How I walked away from € 152 500 Part 2

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This is a four-part story, with links to each part here:

  1. Dream
  2. Success
  3. Horror
  4. Drive and Thank you

You are currently reading Part 2. If you wish to read the story from the start, please begin here.

# Success

Those who know me also know that I am an honest person. I prefer to speak in facts rather than feelings as facts are constant and feelings help us twist stories into different percpectives. Here is our success story written in facts.

I met my female Brazilian co-founder at the end of 2017. I nickname her Br. Over our first meeting, during lunch, we decided to start working on a wildfire combat project. Both of us lived in Portugal then, and 2017 brought the worst wildfire season of the history of the country to life. Professionally, I had worked on social and environemtal (= impact) projects for the last 3 years. I worked with Amnestry International on a couple of A.I. consulting projects - and because of this I was lucky to had seen how they used satellite images to quantify massacre destruction in Nigeria, link here. I had already started forming the concept of using satellite images to combat wildfires in my mind. It solidified during this lunch and we decided to give it a go. We had explored how we can help best for 6 months. We asked questions like - “Would satellite image analysis help us detect wildfires faster?”. The answer was maybe, however at a big financial cost. We also discovered that the Portuguese authorities usually receive a signal within 12 to 15 minute after the fire had started. Even if we managed to cut this time short - to 2 minutes - the +10 minute gain would offer very little to help firefighters. The usual problems they faced were wildfires start in remote areas where the natural world has taken over forest pathways and roads, which makes it difficult for fire trucks to arrive to the scene, the vegetation in the area where the wildfire rages is too dense and too dry. This intinsifies the fire so first priority is evalucation, the winds are violent and change direction often, and others. When we thought about this logically, we could not see a way in which satellite image analysis can bring a solution. We explore what other wildfire combat projects were doing - like installing sensitive CO2 sensors in bird houses, or using watchtowers and drone to partorl the land. We also continued having conversations with potential clients and other stakeholders. In parallel to these - we did detailed research on the best documented practices on wildfire combat. A pattern started to emerge - both the people who we have spoken to and reseachers around the globe agreed that:

The best way to fight a wildfire is before the fire starts.

It was then when we discovered that in order to deliver the most effective technology to fight wildfires, we need to concentrate our efforts in wildfire mitigation and not wildfire combat.

After this pivot, we gained some traction. These were the results:

  1. We won “Women Entrepreneurs in Space Tech” award at Act in Space 2018. This followed our joining a 48 hackathon to deliver business solutions using space (downstream and upstream) technologies.

  2. We got accepted into the European Space Agency business incubator (ES BIC) in Portugal. We received a €50 000 grant to develop the tech MVP of our project. Our startup was the only one in Portugal fully lead by women in the Space tech sector. We were, and still are, very proud of it and happy to inspire more women to dare enter tech and business.

  3. We applied to 8-9 more startup prize competitons, and won none.

  4. We applied to Fit4Start 7 in Luxembourg - autumn 2018 edition. We did not get selected.

  5. We added a third co-founder to our team in the beginning of 2019- a Frenchman residing in Luxembourg who is married to one of my best friends there. I nickname him Fr. He was the one who told us about Fit4Start on the first place. Br liked him and wantes us to invite him to become part of the team and he accepted. We did, and he accepted.

  6. We got accepted into Fit4Start 8 programme in early 2019. This meant that our project would receive another €50 000 grant, and if we showed good progress during the 4-month acceleration programme, we had the opportunity to receive additional €100 000.

  7. In mid 2019, we got accepted into the acceleration programme of Casa do Impacto in Lisbon, called Rise for Impact. We were especially excited about this one because this is an impact business accelerator, and not only a business-as-usual one.

A little bit more of the back story

Br and I resided in Portugal, and Fr was in Luxembourg. It was me who travelled all the time, back and forth - every two weeks - to Luxembourg to complete the Fit4Start acceleration programme. At that time, I transfered the management of our Portuguese company to Br so that my constant business trips do not interrupt the daily business of the company. At the end, on my birthday, we presented our final pitch and were informed that we successfully graduate from the program. This was great news because it meant that we had one challenge left before we could receive the other €100 000. We had to raise €50 000 from private investors. We also had to create another company incorporated in Luxembourg in order to receive the Fit4Start grant money. Fr would become the manager of the Luxembourgish company for a short period of time before all bureaucracy was completed for me to take the reigns.

In hindsight, we created an overcomplicated structure to support our project. This was a bad decision.

As all of this was unfolding, we grew the team to 8 people, most of us residing and working in Portugal. I interviewed and chose all of them, and I was very happy with my choise.

I secured our first client. I spoke to two investors who wanted to invest in our project. This meant that from a small nothing we had grown a team, we had identified our market, we were on the right part to a product-market fit and would have raised €250 000 with a small loss in equity. It felt like the hard work was finally starting to pay off, until …

The story continues here