Meet The VFA Accelerator Teams: Dutch Waanders of PathSpot

The Venture for America Accelerator is a three-month program open to VFA alumni and Fellows at the conclusion of their two-year Fellowship. On August 1st, seven teams descended on Detroit to begin working full time on their companies. Thanks to generous support from the William Davidson Foundation and Quicken Loans and with help from the Venture for America team and a wide range of industry leaders, Accelerator teams have the time, space, and funding to focus solely on building their fledgling companies.

Meet Dutch Waanders, a 2015 Fellow and Co-Founder of PathSpot. PathSpot is a portable device that protects against food borne illness. Here, Dutch shares his story of translating his VFA experience into entrepreneurial success, prioritizing action over ideas, and aligning his career with his values.

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What lessons learned during your Fellowship still impact the way you work today?

During my time working and completing my fellowship in Cleveland, I learned the importance of following through on each task, as those lead you to the next task. While networking, planning, and learning are all important and spark ideas for the future, I learned that too many great ideas can be bad news. For each great idea, there needs to be a structure and process for prioritization and delivery.  With a young company the possibilities are endless, and I find myself working hard to maintain focus and structure. By spending time working for a startup before founding my own company, I was able to watch our leadership avoid the endless cycle of ideas, and move towards action, which is something I try to emulate through the constant swirl of possibilities that exist as a founder.

What’s it like building a company in Detroit?

Moving my life and business to Detroit, I didn’t have the highest of expectations. But immediately after arriving, I felt incredibly supported by the community here.  People have been incredibly willing to share their time and connections, both through the accelerator and outside.  Some incredibly talented and successful people volunteer their hours with impressive levels of patience. The generosity expressed by so many here is more than I could ever have asked for.

What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?

Especially in the early stages of founding a company, the message of “do what it takes to make the sale” rings constant, as those first sales are crucial for the start of your company. However, I disagree with this advice because I think that more important than getting a quick sale is getting the right sale for your business. At PathSpot, we work hard to make our first customers into partners, connecting with people who align on our core values and mission and have the same idea for the direction of where the company will go. This means passing up on early sales that would require altering that direction, and while it is tempting sometimes to change the company to match the client, I think that the early sales set the stage for how our company will grow and change. To me, it is worth waiting to find the right sale, instead of changing your values and vision to make every sale.

How has pursuing entrepreneurship impacted your personal development?

While any job or experience will end up impacting who you are as a person, I feel that entrepreneurship amplifies that because it requires more time, commitment, and energy than any other experience I have been a part of. The largest thing I have taken away that applies to my personal development is resilience and ability to overcome failures. Working on a very small company full time can be an all-consuming experience, so it is very disappointing when things don’t work or turn out the way I expect, or when a conversation I was very excited about doesn’t end the way I hoped. However, I’ve learned that some of those “dead ends” end up leading to incredible discoveries I never would have expected, and therefore my ability to bounce back and explore new avenues even when I am discouraged has definitely improved all aspects of my life.

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Which VFA credo do you identify with the most?

My career is a choice that indicates my values.  

Where you choose to work says a lot about you. How do you fit with the company culture?  Do you work fast and revise, or think things through before starting? Do you arrive early or stay late?  How much time do you dedicate to mentorship and networking? When starting a company, that’s magnified. Your company logo tells the world what your favorite color is. Your office space was your choice. Your business cards, who you work with, how much funding you raise– as a founder, all of it was your choice and each item says something about you.

But a bigger choice is what you work on, and how much. As with any startup, there’s more work to be done than can fit in a week. It’s tempting to cut corners so you can be everywhere and do it all. This “good enough” mentality is something I struggle with. I place a lot of value on delivering my best, and if I need to decrease the number of tasks I complete in a day to maintain that level of quality then I will. Because it’s my choice, and my values.

What readers can do to help you get to your next step or milestone?

Currently, PathSpot’s next big step is to bring the device we have created from a prototype that we 3D print and build in house to a scalable manufactured device. If you have any resources or understanding of hardware manufacturing, I would love to connect and hear your advice and perspective as I learn to navigate that space. I also always appreciate any words of encouragement or advice from anyone who has started a company, idea, or organization before — having a community of entrepreneurs surrounding me mentally is incredibly inspirational!

Whether you’re toying with a fledgling idea, developing a side project, or preparing to launch a company, we have the resources, programming, and network to help you succeed once you’ve completed your two-year Fellowship. Our alumni have launched 41 companies that employ more than 195 people. Click here to find out how VFA can help you succeed.

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