Startup Stories: What’s Deb Saying About the Startup Ecosystem in 2017?

What is an accelerator? Last Wednesday, the EcoSystem Forum drew speakers from Flat6Labs, ETC, and J.E. Austin Associates to address this very question. The event received support  from USAID’s Asia and Middle East Economic Best Practices Program and brought together key private sector leaders, policy makers, and development experts involved with entrepreneurial ecosystems across various emerging markets. Our very own President and Executive Director, Deb Tillett, made an appearance to share her thoughts on the topic. For those who couldn’t make it out last week, we took a moment to summarize some of Deb’s perspectives on her role at ETC and the startup community at large.


Currently, what do you see as the biggest challenge for ETC?

It is always access to capital, as the economy and our recent elections have proven, uncertainty tends to make people risk averse. This region also has a history of risk aversion and capital is available more often more companies who have proven concept and have users/customers.


What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

Working with passionate, talented, innovative people and seeing them succeed or offering an idea or thought that moves them forward – faster. Knowing they are solving hard problems and trying to make “the world a better” place.


It’s commonly quoted that 9 out of 10 startups don’t succeed. Most entrepreneurship classes prepare you for this reality by drilling in the mantra of “fail fast, fail forward.” Others have criticized this mindset, making the argument that failure is not a “badge of honor,” and that taking the possibility of failure too lightly simply encourages more failure. What do you think?

Failure is always a possibility no matter what – but innovators and entrepreneurs have to be willing to take that risk – and failure is not necessarily a badge of honor but more a badge of courage and willingness to try to make a difference, pivot, start-over, rethink until you get it right.


From your experience, what are some common mistakes that entrepreneurs make?

Working too hard on the tech and not spending enough time on market analysis, needs assessment and sales; I also see some folks that are “serial” accelerator participants which for me negates the whole value of the accelerator.


What do you think the greatest misconception about an accelerator is?

That by participating in the accelerator it is all you need – but really it is still all about the entrepreneur and individual. I think we have oversold being an entrepreneur not unlike we have with being a “rock star” or a celebrity – it is really hard work and you cannot fake it. You must be willing to do anything and everything that it takes to be successful.


Which technologies are you excited for in 2017?

I like the stuff happening in and around virtual reality – it has uses for actual life changing experiences for those that may be disabled. I also like what is happening in machine learning and big data as well – it will and already has defined the future.


This post is the first in a series of Startup Stories featuring some of the inspiring individuals that drive our ecosystem. Who would you like to hear from next?