It has been 12 months since Jennifer Holland appeared on Channel Ten’s Shark Tank to pitch her light-up tongue depressors.
“It was a very scary and nerve-wrecking experience,” Holland tells SmartCompany.
“But it was the number one best moment for the business.”
During the episode, Holland presented her patented Throat Scope device, an illuminating LED-lit tongue depressor with a disposable blade, which can be used by medical professionals or parents to easily examine the mouth and throat.
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Following a dramatic Shark Tank stare-down, investor Steve Baxter injected $76,000 into Throat Scope in return for a 30% stake in the company and a 5% royalty till the money is paid back.
Taking Baxter’s advice, Holland decided to grow her team, bringing in Throat Scope’s own corporate director David Toomey and commercialisation director Charles Cornish.
“Dave has run all of our capital raising,” she says.
“Charles has helped with all the distribution deals all over the world.”
The team raised $360,000 on a pre-sale valuation of $2 million, got the product to market and have sealed major deals with some of the largest healthcare, wholesale and pharmacy distributors in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Canada.
Holland says they will soon be making more exciting announcements about US distributors.
These deals have the potential to take Throat Scope to more than 100 countries around the world.
To drive them further, Holland and her team are undertaking another $1 million capital raise to help them launch across Europe and the US.
“We’ve got our distribution deals done, now it’s a matter of doing a marketing deal,” she says.
A large part of Throat Scope’s success has come from Holland staying alert to new opportunities and seizing every one that would help her get it out there, she says.
“When I first started the [application] process I didn’t know it was for Shark Tank at all,” she says.
“I saw an ad on TV and thought I’ll give it a go.”
Putting her soul, heart and business on the line, Holland appeared before millions of viewers with one wish: to get an investor.
At the time, Holland and her partner had backed Throat Scope with their entire family savings of $150,000.
“I don’t know how I would have reacted if I didn’t get a deal,” she says.
Preparing for Shark Tank
Going on Shark Tank is a rigorous process and you will be asked every question under the sun to determine whether the venture you’re working on is legitimate, she says.
“You really need to be completely over-prepared,” she says.
Before the show, Holland wrote down every question that could be asked and went through every scenario that could happen.
“I watched a lot of Shark Tank US episodes and I think that really prepared me,” she says.
When she went before the sharks, Holland felt she had a robust understanding of the business and its numbers.
“If you don’t know your figures, go and get financial help,” she says.
“They’re the most important things.”
Finding an investor that cares
Holland says getting Baxter onboard has been truly valuable for the development of Throat Scope.
“Whenever I need a second opinion or anything I know that Steve’s on the other end of the phone or email,” she says.
This has been crucial for Holland.
“You’ve got to find investors that actually believe in your product,” she says.
“You can find people anywhere who have money.”
Learning to start a business
Holland, a former accountant and first-time business owner, says she had no idea how to grow a venture when she started.
“But people can research anything [online], you can find out information on how to take an idea and turn it into a reality,” she says.
Embarking on a massive learning curve, she started building Throat Scope, seizing every opportunity to drive it further.
In 2011, she applied for the Queensland Government’s ‘What’s your big idea?’ competition and won $50,000, which helped her get her prototype to the next stage.
Very early on, Holland also made sure she got her intellectual property in place and started building her device from there.
“Provisional patents and trademarks are crucial,” she says.
Holland spent three years building Throat Scope and getting out a prototype before entering Shark Tank.
“It took a couple of years to develop it because along the process I had three children and now I have four children!” she says.
The light-bulb moment that started it all
The idea to create Throat Scope hit Holland during a standard GP visit.
“I actually took my 15 month old son into the doctors who was suffering with a sore throat and the doctor, while he was a holding a light in one hand and a wooden depressor in the other, asked me to restrain my child,” she says.
It was an unpleasant experience, one that would affect all her children.
“I thought surely there must be something else,” she says.
But there wasn’t.
When Holland went home and looked it up on Google she discovered the only other patented depressors had fibreoptic cable running through the blade making them too expensive compared to a wooden depressor.
A month later, she founded Throat Scope and so began the journey to Holland’s first business.
“For me it has always been about believe, act, persist – believe in yourself and believe in your ability to achieve it,” she says.
“Don’t stop, you are going to get knockbacks [but] the faster you get back up the quicker you’ll find your next opportunity.”