I can’t count how many startup/venture pitches I’ve seen—fewer than many of my pals and peers in the amazing NC startup scene, but far more than enough to feel great in offering some advice.
I’ll forever bang my drum that:
I don’t think I know everything, so I’m always cross-checking opinions with my entrepreneurially-minded colleagues on the UNC campus, and with the innovators and accelerators (which I mean as both people and places) on campus and across those amazing startup scenes in the Triangle and Triad.
- Any pitch, to any audience, needs to start with a clear value proposition and mission statement.
- Origin stories have very little value (and take up too much time) unless they specifically build-credibility.
- ‘Customer journey stories’ or ‘parables of the problem’ can engage people, but these stories should not come first and they should take the minimum amount of time possible.
- Clear structure does not flatten a pitch—clear structure lets your audience stay tuned.
All of us could learn from the Albert Einstein quote which framed the entirety of UNC’s Global Entrepreneurship Week:
"If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions."
But I don’t think any of us has had the routine opportunity to see as many pitches (up to 100) in as short a time (around 90 minutes) as those of us who attended the Carolina Challenge Pitch Party.
Teams embodied some fantastic strategies. We were in the Kenan Stadium Blue Zone (a vast space) and many teams—Donuts on Demand, LineLeader, TeleLawyer for example—employed "barkers", individuals who roamed the crowds to entice individuals to tables to hear the pitches. You won’t always need a barker, but at least consider visually rich, eye-catching marketing materials.
SuitUp brought a great couple of product samples, and several teams had wireframes, mockups, storyboards, app demos and other MVPs. The more we can see of your idea in real life, the more realizable your idea seems.
UGAME (the founders of which I know through the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School) sought pre-game feedback from a dizzyingly wide array of critics, and then synthesized all that feedback into a stronger pitch, just as I know friends from across the campus and community who iterated feedback right up until the Pitch Party started.
And all the Carolina Challenge Pitch Party teams engaged in what factors, without exception, as the Number One Rule: network! Get your idea out there, talk to people, listen to feedback, investigate competitors, look for partnerships, don’t be afraid to pivot, and—as my human-centered-design-thinking pals Charles Merritt, John Clark, Jed Simmons and Buck Goldstein say all the time—iterate, iterate, iterate!
Seeing information in action on any level is awesome, but I figure you’re reading this article mostly for advice from the winners. Here we go—an alphabetical list of the top teams from the Carolina Challenge Pitch Party, their value props, and the great strategies they enacted: