The Perfect Pitch: Distilled Intelligence 2.0

October 14, 2012

9:02 pm

Editor’s Note: This past week the mid-Atlantic region united as 100 companies competed for $100,000 in two days the Distilled Intelligence 2012 produced by DC-based Fortify.VC the team behind the startup accelerator, The Fort. We had guest author Kristin Pryor, an archeologist turned budding entrepreneur, attend to cover the event with fresh eyes.  Let’s join Kristin as she shares her learnings from Distilled Intelligence 2.0 and the makings of a perfect pitch.

I consider myself relatively new to the DC tech, startup space. Physically, I’ve been around for years, but my head wasn’t in the game. Perhaps I’m a late bloomer, but in recent months I’ve become more and more interested in entrepreneurship. My passion has been ignited and I’m finally learning my way. So on Thursday, October 11th, I attended Distilled Intelligence 2.0 where my primary goal was to absorb as much as my brain could handle and maybe do some networking on the side.

This is the second year for the Distilled Intelligence conference, a two day networking event, organized by and sponsored by Microsoft, that centers around a pitch competition. Over 100 startups, some from as far away as India and Chile, compete for their piece of $100k in prize money. Each day begins with 50 startups giving 60 second pitches of their product. For the 2 nd round, judges narrow the field down to 20 who then have to give a three minute pitch. From this group, the top ten startups are chosen for a Q&A round with the judges. At the end of the day the top five startups are announced and prizes are awarded.

To say this event is a learning experience for any budding entrepreneur would be an understatement. A great pitch is critical for a startup to obtain funding, and few ventures can successfully grow without some level of funding. Even as a newcomer whose only experience watching pitches comes from episodes of Shark Tank, it was clear throughout the day what worked and what did not.

It is no secret that a good pitch must be clear, concise, focused, and energetic. Memorability is also important. The startups that stuck with me were the ones that, besides having an interesting product, also had something in their pitch that made me remember them at the end of the day. For example Genomic Arts ended their 60 second pitch with “we turn spit into money”. It got a laugh out of the crowd and the judges and possibly aided in their continuation to the second round. Another successful strategy that some of the presenters employed, was to address problems that their product solves that similar products do not. Hallway and CoFounders Lab both made comparisons to similar products and told how their product was superior.

There were a couple of trends I noticed among the top startups. For example, startups in the biotech and clean tech space, specifically Genomic Arts and Micronic Technologies, both made it to the top ten. Additionally, startups that attempted to solve a common problem with a potentially large market also thrived. Three big players in this area were 410 Labs with their new email management tool Mailstrom, Autopilot that allows you to book a driver to drive your car when you need it, and Campeasy which connects parents with thousands of camps around the country through one marketplace.

Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important, if not more important, than knowing what does work. Rehearsing your pitch is absolutely necessary. It was obvious which presenters had not rehearsed enough, or let their nerves get the best of them. Most of these startups did not make it past the first round. Then there were those who tried to fit too much information into their 60 second pitch. It was disappointing to see important aspects of a startup’s product being glossed over because the presenter talked too fast. Attitude is another factor that can make or break a pitch; confidence is key, but overconfidence can be a turnoff. There was one startup in particular (whose name I won’t mention) that had developed a really cool, beneficial product to help small businesses. Their first pitch was solid and they easily advanced to the 2nd round. The three minute pitch, however, was a bit over the top. The presenter came off as boastful and cocky. I wasn’t inside the judges’ deliberation room, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was part of the reason they didn’t advance.

Going into Distilled Intelligence 2.0, I knew that I would be overwhelmed with information and inspiration. My notes quickly turned into a list of what was working for the presenting startups, and what was not. I also jotted down some questions. For example, does it benefit a startup to mention an accelerator program they’ve participated in? Is it important to spend a lot of time talking about the team? In a short pitch, how much time should you spend discussing the merits of your cofounders and advisors? Does it strengthen a pitch to emphasize the weaknesses of competitors? I suppose my overarching question would be what are the ingredients for a perfect pitch cocktail? Feel free to answer any of these questions in the comments below. As a budding entrepreneur, attending Distilled Intelligence was a “must see” for me. It was an invaluable experience -making it completely worth calling in sick for the day.

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