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Startup Pitches Go 140 Characters @TweetDingman

Can you tell your story in 10 Tweets or less? Glen Hellman wants you to – and the winner gets $2,000. Not bad for just 1280 characters!

One of our special Tech Cocktail contributors, Glen Hellman, is on the board of the Dingman Center at the University of Maryland’s RH Smith School of Business and a Capital Access Network member. Glen has been known to shake things up, and keeping with that tradition, he’s announced a new event called TweetDingman – a unique pitch competition on April 8th from 11am – 2pm EDT, where you must pitch your idea to Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors (including an Angel network of over 50 active Angels) in just 10 tweets – and each must include the hashtag #tweetdingman. We asked Glen a few questions about this interesting event.

Tech Cocktail:  First, can you tell us a little about how UM supports entrepreneurs and your involvement with the program?
Glen Hellman: The University of Maryland’s, RH Smith School of Business has an active entrepreneurship incubator program. The Dingman Center hosts an Angel network of investors known as the Capital Access Network (CAN) –  a group of over 50 very active investors. Last year, in a very weak investment climate, CAN Angels funded Gold Lasso, MeMeMe, Kid Safe, Seguro Surgical and several other companies outside of CAN. One of the Angels from the Dingman Group, Next Stage Development, was recently recognized at the DC Venture Capital Awards as the Angel Investor of the Year.

Over the last two years I’ve been very involved seeking out strong candidates for investment to present to the Angel group. We (CAN) meet every 2nd Wednesday of the month to review investment pitches by companies. As part of my participation in the Capital Access Network, I screen and coach potential investors which led to the genesis of the idea for PitchDingman.

TC:  Tell us a little more about how this idea came about.
GH: The idea sprung from a confluence of events.  For years I’ve been working with entrepreneurs to hone their leadership skills. One key leadership skill that I am constantly driving home is creating a clear, concise, easily understood vision. One that is inspiring, easy to understand and motivates action. I have also been coaching University of Maryland Students and local entrepreneurs on creating better investment pitches.  In the case of creating a vision and an investment pitch, clarity and brevity are key. Then I saw it mentioned somewhere that Washington DC was named the Twitter capital of the world and it hit me. People should be able to present a strong first round investment pitch in 10 slides.  Here we are in the Twitter capital of the world – why do people need to be in the same room to present their elevator business pitch?  Why not use Twitter to create a Match.com-like company elevator pitch.

Over coffee with Elana Fine, Director of Venture Investments at the Dingman Center, and Ed Barrientos, a prominent local Angel Investor, I discussed the idea and it took off from there.

TC:  People around the country are throwing pitch competitions. What’s wrong with the traditional model?
GH: The problem with those pitch events is that they are based on the old start-up economy and tools.  It’s so “Business Version 1.0″ – where we’re still using the same tools and techniques that I first used when pitching my first start-up (SaleSoft) to VCs back in 1987. Since then, with the Internet and the birth of social media, the barriers have come down. Traditional media has been rocked, governments have been overturned, and yet high-tech startups are stuck using the same antiquated tools I used 20 years ago. Peasants in the streets of third world countries are toppling powerful, heavily armed dictators through blogs and Twitter. Why can’t Twitter help lower the bar and democratize access to Venture Capitalists, Angel Investors or Strategic Partners? Let’s jump to “High-tech Start-up 4.0″.

TC:  10 Tweets or less is pretty challenging.  What do you expect participants to gain from this process?
GH: Good question Jen, I have several goals here.

First ,think of this like a speed dating event held over Twitter.  An entrepreneur with a clear vision can pitch their business to potential investors or business partners who can then judge if a company is worth a closer look. The event is not intended to result in people actually making an investment or getting married. I do expect that companies will gain the intention of potential investors leading to further discussions or dates. Like speed dating, it could lead to a date and a possible eventual marriage.

Second, I believe the exercise is valuable to any student or business person who participates. You’d be surprised how the exercise of crystalizing your business into 10 tweets facilitates the creation of a clear, powerful, understandable vision.

TC:  Real money is up for grabs – what will be the judging criteria? Is there any vetting to make sure the money goes to legit startups/entrepreneurs?
GH: The Dingman Center has put up a $2,000 prize to the best entrant.  I don’t really look at that as the real draw.  It just insures that one participant walks away with something for their effort.  The real value is the opportunity to pitch your business to a larger audience and the partnerships that might develop from that effort.

The companies will be evaluated by four judges, including Angel Investor of the Year award winner Joe Kessler, The Dingman Center’s Elana Fine and Carl Grant of the law firm Cooley LLP.  Contestants will be judged on a scale of 1 – 10 on three criteria: quality of the business, quality of the plan, use of the medium.

The only requirements for the winner, besides garnering the most points and in case of a tie, being selected by a celebrity tie-breaker judge, is that the company be US based, and have a company web site.

TC:  Will there be more of these events in the future or is this part of a bigger effort?
GH: Here’s an exclusive for Tech Cocktail:

PitchDingman is announcing a follow-up event for the best 10 entrants located within a 50 mile radius of College Park MD.  On May 5th, Brazen Careerist and the Dingman Center are sponsoring a Network Roulette event in which pitching companies and local angels will meet in a location, not yet determined, for a non-virtual, live discussion.  Look for more information on this to be announced soon.

In terms of additional events and formats, I’m taking a wait and see approach. We’re seeing lots of interest and companies registering to pitch. In fact, we’re thinking about closing registration because we don’t want the pool of companies to grow so large that the judges are overburdened.

Learn more and register for the event here.

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About the Author

Jen Consalvo is the COO of Tech Cocktail. She is also an entrepreneur and new media journalist who worked in product development for almost 13 years at AOL for audiences of millions. Follow her on Twitter at: @noreaster.

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