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Technology Pitch perfect: Eight tips to help would-be entrepreneurs slay the pitch contest

22:45  11 november  2019
22:45  11 november  2019 Source:   financialpost.com

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a woman standing in front of a building: Flytographer entrepreneur Nicole Smith.© Kelly Brown Flytographer entrepreneur Nicole Smith.

Winning two major pitch contests helped entrepreneur Nicole Smith get her business, Victoria-based Flytographer, on the map.

In 2018, she took home the $25,000 prize from The Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE) for her online marketplace that connects travellers with local photographers for candid photo shoots around the world. More recently, she became one of EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, allowing her to attend two prestigious events in New York and Palm Desert, Calif., with most of her expenses covered.

But for Smith, the side benefits of both wins outshone any monetary value. As a finalist with FWE, she got a coach to help tighten her pitch. Plus “a forum like that is a great way to amplify awareness of your startup,” she said. “Everyone in that audience of 600 women was a target for my company.”

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The main benefit of the EY win was the opportunity to network with other talented female entrepreneurs. “I live on a small island,” she said. “There are not a lot of people like me, so I was really excited about being able to build relationships with other like-minded people who were at my level and my stage of growth or a little bit ahead of me.”

Every year, hundreds of entrepreneurial “contests” take place nationwide. Winning can confer a wide range of benefits, from cash to networking opportunities with fellow business owners, mentors and investors. Nonetheless, “I don’t know if I’d advise pitching every contest. You have to think about what stage your startup is at and what you want to get out of it,” Smith said.

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Read on for eight tips from Smith and Bow Valley College entrepreneur-in-residence and pitch coach Craig Elias, of Calgary, to help you identify good bets and prepare yourself to win.

1. Be choosy . “I wouldn’t go into any pitch contest where you have to pay to participate,” Smith said. She advises doing a quick check to ensure you meet the contest’s criteria and trying to isolate those for which you’re uniquely qualified. For example, Smith had already knocked out 50 per cent of the competition for the WEF simply by dint of being a woman.

Want to know what’s out there? Check out the lists of pitch contests at FoundersBeta and StartupToronto.

2. Think big picture. Some entrepreneurs spend up to half of their presentation detailing the nitty-gritty of their product’s features, Elias said. Big mistake. Focus on “the value people get from using it,” he said.

Granted, your new-fangled medical test may well be easier, faster and more convenient. But its true value is probably that it helps people “get diagnosed sooner and heal faster,” Elias said. “For corporations and insurance companies that means lower long-term disability expenses.”

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3. Tell them a story. Don’t under-estimate the power of a “short powerful story that illustrates why your product is worth investing in,” Smith said. For her FWE pitch, Smith used the words and photos of a 57-year-old woman who hired Flytographer to shoot her first solo trip to Amsterdam after her husband died. “When I’m an old woman in a nursing home, I will look at these photos and remember my bliss,” the woman told Smith.

4. Use images. “The more pictures you have and the less text, the better your pitch is going to be,” Elias said. The caveat: he believes video should only be used to demonstrate your product in use. “It’s too easy to record and perfect a video, but that’s the lazy way out. People want to see you do real-time pitching.”

5. Get the audience’s buy-in. One powerful way to kick off a presentation is with a question, Elias said. His example: “How many people in this room know someone who has had cancer or died of cancer?” As hands rise, you can follow up with something along the lines of: “My name’s Craig Elias and I have a simple way to help cancer patients recover faster.”

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6. Avoid jargon. No matter who your audience, avoid industry jargon. “You don’t want people doing mental gymnastics in their brain trying to figure out what that acronym means,” Smith said. You can always offer more information later, but when crafting a pitch, “ask yourself whether your grandmother can understand you.”

7. Tell them what they want to hear. For Elias, the four key things you need to cover off in a pitch are: How big is the market for your product or service and who’s your competition? How do you make money? How do you prevent other people from borrowing your idea? And finally, how much traction do you already have (measured by the number of customers or revenues)?

8. Practice and repeat. It’s crucial to practice your presentation before you appear so you’re not stumbling or reading from notes. But practicing (in a safe environment where you’re not nervous) isn’t enough, Elias said. “It takes repetition to get comfortable making your case before strangers. You should pitch whenever and wherever you can.”

Special to the Financial Post

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