Lessons from a startup pitch competition, vol. 2 – 36|86

Lessons from the 38|86 startup pitch competition

A Startup pitch competition is a great way to gain exposure for your startup. Some companies like past podcast guest, Grow Bioplastics, have been so successful at winning just about every startup pitch competition they participate in that they have raised nearly $100,000 that way.

Yesterday a startup I have co-founded participated in the 36|86 startup pitch competition. Thirty-six companies were tasked with presenting their company in a two-minute pitch to the audience, who in turn voted on the startups that would make the final pitch round.

Below are the lessons I took away from this particular startup pitch competition, both as a presenting startup and attendee. On note - I was only able to attend the first day of the event.

Everyone get's networking

By now, you should know that I am a huge advocate of networking. In fact, in my course on How To Meet Investors, I list networking as one of the best assets for a startup in their attempts to meet investors. Events like 36|86 are a perfect example of the power of networking. Not only did we get the opportunity to participate in speed dating rounds with potential investors, many of the session's panelists also talked about the importance of networking at a startup pitch competition.

The networking opportunities alone make events like these worth the time of attending.

Be on time

Arriving punctually is important. However, here I am referring to keeping your pitch within the designated time allowed. Although a two-minute pitch might sound short, it really isn't if you work on sharing your idea in a succinct, efficient manner. At the 36|86 startup pitch competition the very first presenter had to stop his pitch because he had run over and was cut off by the timer.

Have your pitch down, i.e. practice a lot, and even finish before your time is up rather than getting run off the stage.

Tell a story

Being the founder of a startup is largely about being able to get other people excited about your idea. The best way to do that is by telling stories. This also comes in handy when presenting at a startup pitch competition.

The best presenters tell their startup story and entertain the crowd.

Make it about them

While you are telling your startup story, be sure that the story is about your end-user. Your pitch and story shouldn't include too much time spent talking about how great the founder(s) is and how many startups you have exited. I know it is tempting to share that information under the belief that such success will cause people to vote for you. However, sometimes startup pitch competition judges take such success as a reason not to vote for you. 

So, make it about them not your startup.

The audience shouldn't determine the winner

I love involving the audience in events. Getting them to vote on things like their "crowd favorite" is a good way to do just that. However, letting the crowd determine more than that is a dangerous proposition. The reason is that it can quickly become a popularity contest, where the best ideas don't necessarily advance or win. Rather the "sexiest" ideas do.

The winner of any startup pitch competition should be decided by people you truly understand how to evaluate a startup's potential.

Wrapping up

All that said, I really enjoyed the 36|86 event and was honored to help my partner represent Cathedral Leasing there. The chance to see some long-time "friends" made it worth the up and back drive.

What about you? What are some takeaways of yours from attending startup pitch competitions?

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