Startups And Small Businesses: One Elevator Ride Can Change Everything

Elevators are cramped, slightly uncomfortable spaces at best. As you’re riding the elevator up to your office this morning, picture being joined by an interviewer and a camera crew. You’ve spent the last three or four years working on a technology startup – your bold idea to disrupt your industry. This morning, you’re a weird combination of tired and energized. The interviewer gives you literally one minute, 60 seconds, to make your “elevator pitch” about your fledgling company to an audience of thousands. Sound like a dream come true, or a nightmare to endure?

That’s the situation faced by Divya Tailang, one of the co-founders of Interlinkages. She and her co-founder, Anindita Ghosh, both veterans of global commercial banking companies, have created a platform to give companies in developing nations an opportunity to access capital beyond the confines of their local commercial banks.

Later this morning, October 26, Divya will ride the elevator of the International Commerce Center (“ICC”), the tallest building in Hong Kong, from the ground to the 100th floor. The ride takes 60 seconds and is the ultimate elevator pitch opportunity. One hundred startups will compete for $125,000 in prize money to fund their ventures. The event is sponsored by the HKSTP, the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation. What lessons does Divya’s elevator ride hold for you?

Jay Sullivan: Why go through this process? There must be easier ways to get funding for your startup.

Divya Tailang: We could take a more conventional path, but there are certain advantages to this approach. Anindita and I grew up – professionally – working in large corporate banks. We know there are lots of approaches. We learned you increase your chance of success if you expand your field of opportunity. We conduct lots of traditional investor pitches, but we also look for unconventional ways to raise our profile and broaden our network.

Sullivan: So what’s the short version of Interlinkages’ value proposition? Remember, you’ve only got 60 seconds to make an impression.

Tailang: We help small importers and exporters access financing directly from foreign banks. We save them time, money and hassles. In the process, we give banks the ability to fund projects that they would otherwise never find.

Sullivan: Worldwide?

Tailang: We’re starting in developing countries, where access to financing is hardest, and companies have the greatest number of hurdles to overcome.

Sullivan: You’ve still got thirty seconds left. Is one of those hurdles that you and your co-founder are both women in what is still the male-dominated world of finance?

Tailang: The finance world is focused on results. Anindita and I have earned our credentials. We can prove our model works. We’re confident our track record will impress investors.

Sullivan: What’s your advice for other startups looking for funding?

Tailang: First, hone your message. There are 100 startups participating in this event today. If you want to stand out, you need not only a great idea, but you need to make that idea easy for investors to understand.

Sullivan: The technology that supports your platform is very complicated, but the results are fairly straightforward.

Tailang: That’s right. We make it easy for someone to understand what we’re trying to accomplish. How we’re getting there is only relevant if we’ve already got you interested.

Sullivan: What else is important?

Tailang: Second, have a success story ready. Your message about your product is just a conclusion. You need to back it up with examples or anecdotes that prove you can deliver. We have plenty of those already at Interlinkages.

Sullivan: And finally?

Tailang: Have a clear ask. If you’ve convinced someone you are ready to take your idea to market in a significant way, you need to have a plan in place and a clear request for investors. If not, you’ll come across as an amateur.

Sullivan: Great advice for any startup. Good luck today.

Tailang: Thanks.

Find out more about the competition here.

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