In the last couple of months, we have been spectators for a few startup pitching competitions. Not by choice, but to support friends and peers in the industry as they try to push their startup to the next level. Rather than chalk this up to sunk cost, we focused on trying to get some value out of it.
What we realised is that startup pitching competitions are for those who are ready to commit to their business long-term. Often, these competitions happen in droves, meaning countless hours spent practising and doing pitch decks to suit a variety of guidelines – 5 minutes pitching with 5 minutes Q&A to 10 minutes to pitch and 20 minutes of Q&A. This emotionally, mentally and physically draining event can be a daunting task to anyone not 100% committed.
However, for most, the results do not match the effort, as rarely do companies walk away with funding or support from these competitions. That does not mean these events are bad for the ecosystem, but it does mean that companies need to be better prepared and know what they are getting into. We distilled what we learnt in these few pointers to get you started.
Find the right competition
Rarely are pitch events wide-focused to cover all industries. Usually, there are themes or industry-focused events. If your business idea is focused on education or AI, go for competitions which are themed towards these industries. This will help put you in front of the right mentors and network.
Location also matters. Do you want to travel around the world when you may not have the budget to support this endeavour? Chances are, there are dozens of great pitch competitions happening in your local area that require no or affordable travel. A Malaysian startup may not find it worth the trip to South America for a two-day pitch competition.
Competitions are for building networks
By focusing your attention on relevant competitions, it often puts you in front of or next to others in your industry. Use this opportunity to meet and create relationships with people who can add value to your business. You can still come out a winner even if you do not walk away with funding.
Always be ready to sell
At a pitch competition, you may meet investors or industry players who are not part of the judging panel. However, this does not mean that they are not potential customers or investors. Always be ready to sell yourself and your business.
Be sure you prepare a short introduction on your business idea which you will find useful when networking. Practise your elevator pitch and make sure you get it right before you go to the competition.
Practise, practise, practise
There is no substitute for hard work and preparation, so make sure you put in both. Get in front of friends, colleagues and peers beforehand to get feedback on how you pitch.
This not only helps you keep track of your time it also allows you to practise your pitch over a few times which can give a better presentation even when you get the inevitable nerves on the competition day.
It is important to be open to criticism and leave room to improve as much as possible. Get your friends or colleagues to identify any possible bad habits that you have such as too much gesturing or lack of eye contact. These are things which are hard for us to pick up ourselves so having others watch and providing feedback can help.
Your deck matters… A lot
One of the main issues even experienced entrepreneurs must tackle is the time limit set for each pitch. We have seen so many run out of time, even though they get 2 minute, 1 minute and 30 sec warnings.
There is a time limit for a reason guys.
Make sure your pitch deck has the key elements and is modular if possible, so you can remove bits and pieces for shorter pitch competitions and add slides when you have the time. A good pitch deck and get an investor excited.
Take and implement the expert feedback
Generally the feedback given at these competitions is quite good and toned down, as not to be too harsh. However, as proud entrepreneurs sometimes are, they can ignore good advice.
No successful business has ever gotten to their current position by ignoring expert advice. These pitches are partly there to give you access to this advice and have people critique your idea.
As entrepreneurs we should speak with mentors who have built upon years of failures and successes. They can provide the expertise new entrepreneurs require to help their business grow by building a suitable mindset needed at various stages of a business.