Pitch Competition: Tips to grab funding and attention for your business

Coaching by Tamu with the winners of her team who won the PitchIT Caribbean pitch competition in St. Kitts.
Coach Tamu in the black with her co-coach Sergio Escobar and three of the top 5 winners in the Pitch Competition

Pitch Competition Experience

 I was privileged to have served as a coach for the PitchIt Caribbean 2017 edition sponsored by the World Bank. This time the event was held in my home country of St. Kitts. I had the enviable task of coaching six of the 25 Caribbean entrepreneurs with lead coach Sergio Escobar of Montreal, Canada. I was thrilled to note the innovation, willingness to embrace change, and to endure useful critique exhibited by these entrepreneurs.  Since then I have served as a pitch competition judge and coach for other regional initiatives, created pitch competition judging criteria, and hosted my own pitch competitions. So, I have learned valuable lessons along the way.

Plan ahead

Know the competition. IT is important to understand who your competitors are. You must study your competition to stand out. Search for information about the competitors and their teams online, study any videos, speaking engagements etc. and be prepared to be unique. Be prepared for the judges. Understand who the judges are and prepare answers to questions that might be asked. Review your pitch deck and know it well. Do not rely on the slides they are only prompts, you should be able to delve into the details if asked, and flip through your content with ease. Define your MVP (minimum viable product/service). Do not complicate your offering. Keep it simple and agile, while presenting an insight into the phased approach you intend to take as you build out your MVP. It is unrealistic to present a complex product initially, judges/investors need to see phases of growth, feel confident that the monetary investment will be impactful, and that you are not biting off more than you can chew.

Do your research before a pitch competition

Do your research.

Research the panelist(s). Find out what they’re looking for in an idea, what their background is and where they worked before. If you can, find out which companies have done well in past competitions and why. If this information is not available, there are other ways to get information about previous winners such as LinkedIn or other social media platforms.

Research the company hosting the pitch competition. Learn about their mission statement, metrics they use to measure success, etc., so you can tailor your presentation accordingly if asked during Q&A time at the end of your pitch presentation

Focus on your business model & plan.

To win a pitch competition, you need to focus on the business model and plan.

Create a canvas to illustrate your business model. The canvas includes all of the key areas that make up an effective business, including customer segmentation, value propositions and channels, customer relationships, revenue streams and key activities or functions of your company. This is also where you will be able to see how you fit into the market as well as identify who are going to be your target customers and what type of value proposition can get them interested in what you’re doing.

Do some research: You don’t have time during a pitch competition presentation for “um”s or “ahh”s so make sure everything is prepared beforehand so that when asked about something specific (like pricing), there aren’t any surprises! This may require creating mock presentations before going onstage; this way if there’s something specific that needs clarification from someone else besides yourself (e.g., “What does this mean?”), then everyone involved can help clarify without breaking stride during practice sessions

Present a clear competitive advantage & sound financials

When you’re presenting your business plan, it’s important to be able to clearly define what makes your company different from the competition. You should be able to answer these questions:

What makes our product/service unique?

How is this going to benefit customers and/or investors?

How will we generate profits?

It’s also helpful if you have a few sound financial plans as backup, with breakdowns of projected revenue and expenses over time.

Focus on growth industries

A growth industry is one where the market is growing faster than the rest of the economy. For example, as more and more people move to urban areas, there’s been a huge demand for transportation services like Lyft and Uber.

Is there an industry you want to be in? If so, look at how fast it’s growing. Then think about whether your company can actually help make that happen by providing new services or products that help solve problems in this space. Also consider if there are any other players already serving this space (maybe even well). If so, what makes you different from them?

Maintain momentum post-competition

Follow up with judges. In my doctoral research, some of my participants indicated that some of the best business advice they received came from a judge at a pitch competition that they did not win. Pointers on how to improve your pitch will be invaluable as you move to pitch again. Additionally, my research found that following up with potential investors, after the pitch competition led in some cases to funding, despite not winning the pitch competition.

Network with other contestants. After you’re done presenting, it’s time to network! You never know who may be in attendance at these events—a powerful investor or executive could be sitting in the audience, so don’t pass up any opportunity to meet them and make yourself memorable by asking questions about their experience with the company (for example: “How long have you been working there? What do you like most about it? What do you like least? What are your favorite perks/perks they offer?”). If they seem interested in what you’re saying, ask if they’d be willing to take your card or tell them what type of company/industry information would be useful for them right now (and then send them an email later).

These steps will increase your chances of winning a pitch competition

Starting a business is often a difficult and challenging process. But if you’re serious about making your dream of becoming an entrepreneur come true, pitching your idea in front of potential investors at a pitch competition can be an invaluable opportunity to gain exposure and funding.

However, it can also be quite intimidating! What should you say? How long should it take? How will they know if my idea is any good? The good news is that there are some guidelines that can help increase your chances of winning.

Here are five tips for increasing your odds of success:

Know Your Business Model

Have a Sound Financial Plan With Sound Numbers

Focus on Growth Industries

Do Your Research on the Competition — This includes where they have been accepted before, what types of companies they have invested in previously (and what stage), etc . Practice Makes Perfect — It’s okay if this isn’t perfect the first time around–just remember practice makes perfect!

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