Storytelling: It’s vital to building and growing a business, from sales & marketing to pitching for capital

Travis McConkey, of Cultivation Studio, led a Founders Forum presentation focused on how founders can start telling their story and capturing their audience’s attention. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part so having some frameworks to follow is helpful. A big thanks to Travis for coming out and sharing his expertise!

The Essence of Attention Capture

“The target of all business strategy is the human mind.” In a world filled with distractions, the ability to capture and sustain attention is a business’s most prized asset. Moreover, storytelling isn’t just another sales technique; it’s the linchpin to winning over customer attention.

The Ingredients of a Compelling Story

To comprehend what truly engages us in a story, Travis broke down the fundamental building blocks. Narrative arcs, identifiable characters, location in time and space, authentic emotions, and specific details were all vital components highlighted. The real secret, it was explained, lies in the unifying principles across various storytelling frameworks.

The Journey of Value in Storytelling

Travis introduced several storytelling frameworks. The Storynomics framework, which outlines the structure of a compelling narrative stresses that every story should commence by establishing what the protagonist desires or values, setting the stage for the conflicts that drive the narrative. As the story unfolds, the protagonist must invest effort, face challenges, and make sacrifices, introducing conflict and tension into the narrative. Crucially, the story must convincingly show that the desired value is worth the costs and challenges, engaging the audience emotionally, and ultimately, the story must provide a judgment on whether the desired value was achieved.

Frameworks that Guide the Way

We delved into other frameworks such as Pixar’s 22 Rules and the Storybrand approach, a popular guide from Donald Miller. (We actually read the Storybrand as part of the Accelerator program curriculum and highly recommend!) These frameworks provide storytellers with a clear path to crafting engaging narratives with a business’s client or customer as the hero of the story and positioning the Founder as a guide through a process to solve their client’s pain point.

Harnessing the Power of Gaps and Tension

The insights shared about what keeps us hooked in a story were intriguing. Knowledge gaps, emotional gaps, and action loops were highlighted as key components of narrative tension, driving business results. Knowledge gaps stoke curiosity, emotional gaps compel us to seek resolution, and action loops motivate customers to take that all-important next step.

Storytelling isn’t merely a tool; it’s a strategic necessity for capturing your audience’s attention. Whether you’re a marketer, a presenter, or an entrepreneur, mastering the art of storytelling is key to thriving in an attention-scarce world.

Remember, Founders Forums are monthly (with the exception of December and July) so keep your eyes open for the next one coming around the corner!


“Get Scrappy, Bro” Ric Hoke, WAVS Custom, talks storytelling and scrappiness

There were some memorable moments at the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit that were more memorable than others. If you were in the room, you would definitely remember Ric Hoke, Founder of WAVS Custom, walking on stage with his guitar and a song. To follow up his incredible performance, he then tossed WAVS t-shirts to the crowd. A stand-out for many reasons, WAVS was one of the 10 Most Exciting Startups in the Region featured at the yearly event. And his presentation proved why. 

WAVS Custom creates handmade, custom-fit earphones right here in Greenville, SC. Musicians are big fans of WAVS’ patented mobile 3D scanning technology and music provided a unique and fun way to showcase his product on stage.

Music actually led to Ric’s “lightbulb moment” prompting him to create his patented technology and product. Ric was part of the NEXT Accelerator cohort 1 so NEXT had a front-row seat as he built his pitch. When we asked Ric what it was that “clicked” for him when it comes to pitching on stage his immediate reply was: “[Founders] have to be comfortable telling the truth of their story. Don’t avoid the hard stuff, the struggles, or the emotional.” It’s hard to get feedback especially when your business is so personal. It’s easy to be self-protective but it’s best to lean into the emotional connection.

Lightbulb moments that come full circle

wavs custom, music, guitars, ear pieces for musiciansRic’s story starts with his grandparents, both of whom had dementia. Experiencing that with his family deeply impacted Ric from a young age. A lifelong music lover and musician he tried to pair that love with serving those impacted by this disease in multiple ways but it wasn’t until he was serving Alzheimer’s patients through music therapy that he had what he calls his “lightbulb moment.” Ric openly features Dave, an Alzheimer’s patient, as part of his story – he’s integral even if there isn’t a happy ending. Ric was only able to connect with Dave through music. And it was difficult when the earbuds were constantly falling out of Dave’s ears! BAM! Lightbulb. Unfortunately, Dave passed away before Ric was able to make him his very own custom-made WAVS but Ric was able to honor him by playing at his funeral. 

What an incredibly powerful story. Maybe it is sad, and part of it – talking about disease and hardship and dying – can be uncomfortable but Ric truly believes you have to embrace the heart of your story to make true impact. Dave, and his grandparents, are what drive Ric day in and day out to stay in the grind that is building a company. 

“If your heart’s not in it, you’re not going to succeed. People without heart aren’t going to have the energy and they’re not going to believe strongly in what they’re doing. The only way through it is by focusing our energy on what makes us happy and what helps someone else. Any of the companies that have made it and sustained, they have solved a problem that truly helped someone’s pain. Those are the companies that stick around.” We think WAVS is going to stick around. 

Providing accelerant and mentorship

Ric Hoke, WAVS CustomRic found the NEXT Accelerator to be incredibly helpful and perfectly timed for where his company was in early 2023. They were trying to raise money and just received an SCRA grant. WAVS was ripe to scale and Ric focused in. “Every one of the speakers – they were at the top of their level and they know what we’re going through because they’ve been in that situation. You’re only going to get what you put into it [the Accelerator]. You have got to reach out and talk to the speakers and the organizers. Reach out to the resources that are available to you.”

We asked Ric for his best advice for early-stage founders: “Get scrappy, bro! Especially if you’re trying to raise a family. Ideas typically come later in life when you’re educated and connecting the dots so you often have a family to support. Learn how to utilize every resource that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Learn how to build it yourself first so you understand the cost. Don’t overpay for something you can watch YouTube to figure out. There are more resources than ever to be scrappy to get to the funding round.”

WAVS just closed its first round of funding and SCRA’s investment affiliate, SC Launch Inc., just announced an investment in WAVS Custom. Looks like being scrappy has paid off.

NEXT Accelerator Cohort 2 is changing the world

While sitting in the room amid Accelerator pitch practice each Friday, it is hard to miss the underlying feeling that the founders in the room are changing the world. Each company represented was started from a passion, and practical mission, to make a difference in their unique way.











Did you know the world is experiencing a sand shortage? Bricolage Dynamics is known as a glass recycling company – and it is. That alone is making an impact but consider a key component of concrete and other building materials need sand. And despite our beautiful beaches, sand is in short supply. (Read more about the sand crisis here.) Bricolage Dynamics is taking glass out of landfills and turning it into a product the world needs.

Have you ever gone into a large corporate or university building and thought: why is it so cold in here? Carbon Cents has developed technology that allows facilities to track their use to adjust the use of its energy. No more running the AC at full blast when the building is empty! Collecting and measuring this data will allow building managers to better control their carbon emissions and energy costs. Helping not only the environment but also their wallet.

Have you ever noticed the white boxes posted on construction sites and wondered what they’re for? All parties involved with the project keep printed copies of the site plans, permits, etc. needed for the project. The paper copies inside the box are how municipalities and project managers share project files. Yes, they are still using paper copies in 2023! Digital Site Box provides a digital way to save files for each project. This means the most recent version is always available, nothing gets stolen or lost, AND it will reduce the time spent delivering documents and updates of a plan to each location saving time and trees in the process! They are truly changing their entire industry’s workflow!

Did you know the US has the highest rate of maternal and post-partum mortality among all developed countries? How can that be with what we pay for health insurance?! The founders of Incora Health decided to try to do something about this statistic by creating the world’s smallest wearable tracker – an earring – focused on women’s health, everything from everyday fitness to fertility and beyond. These earrings monitor key metrics about your menstrual cycle alongside stress, activity, and sleep empowering women to make more informed health decisions.

The world is moving toward screen-based technology from our microwaves to our soda machines and even our cars! These digital interfaces look cool but can be problematic for people with disabilities. There is an accessibility issue that My UI’s cloud-based AI technology is looking to address by collecting disability and interaction data via an accessible mobile application. MyUI learns the interaction needs and preferences of users and then uses artificial intelligence to ‘adapt’ inaccessible digital interfaces to specific user needs and preferences. This means that an interface that as a default only supports touch or tactile interaction may now support gestures, eye gaze, affect, and/or voice commands.

Performance Enhanced Delivery is bridging the gap between conventional and organic farming and regenerative practices. Traditional fertilizers are coated in microplastics that then go into the ground or get rained away causing the need for even more fertilizer which leads to even more microplastic. Performance Enhanced Delivery can delay the release of fertilizers in a way that has never before been available in a sustainable, natural manner without the use of plastics and harsh chemicals. 

Rebel Rabbit is changing the way we look at drinking, alcohol that is. They have created an alcohol alternative, cannabis-infused seltzers, that provides a similar experience to “booze” without the hangover. Rebel Rabbit extracts the D9 THC compound from the cannabis plant, legal in all 50 states, and adds it to their all-natural mix. THC is the naturally occurring compound in the plant that gives you a euphoric high. They are changing the way consumers can achieve a “buzz” driven by a desire for healthier lifestyles and breaking down the “must drink alcohol to have fun” culture. 

Susu Lend is based on an African and Caribbean “credit club” informal savings arrangement where the community takes turns “throwing hands” or lending money. Susu Lend is a financial technology company founded on one simple principle: everyone deserves a fairly priced lending product. They offer customers, regardless of socioeconomic status or race, access to an alternative to predatory lending with loans powered by a personal social network of trust.

“Susu Lend is committed to changing the way we bank in America so that everyone can achieve financial freedom.”

Molly Inclán, NEXT Program Manager, “This is why I love working with startups. Founders are the type of people that change the world.From finance to farming, where this cohort sees problems, they are working through solutions turning entire industries on their heads, in a good way.

Come support Cohort 2 at their Showcase event in November and see their work come to life on stage during their 4-minute pitches.