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Early-stage investors offered advice to startups on the first day of the WTIA Founder Cohort Program. From left: James Newell, Voyager Capital; Elisa La Cava, Madrona Venture Group; Jennifer Savage, Illuminate; Chris Picardo, Madrona; Cameron Borumand, Ignition; Manish Jain, Trilogy; T.A. McCann, Pioneer Square Labs; Heather Redman, Flying Fish. (James Thorne / GeekWire Photo)

A new group of startups, tackling everything from business networking to marijuana data analytics, has joined the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) Founder Cohort Program.

The year-long experience is geared toward early-stage founders in Washington state who want help growing their companies. It’s led by a team of business leaders that includes 6 Month Startup creator Dave Parker, SeaChange Fund managing partner Susan Preston and Leslie Feinzaig, founder and CEO of the Female Founders Alliance.

Each of the startups is required to have one or more products in development and revenues of less than $1 million. The program, which is free for the companies, comes with a number of perks, including $10,000 in AWS credits, HubSpot discounts and access to Microsoft for Startups. The first class of two dozen startups began their journey last September.

The idea is to give early-stage startups support, networking opportunities and a community of peers. On the first full day of the program, the founders got heaps of advice from Seattle-area investors. Among their tips:

Make good first impressions. Investors agreed that referrals are the best way to get in touch, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with a cold email. In such a situation, “first impressions are, frankly, everything,” said Manish Jain, a principal at Trilogy Equity Partners. Jain also said it’s critical for founders to understand an investor’s focus before reaching out and to be tactful in their approach.

Heather Redman, a partner at Flying Fish Partners, also said that she welcomed cold emails from founders that have done their homework. “If you fit my thesis, I don’t care that I’ve never heard of you before,” she said.

Gather a team that people want to invest in. Founders are great, but investors want to know who else is supporting the startup. “We’re betting on team,” said Jain. “Oftentimes, we’re investing on two co-founders, their vision and strategy, and the product market fit.”

The investors also said that, while they might occasionally invest in solo founders, a team of co-founders was preferable.

Know that it’s your job to raise money.  “It’s not a bad thing to get really good at raising money,” said Chris Picardo, a senior associate at Madrona. Fundraising can help founders learn to tell their story, and it can become a significant part of the CEO’s job as a company matures.

But that doesn’t mean all founders should go for venture capital-level investment. For many, the better business decision is to bootstrap or find other sources of funding. “Our money is some of the most expensive that you can take,” said Picardo.

Here’s the full list of startups and founders in the WTIA’s second cohort.

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