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The key to raising funds from friends and family alone

Christina Hernandez Sherwood, eMed Editor, MedCity News

Blain Tomlinson, the CEO of Walkjoy, has vowed to largely eschew venture capital funding for his company. "It's a much more difficult way to raise money," he said. "[But] we've been blessed with a number of friends that support what we do." The company, which creates products to help restore balance and gait in people with peripheral neuropathy, has also found patients who "get it" and contribute, Tomlinson said. "There's a lot of money out there," he said. "It doesn't have to be controlled through that [venture capital] mechanism."

Tomlinson attributes the company's success in raising capital from friends and family to perfecting his pitch. "You need to be able to sell your idea in about 15 seconds," he said. "You have to show them the value-add to healthcare or people with this disease. Then you have to immediately show them what they can get in return." It has taken awhile to boil down the pitch, Tomlinson said, but the effort is worthwhile. "If you can't tell an eight-year-old or a 10-year-old how it works, you need to perfect your pitch," he said. "It needs to be short and sweet and simple."

Here are other entrepreneurial insights from Tomlinson:

Own your mistakes, and fix them -- When Walkjoy was born, the company was initially called Sensory Augmentation Corp., Tomlinson said. But he soon heard from potential customers -- and even a board member -- that the name was too confusing and clinical. "You have to listen to the people who have been there and done it," Tomlinson said. When Tomlinson's mother-in-law Joy, a neuropathy patient who tested the startup's first prototype, passed away, the company was renamed in her honor. "When you make a mistake, don't feel bad," he said. "Just stand up and keep going forward."

Find your niche, and stay there -- Tomlinson warned about startups becoming too fragmented in the early stages. "When you're a hammer, you think everything's a nail," he said. "You have to focus. You've got all these different options, but you only have so much bandwidth." Determine where your company can build fastest to create revenue, Tomlinson said. "Focus on building density in what you think is the best and the fastest, and then build from there organically," he said. "If you try to capture the world, you're going to fail."

Photo by Tax Credits

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