Updated: Jun 15, 2020
At the end of February, I was working on an update to share with all of you about what has happened for Tendo in the last year. We had such an incredible year and I couldn’t wait to tell you all about it. I alternated between working on the update and preparations for a user meeting, a chat with a potential partner and an opportunity to present for a possible investor. I planned for our upcoming user workshop that would take place in the beginning of April and I couldn’t wait to meet the new users at our partner clinic.
While I was working on all of this, I started to hear more and more about the covid-19 virus; “14 confirmed cases” in Sweden, the news reported. In just a few days it went to “over 600 cases” and even deaths. Planned meetings and travels were cancelled, people were putting themselves in quarantine and it felt like the whole world had stopped. It didn’t take long until the coronavirus was on everyone's lips and we were all facing a pandemic.
My update about 2019 was put on hold and the work to figure out our position in all of this began.
The (startup) world is changing
I think you can all agree when I say that the world feels completely different now, compared to just a few months ago - and the startup world is no exception. Words like bankruptcies, layoffs and reconstructions are popping up everywhere and there is an overall sense of worry on the, sometimes, empty streets of Sweden. According to a study made by Startup Sweden / Tillväxtverket, over 75% of the Swedish startups are expecting to or have already seen and experienced changes due to covid-19. It shows that startups in quite early phases (seed or a-round), are affected the most - meaning startups like mine. Startups like Tendo.
Is our business affected by the virus? Yes, of course, in more ways than one. How we are affected and how we are handling it are questions I will get back to.
Is a startup more (mentally) prepared than others?
As a CEO of a startup, I am used to handling quick turns, ups and downs, changed conditions and to live in a business “roller coaster”. In many of my lectures I talk about both the challenges and the upsides of running a startup, and one of the things I list is how our lack of hierarchy and our flexibility enables us to make quick decisions if something should come and disrupt the market. A coronavirus was not what I was expecting, and to be honest, it is not a scenario I’ve even put into my risk assessments. It is, however, the situation we are currently in and the flexibility and mental preparation of living in that business ”roller coaster” for the last 4 years has definitely come in handy.
What changed for Tendo?
For us, the situation changed drastically within a couple of days. In the beginning of March, we were getting close to bringing in a big investment that would accelerate our journey to the market and enable us to expand the team and office space. We had several user studies planned and had confirmed participation from more than one clinic and a handful of new users. Things were looking good! Then, a lot happened. Quickly. First, we heard that our partner clinic was “closing their doors” and our user workshops got cancelled, and another important clinic followed in their footsteps. We learnt that our users are in the risk group due to their reduced lung capacity and we took the decision, then and there, not to meet up with any users as long as there is the slightest possibility that we are putting them at any risk. Within two days we lost access to our most valuable source of information and inspiration; the users.
So, what about the investment that we were about to close? Well, just like everything else, the investment scene changed and we decided to put it on hold for now and pick it up again later this year.
As any startup CEO can imagine, I wasn’t really looking forward to my next board meeting...
I took the entire weekend off to gather my thoughts and prepare for what’s to come. Monday came and I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. A couple of weeks later I had, with the great support from my amazing co-founders, created several different scenarios, plans, budgets and had planned for what’s to come.
We had to do challenging cut downs, changes in the team, reset our goals and deadlines - but if there is one thing a good startup knows; it’s how to bootstrap. How to save, how to fight for your passion and how to make sure the business lives to see another day. Even though we had to make adjustments, we are now working with a new and strong plan which gives us enough time to wait for better conditions when it comes to investments and market opportunities while still building great value in the company. It might have slowed us down a bit, but it will most definitely not stop us, and guess what? The board meeting was a success. Our fighting spirit, different scenarios, well thought through plan and new budget were welcomed with open arms.
The importance of independence
The need for independence for people with a spinal cord injury has been important for a long time in terms of increased quality of life and to reduce the strain on your loved ones and the welfare systems - but today it can be a question of safety. It can even be a question of life of death. A spinal cord injury affects the body in many ways. When you hear about people being paralyzed you might think about things like the ability to walk, run and move freely but did you know that it also affects e.g. your bladder control, ability to sweat, and lung capacity? A high spinal cord injury brings down the cough and lung capacity drastically, putting the group at a greater risk for the covid-19 virus.
To be able to minimize social interactions, like we have done, is a luxury. For a person living with a high spinal cord injury, assistance from other people is crucial. Many need help to get out of bed, to take care of their hygiene, to shop, prepare food and to eat and drink. It is not unusual to have several different personal assistants helping you in your daily life and even if you are staying isolated in your house, your personal assistants are not. The current world situation has shown that the need for independence is greater than ever. Technical innovations like Tendo don’t only improve someone’s quality of life, but also give independence to people who rely on other people every day, reducing their need for social interactions and, in times like these, protecting a risk group.
What did happen during 2019?
As I mentioned in the beginning , I was just working on a summary of what happened to Tendo during 2019 and even though my scope for my update changed, I definitely believe that our successes during 2019 is worth mentioning - because we had quite the year..!
During 2019 Tendo was a part of RobotUnion - an acceleration program financed by the European commission. We were selected out of over 200 applicants from 32 countries and in the end of the year Tendo got announced as THE top robotic startup in Europe!
We proudly participated at the ISPO's (our industry's international organization) World Congress in Kobe, Japan. I was selected, by over 700 applicants from all over the world, to present the company's innovative technology and its user benefits. It was an international recognition in our industry and has paved the way for several exciting new opportunities for collaboration around the world.
During 2019, Tendo made it onto the famous, Swedish, “33-Listan” - the list over the 33 hottest tech-startups in Sweden presented by NyTeknik and Affärsvärlden! We also closed an investment round, expanded the team, presented a new prototype and received project funding from Vinnova and Promobilia. We closed partnerships, became the county winner for the SKAPA Prize (Young Innovators) and I, as the CEO of Tendo, received the award as Skåne's top 5 talents under 34 years and had the opportunity to stand on that famous red dot and do a TEDx talk. The team also got the incredible great honour to talk about our technology with the Royal Highnesses of Sweden and Denmark at TechBBQ in Copenhagen.
Our adventures have taken us all over the world and we have talked about our technology to people in Madrid, Paris, Japan, Trondheim, Dusseldorf, Oslo, Helsinki and San Sebastian and had the opportunity to listen to more user stories.
In short, 2019 was a year to remember. Now, let’s make 2020 just as memorable, for more than just a virus.
Sofie Woge, CEO Tendo AB