Tips for pitch event organizers and startup founders from an investor’s perspective
Last week I attended a local pitch event for the Upstate tech community that included four entrepreneurs pitching their startups. Like many other such events, the audience was a mixed group of entrepreneurs, community supporters and a small handful of investors.
The pitches unfolded in typical fashion. When I saw the most common pitch errors across each of the four presenters, I did wonder about how the event organizers went about setting expectations and guiding the entrepreneurs doing the pitching.
Entrepreneurs know these opportunities are important. They definitely spent time preparing, yet missed the chance to deliver a compelling case. Most importantly, none of the presenters specified what help they were seeking.
What follows in this post are a few suggestions aimed at both event organizers and pitching entrepreneurs who seek to avoid the boring pitch syndrome.
Tip #1: Problem and solution are not enough
Entrepreneurs (particularly those with a technical background) fall too easily into the trap of using precious minutes in a pitch to dumb down the science. They hope to compel the audience by spelling out the technical challenges that were overcome, and the uniqueness of the startups’ product design.
If half or more of the pitch is spent defining the scope of the startup’s technology, it comes across like an academic exercise. The presenter is seen as working too hard to impress with his or her technical mastery – shortchanging the opportunity to secure support beyond defining problem and solution.
Tip #2: Pitch to investors, even in mixed groups
Even in situations where there is a mixed audience with diverse backgrounds and interests, I’m a fan of crafting pitches as if the entire audience were investors.
Everyone wins by taking this approach in the pitch because:
- A standard set of guidelines can be provided to all presenters that directs them to a specific outcome
- The event can run on a consistent track, making it easier for the audience to compare pitches with a lens that helps everyone think about how investors look at who to fund
- The entrepreneur gets an opportunity to further hone the investor pitch, addressing things like business model, channels of distribution, margins and other critical business issues
Tip #3: Close with telling people what you want
I believe it’s essential to end a pitch with a specific appeal for help. Often times someone in the audience can assist the entrepreneur. They just need to ask!
Requests for help shouldn’t be limited to financing. Telling people what else your startup needs right now gets everyone thinking about how and who they know that can assist.
Whether it’s introductions to a specific type of customer or channel partner, or finding new team members, mentors and service providers, pitching is an opportunity to make a personal appeal. Someone in the audience may know the right resource for your company, but only if you tell them what you need.
Tip #4: Event organizers call the shots
With so many startups clamoring for the opportunity to get more exposure, event organizers have the leverage to set high standards for who they choose to present.
Instead of filling slots with whoever raises their hand first, consider inviting entrepreneurs to apply for the opportunity.
Even better, give them a short set of pitch guidelines on what you would like to see included in the pitch, and ask them to send a sample deck for you to evaluate.
It’s ok to tell applicants that their submission is just a sample. Ideally you and members of your supporting team can guide development of the final pitch so that it meets your target standard.
If you need pitch mentoring support, resources like Upstate Venture Connect’s UNY50 Network or investors in any of our local seed funds can help. These same groups can also help recommend qualified startups to pitch.
Setting a high standard for your pitch events, and helping startup founders deliver compelling pitches will not only satisfy your audience, but reflect well on you as a sponsoring organization.