These days there are plenty of ways to try and get funding for your business. VCs and angel investors have made themselves available through Twitter, sites like AngelList let you crowdsource a fundraising round, and Y Combinator and Techstars have disrupted the world of startup accelerators.
Still, many founders choose to seek funding via pitch competitions allowing them to retain equity while taking advantage of increased exposure and networking opportunities.
As a host of one of these competitive pitch competitions, Future Founders knows there are some basic principles winners always follow. But even before getting to the competition itself, many talented entrepreneurs make critical errors on their applications and tank their opportunity to get to the live stage. To help you rise above the noise in the application pool, here are eight basic principles to stand out among the crowd with a world class pitch application.
1) Understand your own market opportunity.
Many entrepreneurs have a personal story inspiring them to start their businesses. That’s great, but how is the opportunity bigger than just you? Sheldon Barrett from Cocovana did an excellent job at this, detailing how his high blood pressure encouraged him to seek alternative drink sources, and invent a can opener for coconuts. He followed this up by sharing how many people were just like him who could buy his product.
We aren’t experts in every industry. Sharing your market opportunity not only helps educate us but provides validity to the problem you’re solving.
2) Understand how you’re going to capture the market.
Having a stat about your Total Addressable Market (TAM) isn’t enough. How do you plan on capturing your market? Your answer to this is a great way for us to tell if you have done your homework and are an expert in this domain. How do you scale and why is your way of scaling going to work?
3) Have a solid team.
You may have already heard that startups need to have a solid team. We see many startup teams with fancy resumes on their team slide, but many founders stop there. We want to know why these impressive resumes are relevant to your business.
Why does going to an elite college help you? Why is your job background important? Don’t just list accomplishments or awards, tell us why this is important to the problem you are solving. Then we’ll be convinced you have the right people for the job.
4) Have traction.
Out of all the tips in this list, this one is a heavy contender for the most important. Traction shows us so much, including progress made on the idea, how capable the team is, and if you’re focusing on the right things. Traction is not just about sales! Our 2019 U.Pitch competition third place winner Alissa Lopez hadn’t even launched yet, but she used her market research and customer discovery numbers as traction and it worked!
When talking about traction always, always, always, provide context through time. We interviewed 100 customers in two weeks. We got 50 users in four days. We made our first 100 sales in a month. Dividing by time shows how committed you are to this and makes it easier for us to project how well you’re going to do moving forward. If you divided by time and are unimpressed with your own traction, you may be too early for a pitch competition – which is fine! Just go back to working on your business and make something worth sharing.
5) Have an appropriate ask.
This one is easy to miss. U.Pitch has a $10,000 prize pool. If your ask is to raise a $500,000 pre-seed round, U.Pitch cannot help you. Competitions will think you just copied and pasted your pitch application and didn’t take the time to make your ask more relevant to the prize. Instead take the time to show the listener how this money will help you. What are you going to spend it on and why is it critical to your business? Competitions and judges want to feel like we’re actually helping you move forward.
6) Be innovative.
We’re sure it’s special, but we don’t want to hear about your T-shirt business. That is, unless it’s U.Pitch’s 2019 Winner Mi Terro, which turns unused milk into fibers which can be made into new t-shirts.
If you want to attract attention with your pitch competition application, you need to showcase what’s new and special about your startup. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have the flashiest new technology (in fact, previous U.Pitch winners have included everything from farm equipment to chips). But, you need to show your unique take on your product or service. What are you doing in the space that’s never been done before?
7) Be a good presenter.
The U.Pitch application requires a video, so we’re able to judge your presentation skills immediately. Meaning we are quickly able to tell if this is the first time you’ve talked about your idea out loud. Please practice. Find mentors and small groups of people to pitch in front of for feedback. It’s going to be awkward at first, and you’re going to stumble. The point is to be awkward and stumble in private so when you submit a video or pitch on a live stage you already worked the kinks out.
8) Tell a good story (part of the top 10% of applications).
This is what separates the good applications from the great ones. Once you have every item mentioned above, how do you tie them together? Things should naturally flow to the next topic and create a coherent narrative. Messages delivered as stories are 22 times more memorable. Stories are how you leave a lasting mark on your audience. SwineTech founder Matthew Rooda used a neat trick to turn his customer discovery into a story, saying “We interviewed X potential customers and they told us Competitor A, B, & C, simply did not work.” It helped him land the grand prize in 2016. What’s your flow going to be?
So there you have it. Eight tips for submitting a world class pitch competition application. If you’re a collegiate founder in the United States and want to compete for $10,000, our 2020 U.Pitch National Competition has gone virtual, and will be opening applications in August (sign up to get notified here). If you want some coaching, sign up for our interest list where we regularly send out office hour info. With these tips, we hope to see you on our pitch stage in November!
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