One of the most beneficial things budding startups can do early on is competing in a startup pitch competition. In addition to the potential to win serious capital for your young business, pitch competitions offer a chance to receive expert feedback on your product, expand your network, get media exposure, and get in front of potential investors.
Participating is a worthwhile endeavor, win or lose; however, if you want the grand prize, you need to bring your A-game.
Choosing the Right Pitch Competition
To give yourself the best possible odds, don’t waste time applying to competitions that aren’t a good fit for your industry. For example, if your business deals in sustainability, try to find a competition that has a focus on sustainability. For a highly niche business, there may not be any perfect matches. In this case, aim for a generalized competition that has more broad criteria for entry.
Once you’ve narrowed down a few options, do some research on past winners and finalists. Does your startup fit with those that have won in the past?
Learn the Rules of the Game
You need to know the rules and format of the competition to best tailor your pitch. Things to make sure you know include:
- How much time you have to speak
- Whether or not multiple speakers are allowed
- What judges are scoring for
- How the Q&A will operate
Once you know the framework, you can build out your pitch presentation from there – make sure you’re following the given parameters.
Congratulation, you’ve been accepted into a pitch competition! Now, it’s time to get down to business.
Do Your Homework on the Judges
To communicate most effectively, you need to know your audience. Learn about the judges – what is their expertise? What is their business? If they’re experts in a certain subject, be prepared to answer in-depth questions about that subject in relation to your industry, company, and vision. If possible, try to find out the kind of feedback they have provided in the past.
Put Together Your Pitch Deck
It’s easy to go overboard with your slides. Ideally, the deck in this scenario should lean towards minimal. You want your audience to focus on the story you’re presenting, not be distracted by additional details on your slide. To achieve this, we recommend high-res, single-image slides with a heading that hits the point you’re discussing. These points should include:
- Business model
- Call to action
Polish Your Pitch
Pitch times for most competitions are under five minutes, so you’ve got to make each one count. The list above provides a roadmap of the critical points you should be hitting. You should also reference the criteria judges are scoring for to ensure you’re not leaving anything important out.
Practice, Practice, Practice
As it’s about your business, knowing the content of your presentation should be easy. The hard part is delivering it in a way that is confident, memorable, and impactful. The only way to improve your delivery is to practice it.
Try practicing it out loud and recording your voice. Listen to the recording and see where you’re perhaps speaking too quickly or softly, or where you could add a pause for effect. Once you’re comfortable with the content, flow, and cadence, it’s time to work on your body language. No amount of quality content can make up for body language that screams “I’m nervous!” Video yourself giving your presentation to see how you come across or practice in front of someone who can offer feedback. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this brief video for a few pointers on how best to present yourself.
After you’ve delivered your presentation, there is usually a Q&A session. To avoid getting caught off guard, write down a list of all the potential questions you think you could be asked ahead of time. If you’ve practiced your pitch in front of others, ask them to write down any questions they had after your presentation as well. Craft careful responses to each, and when possible, tie your answers back to your unique selling points. If you’re hit with a question you weren’t prepared for, take your time in your response. If you need to, ask clarifying questions to ensure you fully understand the question and also to buy yourself some time.
The Bottom Line
Prize money aside, startup pitch competitions offer a wealth of opportunity for an early-stage startup. From gathering highly valuable feedback and honing your presentation, to making new connections and getting media attention, they are an invaluable experience. If you come prepared and ready to learn, whether or not you win, you won’t come away empty-handed.
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