Want to Win a Pitch? Ignore the Pitch.

For many startups, pitch competitions are a vital source of funding. They provide access to capital, much of the time without taking equity. Plus they provide a vital arena for gathering constructive criticism on your concept.

So what can your organization do to have the best possible shot at taking home 1st place, and maybe even a big cardboard check?

Ignore the Pitch

But why? Let’s first look at what pitch competitions (in general) look at:

  1. Is your thing worth doing?
  2. Can you (or your team) do it?
  3. Will winning help you do it?

#1 can mean lots of things. If your thing is a for-profit company, will you make money? If it’s more of a social venture, will it improve the world? By how much?

#2 just means whether or not you/your team have the skills needed to make it to your goal. Do you need a coder? Someone great at scooping up users? An industry expert?

And #3 asks that you understand the needs of your goal. How will a big boatload of cash help you do your thing? Do you need so much capital to even start that the winnings of this competition aren’t even close?

So let’s assume that you believe all three of these things are true, how do you prove it to your audience (i.e. the judges)?

Start.

Investors, grant writers, and pitch judges are all more likely to give you \$\$ if they think you’re going to succeed anyway. Show them that you can by making it a reality even before the pitch competition. New ventures have so many questions that need to be answered:

  1. How are you going to get resources?
  2. What does your product/service look like?
  3. Who will make it?
  4. Who will use it?

Think about these questions as if the pitch competition wasn’t an option. If it’s just an idea, answer those questions. Google until you can’t google anymore. Once you have those answers in hand, congratulations, you have a plan! Now there’s nothing stoping you from executing on it! You can do tiny versions of your idea and use what you learn to refine those answers even more!

These questions are going to need to be answered at some point, so why wait until after you win?

Remember that whole pitch thing?

Now all you have to do is tell people what you did. There are a couple of things that your audience will want to see:

  1. The problem
  2. Your solution
  3. Your traction
  4. The ask Outlining your problem and solution will make the the audience aware that the problem exists and requires solving via your solution, that your thing is worth doing.

Your traction demonstrates that you are able to execute on your solution, that you can do it.

And finally outline your plan going forward, and how winning will help you do that plan even faster and better.

TL;DR: Forget about the pitch, do your thing, then tell people about it.


The strategy I talk about here has come from advice from our experience at HungerPerks and the five different pitch competitions we’ve competed in.

The inspiration to write this came from a talk we gave to help UAkron students gear up for The EXL Center’s “Be the Change \$10k Challenge”. Please check it out at https://UAkron.edu/BeTheChange, I can’t emphasize enough how much the EXL Center has helped us along our startup journey.

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