Down pat

4 secrets to being pitch perfect from a startup founder

Whether you're pitching your startup in a competition or for capital, here are some expert tips. Getty Images

One of the things our team at EllieGrid is most famous for is pitching. We have pitched our smart pill box in over 20 business plan competitions, on television, radio, and to so many investors that I have lost count. I can't remember what our first pitch was like but I know it has certainly evolved overtime. You could even say that we A/B tested some of our methods.

When you first organize your thoughts, you want to consider the basics, so before I give my advice, consider these tried-and-true tips.

  • Get to the point — say what your company is in the first 10 seconds
  • Know your audience
  • Shorter usually means better
  • Keep numbers to a minimum
  • Have a clear ask

In order to save you a little time, here are some of the of the lessons I learned the hard way to help you perfect your pitch.

Don't pitch. Tell a story.
I am going to let you in on a little secret: most people don't want to hear your pitch, especially if yours is not the first they have heard that day. Put yourself in their shoes, do you really want to listen to someone ramble on about facts and figures? Chances are, no. Instead, tell a story. Use engaging voices and set the scene. Recall your creative writing classes from high school and how you should mention what it was like in terms of feel, smell, taste, etc. and don't use generic adjectives such as "too small" or "the old way was hard."

People remember how you made them feel
What is in it for your audience? Is it wealth, power, fame, praise or glory, and/or pleasure? It might sound obvious to make this point when pitching, but I suggest you write out your pitch and highlight exactly where you say what is in it for them, maybe even more than once. Making the audience feel like you are caring about their desires and engaging them in conversation will help you be more memorable.

Come full circle
My favorite technique in any pitch or speech is if the speaker can connect the closing back to something they said at the beginning of their pitch. I enjoy this because sometimes the speaker will leave a question unanswered and then reveal how their solution is the answer in a creative way. This keeps your listeners engaged and connects the pain to your solution. Watch a few TED talks and you will see what I mean.

Pitch to a kid
This is probably the best advice I can give because it is a surefire way to make sure your pitch makes sense to a wide range of listeners. This also forces you to leave out jargon and filler words that you think might make you sound fancy like "innovative" or "disruptive" but actually make you sound like everyone else.

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Regina Vatterott is the COO and co-founder of Ellie Grid, a Houston-based company reinventing medical devices. Read more about Regina here.

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Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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