab, for your vote of confidence. No matter what happens, a difference has been made already in this woman’s life.
Finally, it was time for the call. I sat through, hands sweaty and nervous as I answered questions – and yes, I rambled a few times. I so hoped we would make it through this round of the selection process!
Two surprises happened during the phone call. First, I was surprised to find that male co-founders were welcome to join and that Lee was strongly encouraged to participate – that he would get his own mentor in the CTO field, while mine would be more CEO / CMO oriented. Perfect! It did say that in their FAQ, but I had mis-read it to mean “women whose co-founders are men are welcome to join” – in other words, the company does not have to be 100% woman owned. But it actually meant “women and their male co-founders are welcome to the program.”
The second surprise was that there was no “phone round” – that the board had already met and had not only pre-approved us, but also awarded a scholarship from IBM for both of us! It turned out that it was a verification call – mainly to make sure that we were closing Studios (concerned about focus) – yes! – and that their understanding of the vision I had laid out was accurate – yes!
We Need Your Help
In just five days, we built the entire fundraising drive: an e-commerce page with a progress bar, created a set of comprehensive FAQ’s, video with captions, and wrote this blog, AND continued to do client work. During the last six months, 60% of the hours we logged were focused on Eventida – compared to 5% throughout 2015 – the rest of the time, we’ve been finishing up client projects. This year we have already pulled off a total of 5 new websites or revamps on top of major improvements on Eventida.
Imagine how much more we could do when 100% of our time is focused on Eventida! We know we can pull off this vision – if you agree, please show your support by contributing, buying an ad, or registering on Eventida for a free user account.