Pathfinder Accelerator helps save you from the Zombies. Startup series: Part Six

My startup articles are not published according to a direct time line. I will cover the full journey, but having recently completed the Pathfinder Accelerator run by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) it seemed timely to write about my experience. There is a strong connection between my experience on Pathfinder and last week’s article by Mark Gillanders’ on the Value Proposition.

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The Pathfinder Accelerator is for companies working in life science and technology, and through a chance meeting in Inverness,  Company Connecting was offered a place on the programme. It kicked off in late September 2015 with a one-day event which all 10 participating companies attended. We each had to present our companies and in turn we were introduced to the programme and some of the tools and concepts we would be tackling. The Business Model Canvas (BMC) was core to everything. I thought I had a good grasp of the BMC because of the work I had previously carried out on the Stanford University online Technical Entrepreneurship course. However, it’s a very different matter preparing a BMC which you then have to explain to others rather than approaching it from an ivory tower with no input or challenges from others!

The ten participating companies were split into two cohorts which met separately for an afternoon once a week. We tackled a different aspect of the Business Model canvas each week, and in between each meeting we had our homework to do. There are a number of people involved in running the Pathfinder but there were three key people who coordinated and mentored us every week. Anna Miller provided the HIE input, and Barry Middleton and Ian Webster had the job of taking us on the Customer Discovery, leading us through the Value proposition and helping us to kill our zombies!

Pathfinder came at the right time for Company Connecting. We already had a website up and running, but there were aspects of the business which needed to be further considered. Starting up a company can be a lonely affair, and certainly I had missed leading a team and getting input from others.  Pathfinder provided me with an environment where not only were we helped with a structure for developing our businesses and ideas but we also had people to speak to who were in similar positions. The feedback from others is invaluable. It stimulates thinking, challenges those thoughts and as mentioned below helps to kill of the zombies. In essence a ‘zombie’ is a potential customer or customer type which is going to lead nowhere. It’s important that this is recognized early rather than pouring loads of time and resources into something that is a dead end, or is going to take longer than your cash flow can sustain, to come to fruition. So killing of the zombies is all about recognising where you or your business can add value, rather than spending time and resources on brick walls.

It’s fair to say that the areas which most of us struggled with were the Customer Discovery and the Value Proposition. Customer Discovery means that you have to put the leg work in. You have to meet and talk with people to test out your ideas. It may seem obvious – but it’s the old thing of the ‘wood and the trees’. We may be passionate about our business and ideas but we really need to get out there and validate what we are doing with others – perhaps get a different perspective. Pathfinder challenged us to arrange and carry out 100 meetings /interviews within a 12-week time period. That’s quite a challenge – especially if there is only one or two of you.

Mark Gillanders’ wrote about the Value Proposition last week. This was something that I struggled with. It is the core of your elevator pitch, and enables you to succinctly explain what pains you are solving and what the customer is likely to gain. It’s not easy. Barry had a brilliant example of a Value Proposition on a bag which he brought to each session. It’s a quote from Joe Pilates: “In ten sessions you will feel the difference, in twenty you will see the difference, and in thirty you will have a whole new body”. So not only had Joe created a new regime for keeping fit but he was pretty good at marketing it too!

This is just a taster of the Pathfinder Accelerator. I will write more when I get there in the chronological tale of Company Connecting. So to finish off, if you and your company get the opportunity to participate in an accelerator programme, go for it. Prepare to have your brain blown, your ideas turned inside out, meet some great people, work incredibly hard, and kill a few zombies on the way.


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First published on Company Connecting April 2016

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StartupTechnologyAcceleratorBusiness Model CanvasValue PropositionCustomer DiscoveryEntrepreneur