How to Build Startup Support

Jean Anne Booth, founder of medical-alert startup UnaliWear, shares her curated tips for securing investor funding.

After selling two previous startups to Texas Instruments and Apple in 2009 and 2010, respectively, Jean Anne Booth could have hung her hat and bid adieu to her successful career as a tech entrepreneur. She could have retired and spent her days working as a dive master on a liveaboard dive boat if she wanted, and that’s exactly what she chose to do for a short period of time.
Ever the serial entrepreneur though, she soon returned to the drawing board and started working on a new endeavor, UnaliWear, a startup inspired by Booth’s mother, who, at the time, was about to turn 80. 

“She wasn’t willing to wear today’s emergency-alert products,” Booth says, explaining there are multiple reasons people choose not to. “They are ugly, limited outside the home unless tethered to a smartphone, which [my mom] doesn’t have or want, and those big help buttons are socially stigmatizing.” 

Booth has since created a stylish, wearable watch called Kanega (Cherokee for “speak”) that combines cellular, Wi-Fi, GPS, continuous speech and automatic fall-detection technology to help seniors keep track of their medications, and to provide directions and offer immediate medical support. 

So far, UnaliWear has raised $7 million in two rounds of funding, including from institutional investors Maxim Ventures, True Wealth Ventures (The startup was True Wealth’s first investment in 2016.) and Social Starts, along with some “fantastic angel investors.”  

With the product currently in beta testing, one could say Booth has mastered her technique for pursuing investor funding. Here, she shares her sage how-to advice. —April Cumming

Tell a story. “People remember stories, not data. Especially in the early stages of the business, it’s your passion for the business that communicates that you have the grit to make it happen.  Convey that passion in the story that carries a listener from hearing about your business to thinking about the business’ impact on their lives. In UnaliWear’s case, this means transforming the reference point of the listener from a business-evaluation perspective to considering the impact of extending independence with dignity on the lives of their own loved ones.” 

Practice your pitch. “The art of raising money for startups has changed significantly over the years. Yes, there’s more money available, but there is also a lot more competition for that money. You can bemoan the beauty-pageant nature of today’s pitch, or you can just get it done. For UnaliWear, I can give a pitch in one, three, five, eight, 10 and 12 minutes. And for those pitches that include slides, I can give the pitch without ever looking at the slides so that I can engage the audience in the compelling story I’m telling. This sounds a lot easier than it really is, so make sure you give it the practice time that you need.”

Surround yourself with positive people. “Startups are hard, not just in work effort and hours consumed, but in emotional cost as well. Recognizing that most fundraising efforts yield ‘no,’ it’s important to surround yourself with positive people who can help you stay focused on the purpose and mission of what you’re doing, and who can remind you of how far you’ve already come when the weight of ‘no’ begins to drag you down.”

Consider the right accelerator for your business. “Even though I’ve founded several startups, I interviewed accelerators before joining StartUp Health with UnaliWear. Thanks to StartUp Health, I have connections in health care and health innovation that I could never have developed on my own. When you look at an accelerator, make sure you consider it in terms of what your business needs and what the accelerator can really deliver. And remember, funding is your job, not the accelerator’s.”

Never let it show. “I have to confess, I struggle with this one, but it is one of the most important pieces of advice that I’ve gotten from one of my mentors, the incomparable Jan Ryan. Though there have been times that I’ve gone into investor meetings or sales calls as UnaliWear is running out of money, you can’t act like you need money. Take a deep breath, go to your positive people for a pick-me-up, remind yourself of how far you’ve come and never let it show.” 

Never give up. “Funding and running a startup takes tenacity and grit—a lot of it. In the times when I’ve been challenged to keep UnaliWear going, the question I ask myself is, ‘Are there still paths to go down? Are there options left?’ It’s not time to give up until there are no more options available, and that takes grit. Never give up.”