Are you an entrepreneur looking for funding? There are many avenues for winning what some would call “free money.” One good way for an entrepreneur to earn these dollars is by participating in pitch competitions.
A pitch competition is essentially an opportunity to present (pitch) your business to potential investors or the event organizers. The aim is to usually win business funding, get advice from experts, and gain exposure. During pitch competitions, you’re given a few minutes to convey your business, the problem it is solving, the solutions you propose, your target market information, and why the pitch competition judges ought to choose you.
I recently spoke with Courtnee Futch, entrepreneur, culinary goddess, and pitch competition maven. As the successful owner of ThunderCakes, a bakery inspired by her southern roots, Courtnee has grown tremendously by participating in these competitions.
After talking with Courtnee, I was ready to come up with a business idea of my own and hit the streets. The P.I.T.C.H. process I have outlined below is inspired by our conversation. It highlights much of our discussion through “Courtnee’s Top Tips” and is great advice for any entrepreneur looking to give pitch competitions a try.
Prepare, Investigate, Think, Create, Hone
Preparation is everything, so don’t rush yourself.
When Courtnee first started preparing for pitch competitions, she took her time to think about what differentiates ThunderCakes from say Lighting Cakes, a fictitious competitor. She asked herself,
What are the ten adjectives I would use to describe my business…what makes me equipped to run my business better than anyone else…what could potentially cause someone not to want to do business with me?
After Courtnee answered these questions for herself, she had a well-round pitch presentation, one that included recognized and highlighted both ThunderCakes strengths and potentially perceived weaknesses.
A well-rounded pitch presentation shows diligent preparation.
Courtnee’s Top Tips
“Always put additional slides for your Q&A section.”
These slides could include all the information you did not get to cover, due to time constraints, but should highlight because the data is essential. You can also use the Q&A slides to direct asked questions.
“Try to work the pitch room without a microphone if you can.”
Do your research. Cover all your bases.
One area of the pitch competition, sure to keep you ahead, is knowing your judges. If you have access to their names beforehand, do your research! You may learn fun facts about them or vital professional statistics that could help you tailor specific sections of your pitch to their area of expertise.
Moves like tailoring your presentation are sure to get the judges attention but don’t stress if you are unable to find information on the judges relative to your presentation. It won’t always work out, and even if it does, it won’t always have a natural flow. Do what works.
Courtnee’s Top Tip
Remember, a strong and engaging personality can carry you far in a pitch competition by winning the judges over, but not everyone is unique in their self-presentation in that way. If you are not, be honest with yourself and work on strengthening the aspects of your pitch that you can.
“You should know, at the very least, WHY you started your business.”
As Courtnee so eloquently stated, there is no doubt you should know your business or product better than anyone else. What do you want to achieve with your business or product? Knowing what you want to accomplish is the first step in being able to articulate it to others. Some business ideas have an apparent problem they wish to solve where they come in as the solution. For Courtnee, her problem was she was broke, and her answer, to pad her wallets, was to bake cakes. Courtnee was not trying to save the world, and she was clear about that. Once you are clear on what it is you want, write it out. When you see it in front of you on a piece of paper, it becomes real, tangible, and already appears more achievable.
Courtnee’s Top Tip
Write out why you started your business along with the work you did in Prepare and place them side by side. Work in tens and describe your business. Your page should be full of adjectives.
Build your best pitch.
Courtnee’s Top Tips
“Remain confident in YOUR lane.”
On pitch day, you will more than likely see some really cool business or inventions. You may become intimidated and even feel they deserve the money more than you. Imposter syndrome is real. But whatever they have going on doesn’t matter. It is uber important to remember what you want to accomplish and what makes your business/invention worthy of investor support and stick to that.
“Sometimes, a solid business is significantly more impressive and worthy of investment than having a business that requires 50K worth of software development to get off the ground.”
Not everyone is going to have a product that has sold before pitching, but if you do, bring it in! If you are pitching a tangible product, bring it in, even if it is a prototype!
“Having proof of concept is key. The best thing you can do to win judges over in a pitch is to bring them something they can touch, that they can feel, that they can conceptualize…something that will sit with them.”
Always try to prepare more than one item for the judges, so that even if you don’t win their investment, they may become a follower or a customer.
“Marketing yourself is important whether you win the money or not.”
Reinforce the words of your presentation with smart visuals.
“You are the storyteller. Do not have your visual tell the story for you. You have to be able to tell your story without supporting visuals.”
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Revisit the questions outlined in the Preparation section. This will help you to develop a well-rounded and comprehensive pitch and prepare for the Q&A portion of the experience.
Courtnee’s Top Tips
Practice with friends. Gather a group of friends, present your pitch, and have them ask questions. It may sound straightforward, but you never know what people are going to ask. This can help you remain sharp and on your toes.
In the end, following the steps outlined above could set you out on a new journey, a pitch competition-winning journey. Please write to us and let us know about your experiences with pitch competitions.
For those of you who are thinking, all of this was great, but I’m new here, where do I find pitch competitions? Courtnee suggests checking out collegiate pitch competitions. They are rarely exclusive and a great place to start and gain experience. She also recommends Built N.Y.C. and researching incubators.
For competitions run by an incubator, be prepared to receive services and professional support as a prize instead of cash, and don’t shy away from these opportunities! You may be surprised by the tools they can offer to grow your business!
If you want to see more of Courtnee’s business ThunderCakes, check out the website.
Also, check out Courtnee’s savory catering company, The Spred.