This is the second post in our And Then 2020 Happened series, conversations that explore the unique issues Desai Accelerator 2020 startups face due to the unplanned remote nature of the cohort and their businesses.
Vitresoft is a privacy-conscious Brain Computer Interface startup developing a revolutionary pair of earphones that allow you to connect with yourself, friends, and the digital world, using your mind. Utilizing their patent-pending approach, users and developers will have access to an intuitive digital toolset allowing them to create expressive art, share intimate experiences, and have a deeper insight into their own thoughts and emotions.
Desai Accelerator Managing Director, Angela Kujava: We obviously did not anticipate this cohort being remote, especially following our decision to extend the program from 16 weeks to 10 months. How has the experience in our virtual environment differed from the expectations you had of the program when you were accepted?
Vitresoft CEO, Angel Rodriguez: The Desai program strayed from my expectations, but only as much as the world did. The mentorship, support, interns, and other resources have made me a better entrepreneur and leader. In short, I thought we would be doing what we are doing now, but in person–that would’ve been amazing, but this is pretty great, too.
Angela: The world. We started our program on May 18, after about eight weeks of clamoring to figuring out how to transition to a virtual summer (we’d hoped it would only be until July), then George Floyd was murdered on May 25. This cohort is very diverse, with founders of color, and specifically Black founders, and to say that our minds were occupied with things other than the Desai startup boot camp was an understatement. Our community was rocked again in August after the explosion in Beirut, causing especially significant stress four our Arab and Muslim founders.
The pandemic also resulted in founders and interns staying with (or moving to) their families far away from Ann Arbor to ease isolation, financial pressures, and virus exposure. In fact, one of our founders moved home to Chicago just last week. We tried to provide support by providing time and space, and willingly compromising on certain mandatory program attendance requirements.There were moments early on when I wasn’t sure if we would gel as a team. Not because you all aren’t great, but because we couldn’t be together, in person. Difficult conversations, consoling someone through grief, are not best done on Zoom.
But I think we figured it out as a group. What do you think went right amid everything outside of our control that went wrong?
Angel: 2020 has been heartbreaking to say the least. Covid, the murder of George Floyd, the horrifying loss of life in Beirut – it is hard not to feel powerless. As entrepreneurs of color (and especially for my female peers) we are the vanguard in a world we know from first hand experience can be unjust, cruel, and filled with persons in power who choose not to hold themselves to the same standards we MUST hold ourselves to.
What went right? We did. Choosing to show up and keep going. Making whatever strides we could. The Desai team for keeping everything going, being empathetic and encouraging in the face of challenges that seemed to keep stacking up and getting worse. Leadership, courage, and emotional honesty is infectious – that helped me through the worst of it. Also I love the “food” and “care” slack channels!
Angela: Angel, you have two quotes in here that I’m turning into social media posts. In this time where the worst seems to spread, it’s so uplifting to hear that the good in us is infectious. But “What went right? We did,” is a battle cry. We talked earlier this summer about the need for discipline in a time where motivation is hard to come by. Showing up is that discipline. There were certainly moments where I would have rather zoned out to tv than gotten on another zoom call. But we show up.
This is the second of these founder threads in which the food channel has been referenced. If we didn’t have such generous and involved patrons, I would consider changing our name to YouGetSnacksHere Accelerator.
Angel: Hard work is implicitly doable work, and the fact we feel unmotivated to do something – rather than just accepting it as impossible and moving on completely – is our own acknowledgement of that. It’s fear. To me it is usually self doubt that we aren’t sure is valid or not. A feeling, idea, or situation we don’t have an answer for. I am often afraid too. We stress about things we care about, and it is a disservice to all we believe in to think that the stress is the problem. Stress is a situation. A reaction to a problem. Bravery is action regardless of situation. Bravery is faith. I think many people around the world are feeling that fear and stress. Lives uprooted, families broken down, human beings degraded, insulted, murdered, and not even respected enough to have fair and equal representation or opportunity. A complete loss of faith that the proverbial sun will rise again. It’s all valid. But we can only resolve a situation with action. Even if the only action is choosing to be brave.
My battle cry is “We are vanguard.” Soldiers on the front line of a war just to live, be ourselves, to have a voice and impact we can be proud of. For our families, for our home, for our friends, and for our memories. To help and inspire those behind us, and to be strong for those next to us. To hold the line because we are sure about what is right and what is disgustingly wrong in the world.
We so need to do an accelerator potluck when its safe to – when that proverbial sun rises again