This article is the first in a series featuring women entrepreneurs, female founders and their companies. We at FundingSage hope these founders’ stories about startup funding will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own funding journey.
Location: Inside the MassChallenge office on the 6th floor at 21 Drydock Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts.
Mission: “SuperHealos is dedicated to reducing the stress and anxiety of children and families facing medical treatment.”
Sells: “Products that make children facing medical challenges feel like superheroes,” including toys called Worry Eaters, coloring books, art supplies, and, of course, shiny superhero capes.
SuperHealos’ CEO Yuanyuan Yin, who goes by “Yuan” for short, was born in China but went to college in Canada. Yuan earned her bachelor’s in applied science at the University of British Columbia; she moved to the U.S. in 2009 and is currently finishing her MBA through the evening program at Babson College in Massachusetts. The thing that most motivates her is “[making] an impact in people’s lives.”
Yuan left her job as a solution sales rep at IBM to start SuperHealos and was followed by her husband and co-founder, Dylan Murphy. Dylan, a former product manager, is now the chief technology officer at SuperHealos; he is also the author of most of the poems published by the company on social media.
With a degree in fashion merchandising from Marist College and experience working at fashion shows in New York City, Kathryn Jones’ whimsical job title—“Chief Creativity Officer”—is quite fitting. Her husband Evan, another ex-employee of IBM, introduced her to Yuan and Dylan, who invited her to be the third co-founder of SuperHealos. Among other things, Kathryn wrote the text for “Adventures in the Hospital,” SuperHealos’ first coloring storybook, and designed the company’s signature product: shiny capes to help kids facing medical emergencies feel like the superheroes they are.
Yuan states that her main goal is “to build SuperHealos as the go-to ’empowerment brand’ for children.”
According to Yuan, the biggest challenge the SuperHealos team has faced during the startup phase has been “[balancing] our time and focus. There are children facing many difficult challenges, and we of course want to help them all. But it made us lose focus at the beginning and spread us too thin. One lesson we learned is that when we try to help everyone, we actually help no one. We [needed] to focus and start tackling one challenge at a time. Right now, we are focused on helping children in the hospitals. After we do that well, we will tackle other challenges like going to the dentist, grieving a loss, or [coping with] specific illnesses.”
To get SuperHealos up and running, the three co-founders initially bootstrapped it using their own money, following up by launching a Kickstarter campaign that ultimately raised over $10,000.
Not long after that, the John W. Henry Family Foundation caught wind of SuperHealos, saw that its cause reflected the Foundation’s own values, and awarded its founders a $10,000 scholarship to help them in their mission—proving that, although they are exceedingly rare and should not be expected as a natural part of every funding journey, miracles do happen.
Next, SuperHealos won $2,500 at the Babson College Beta Challenge and $500 at the Quincy Center for Innovation Quick Pitch, where they were voted “fan favorite.”
(“As a side note,” Yuan advises, “start up competitions are a good way to get exposure and win some [prize] money. But it is time consuming and the [prize] money is not very big. So I would be cautious in doing many competitions especially if it prevents companies from running their actual business.”)
Finally, the founders received another $2,500 from the Babson College Seed Fund, established by the college to help give fledgling student entrepreneurs a boost.
In all, SuperHealos has raised about $30,000 in seed money, but the founders estimate they will need a little over half a million more before they can fully realize their goals for the company. For their next step, they plan to research grants for startups and small businesses in the field of healthcare. Yuan says that equity financing is another option they may consider later on once the company is more developed.
The Question without an Answer
I asked Yuan if there were any questions that came up during her funding journey that she was never quite able to answer. She told me that the biggest question she asked herself was “Is this really going to work financially and make an impact?” and added, “I never doubted the positive impact SuperHealos [has] on children and families. Every day, we hear stories and quotes from people about the smiles SuperHealos brought to their loved ones. But financially, would it be scalable? Just a few months into the business, I found it very hard to answer this one even though I can project the financial numbers all day.”
The Great Advice
I also asked Yuan to share the best piece of advice she had been given regarding entrepreneurship. I was expecting a short answer like “look before you leap” or “if you need to look professional, wear a pantsuit,” but what she wrote in reply was so powerful that I chose to share it verbatim rather than ruin it by summarizing. Here’s what she had to say:
Be passionate about what you do! Starting a business is a lot of work. Yes, more work than you anticipated. Starting a business is very difficult. Yes, more difficult than you planned. Starting a business is very emotional. Yes, more feelings than you want to explore. So one piece of advice that really helps me to go through this process is the passion.
When things go south, dealing with personal issues or looking at negative bank accounts, I need to remind myself why I am starting my business in the first place. It has to be more than money, status or success. It can be for many reasons: for the love of the outdoors, for the love of the environment, for the love of working in a team, or any other passion you feel strongly about. For me, the ability to make a direct impact, the likelihood of bringing smiles to people, and the sense of satisfaction [I get from] bringing a little comfort to children and families really motivates me.