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Value your business and make sure you only give it to people that share your vision and will support your journey

Rachel Curtis CEO and Co-Founder at Inicio AI

Can you tell us more about Inicio AI and what inspired you to start your business and begin the journey as an entrepreneur?

Inicio AI enables businesses to understand what their customers can afford.  We use conversational AI and modern tech such as open banking to enable end consumers to self-serve to complete detailed affordability assessments.  The majority of affordability assessments, particularly where people are behind on bills, are typically done with an agent over the phone.  This is embarrassing for consumers and time consuming and expensive for businesses so we solve this problem. Affordability data is important for many different types of organisations for many purposes – for example, a utility company needed to help a customer behind on their bill, a bank wanting to make a new loan but Open Banking data and Credit Bureau data isn’t detailed enough, a property company wanting to let out a property or Wealth Management companies helping customers retirement plan.

My journey as an entrepreneur came after 30 years in ‘normal’ financial services roles and was actually a little accidental I think!  A couple of colleagues I had worked with on previous projects were working on applications of the new breed of conversational AI and they asked me to get involved. Seeing how this technology could genuinely help those in difficult circumstances (1 in 8 of those in debt are now attempting suicide due to being in debt), whilst building a commercially viable business resulted in me becoming hooked and leading the company!

What has been the biggest opportunity and challenge you have faced as a business?

The biggest opportunities we’ve had have actually come out of a small number of accelerators and incubator programmes.  Finding the right ones at the right time have enabled us to access the support we needed to grow effectively.

The biggest challenge has been fund raising – I hadn’t done this before so it has been a steep learning curve.

What is one of rule of success that you standby in your journey as an entrepreneur?

Say yes to opportunities and follow up on the no’s.  So much opportunity has come from me agreeing to meet people, take part in panel discussions etc and whenever we’ve had a funding no, I’ve always asked the ‘if not you, who’ question to get an onward introduction.

Networking is a hugely important tool when it comes to building a business, how do you approach building a network and connections?

I believe this is about choosing the right people at the right time and understanding their position.  You’ll never convince someone to help unless they feel they can or can see why they should.  Understand them a little first, don’t dive in flogging your business!

What do you most like about the Invest in Women Hub and how important is access to resources and information when building a business.

Varied content for different stages accompanied by use cases and real life examples that bring it to life. These resources are super valuable as you can learn so much from those that have already tried and learned on their journey.

What’s next for Inicio AI?

We’re currently focussed on scaling our business, onboarding clients and building the team.  We are also preparing for the fun of another fund raising round shortly!

What are your top tips for female entrepreneurs out there preparing for investment?

Start way earlier than you think you need to!  It will take 3 times longer than you think! 

Make sure you have support around you and prepare yourself for the no’s.  You will get them, and probably lots of them. Don’t take it personally, learn from them and move on.

How important it is to find the right investor when securing funding?

Absolutely critical.  And it is hard to see this early on when you just think any money is good money.  It isn’t.  I’ve been super lucky with investors but I’ve heard other horror stories so be careful.  Value your business and make sure you only give it to people that share your vision and will support your journey.

When it comes to pitching what are the most important elements that contribute to a good pitch?

Focus, clarity and less is more.  Keep it simple & straightforward and don’t try to explain everything in detail.  The objective is to get a meeting or further discussion – not to secure investment purely off a 5 minute pitch!                       

What is a piece of advice you have for female entrepreneurs entering the world of funding?

Understand the ‘game’ and play it effectively!  Ensure you understand what your target funder is looking for and make sure there is a fit, otherwise you can burn lots of time and energy in the wrong place. Particularly for female founders, watch out for Imposter Syndrome – under promise and over deliver as an approach does not usually work well in fund raising! Prepare yourself to be resilient – there is likely to be lots of no’s and they can be hard … make sure you know how you will best handle them to keep going.