What I've Learned as a Pitch Coach + Judge Supporting 150+ New Majority Founders
I’ve coached 150+ new majority founders through pitch competitions: The Minority Business Development Agency, DC Startup Week, Pitch with Purpose - the first-ever pitch competition centered around solutions to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Women Empower Expo (WEX), Black Girl Ventures, and Georgetown University Women’s Forum are at top of mind. They were inspirational, illuminating and outright, fun. There’s a huge sense of vulnerability when entrepreneurs put their visions on the line. You can’t help but appreciate that commitment and audacity. But there’s so much we can do to improve this process (yes, ecosystem builders, I’m talking to you). Here are my top five frustrations:
It’s not fair nor useful for non-profit and for-profit ventures to compete against one another.
These companies have different end goals, sustainability strategies and even pitch-styles. A community-centered education program for displaced youth should not run alongside tech’s next big thing. We shouldn’t set entrepreneurs up on such misaligned planes.
For nascent entrepreneurs, it can be helpful to provide standardized templates or knowledge of helpful + free resources like Canva, so participants will be judged on the substance of their idea and not their access to design professionals.
We know that building a business takes money and if you have that money, or a network of talented professionals, you can prepare a sleek, visually appealing pitch deck with little effort. But everyone isn’t afforded those resources. If we want to level the playing-field, we need to figure out ways to equalize assessments and rid irrelevant biases from creeping into our minds. Creating form templates (or, options for form templates) and/or pointing to free design resources could alleviate this. I’ve found that these conversations just aren’t being had, and it doesn’t take much for a bit of consideration.
Everyone is not a master public speaker; but if you’re going to pitch, you better master some techniques.
“Pitch Prep” courses rightfully focus on the substance of the pitch: are you crafting the right pitch for your audience? Have you included those essential elements like your value proposition? Are you weaving in enough of your expertise to support that you’re best equipped to solve this problem? But they often glance over basic communications and public speaking fundamentals - like eye contact, avoiding filler words and projecting their voice. Speaking is an art, pitching is a science. We’ve got to see more overlap between the two.
Audience-driven feedback > five singular, cherry-picked voices.
Yes, experts are at thing - and there are foundational elements that go into a thriving, successful business. But don’t discount the credibility or insight of your audience members. As we seek to disrupt pattern matching and this unrealistic assumption that “there’s not a market for X because your kind doesn’t have one,” we should also expand the pool of feedback. Black Girl Ventures and The Dolphin Take by Springboard Enterprises have pioneered this approach. Let’s take heed.
Money is good - but so are other things.
Access to capital is the #1 need for women entrepreneurs but somethings are better than money. Yes, I said it. If you can provide a much-needed introduction, a meeting with an accountant, professional-level consulting, access to workspace, or administrative support -- your help can go a long way. This is especially true for sole proprietors in their first 1-3 years of development. Don’t choose not to have a pitch competition because of a low prize amount - think about how your network can support in other ways.