5 Strategies That Can Help Your Startup Win a Pitch Competition

Pitch competitions are about having fun, knowing your hook, and building meaningful relationships.

Recently, I met up with Cassie Wallender, co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Invio Inc., a company on a mission to target and eliminate clinical trial inefficiencies that slow or block new medical innovations by lowering the cost of clinical trial data while increasing the quality.

I met Cassie through the Red Scarf Project (#theRedScarfProject), a movement about women paying it forward to support other female entrepreneurs. When we met up, we traded notes on what it took for her team to win Seattle Angel Conference (SAC), a recurring Seattle angel-driven event where the investors create an LLC, engage in due diligence of the applying startup companies, and ultimately pool funds to invest in one of the presenting finalists.

Here are some tips to help you win your next pitch competition:

Focus on Fun and Growing on a Journey, Together

Angel conferences are one a great place to learn from both the perspectives of a new founder and a new investor. The process takes you through a journey of discovery and constructive feedback. You go through multiple rounds of pitches until the final six companies stand and make their pitch before all the members of the SAC.

Tip: Always bring at least one other person to all meetings and pitches to focus on taking notes, eavesdropping on the crowd, and talking to investors about what’s working (and what’s not). Regularly triangulate with your team member to figure out how to adjust in real time during the event.

The Five Finalists Pitch at Celebrate 2015

Have and Know Your Hook

The teams that don’t advance often are trying to do too much. They come off as unfocused and undifferentiated. Pitching is sort of like dating — you have to be interesting enough to warrant a “next date.”

Tip: The basics of communication and presentations are important. For example, know your market size and details of the approach used to get that number. Use 30-point font with a high contrast background on all of your slides. Demonstrate through each and every action that the team is coachable and of high integrity. Trust is an important part of any sale.

The focus and goal of your pitch shouldn’t be several steps ahead to win the entire competition. The focus and goal of each pitch should be to get to the next meeting.  

It’s All About Human-to-Human Relationships

The journey of winning a pitch is actually much more about the authentic relationships being built through every action (or inaction), than just winning at the end of the day.  That way, no matter what the outcome of the pitch is, the experience, the learning and the relationships built will help you and the team grow. Show up early, stay late. Work the room as a team. Touch hearts and demonstrate that you are a trustworthy group of good people.

Cassie mentioned that they had also met with folks outside of the SAC meetings. This was a critical strategy they had to build trust with the people of SAC, giving them one-on-one time to ask questions. They also figured out who the fund manager was that way.

Tip: Don’t talk to the other companies or teams pitching/presenting. (This isn’t to be mean or taken personally. There’s limited time to get and demonstrate value.) Focus on building the relationships with the people who can impact your business (in this case, it’s the angel investors.) Be present. The keyword is focus. Focus on speaking with the cynical angel investors and really understanding why they disagree. The cynical ones are the ones who will likely be vocal later when you’re not in the room.

Find out how to get your startup noticed by investors at TechCo

Be a Team

Have at least one other founder in the room as often as possible. This will double the impact that you have in the room and can talk to more people about your company

Tip: Brag about your team members. Brag about the team members who are not present. Talk each other up. People respond to anyone talking another person up. People don’t respond to bragging.

Know Your Numbers

Come prepared with detailed numbers, especially market size. I’ve learned it is important to be able to quantify the problem size.

Tip: Be able to speak to the methodology used to arrive at assumptions and hypothesis. Make sure all of the numbers and your story line up. Make sure you’ve done the research and have traction to show that your assumptions and hypothesis are sound. Find a good lawyer who will be able to partner with you in navigating funding.

Designate the most organized one of the team to keep everyone on track in terms of the legal documents, the process and presentation documentation.

At the end of the day, doing any kind of pitch or presentation is similar to being good at B2B sales. While the word “sales” may turn off many folks. To me, it is really important to remember that behind any business are real people. People buy from people. Focusing attention on building human trust and consistently demonstrating that is a solid way to ensure success for yourself and your company.

Read more tips on how to nail the pitch and win the next competition at TechCo

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