Life as an entrepreneur: MA Fashion Futures alumna wins the Tata Varsity Pitch
Post Carbon Lab made it to this year’s Tata Varsity Pitch 2020 Grand Final, and won! We spoke to MA Fashion Futures alumna Dian-Jen (DJ) about how she and her business partner prepared and what helped them succeed.
How did you develop your business idea ready to apply for the competition?
Our business idea was created from the demands of the designers and artists we have spoken with. We didn't think it was a promising enterprise idea until we realised that there is a growing need for more sustainable & innovative colouration methods from the design community. We have done several accelerator programmes and acquired mentors to help us with developing a feasible business model.
The initial application required a pitch video, so we went through a few edits to get things right. Perfecting the application to provide enough details, with limited word count, is an art that we have mastered. For the final round, we had to create a presentation in the elevator pitch format, which needed to be succinct and concise, so it took a lot of time to fine-tune with multiple failed attempts, of course!
How does Post Carbon Lab work as a team?
My business partner does not have the same background as me, which helps when bringing different ideas and knowledge to the table. He was trained in architecture engineering instead, which means he handles aspects such as the bio manufacturing protocols, so we can stick to our environmental policy of using upcycled materials. We need to approach using them in new and innovative ways that work for us and our brand ethics. We build our own equipment and source from waste, so we have the freedom to customise machinery safely and efficiently. All of which requires a high level of expertise.
We have been working with scientists to develop our services. Made possible only when staying within the business’s limited budget, and aligning with the R&D (Research and Development) roadmap, leading us to fundraise to be able to accomplish KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Being from a design background and working with scientists does have its challenges, but working around them is possible if you have a clear vision & rationale. The key is to look into processes and problems together, be multi-disciplinary in your approach, and have the ability to learn a new subject area that can be daunting and difficult, but ultimately will propel your business innovation forward.
If you just do the design without the research, you will become stagnant. On the other hand, if you do all the research but not combine it with the creative design element, your ideas will lose the ability to be engaging and digestible to a wider audience, and therefore your raison d’etre.
How will the prize you have won help your business?
We plan to use the cash prize to not only cover our future overheads but also accelerate our R&D by acquiring the necessary equipment. The network and feedback that we have got throughout the process are also very precious to us. In terms of upscaling, we are working on expanding the volume we can produce, meaning higher quantities & qualities at lower cost, while staying true to the business ethos.
What have you learned from this experience? And what advice can you give for anyone looking to apply to similar competitions?
The journey of an entrepreneur is ever-changing and one is always learning new things in every possible area. There will always be shattered assumptions as well as unexpected discoveries throughout the entire process, which are what excites and gratifies me every day. If you would like to grow as a young startup, the most important thing is to stay resilient, both physically and mentally.
The success rate of applying for grants, funding or competitions are extremely low, which can be very discouraging from the beginning. The key to winning is to decipher the convoluted questions and correctly identify the kind of answers that the judges expect to find. Deducting reversely from the judging criteria is also recommended. However, we haven't quite mastered this art form either and it does take practice and experience to perfect. We usually only hear of success stories and never the countless ones that start with "Unfortunately" or "we regret to inform you...", which makes those who fail feel even more disheartened because everyone appears to be winning.
Thus, if you are the type of person that holds onto failure or has a hard time processing criticism, starting your own business might be a painful trek. The fruits produced by this journey are remarkably rewarding, though: having full autonomy and the right to say "no" to unjust decisions in a professional environment.