At the Cleantech Open Northeast ‘Tell Your Story Day’, entrepreneurs had the chance to examine their messages from multiple angles.
Startup founders are required to pitch their ideas in many different settings. Formal presentations to investors with the goal of raising capital are typical. However, in order to get a foot in the door to make those presentations, a founder may need to be able to quickly pitch an idea when meeting a possible stakeholder unexpectedly. It is also important to create buzz around a product or service with videos and other social media content.
‘Tell Your Story Day’ offered startups the chance to tailor their narratives to each of these settings. Throughout the day, participants practiced delivering 10-minute presentations to a panel of judges, summed up their businesses in elevator pitches to mentors and peers, and consulted a video producer for advice on how to promote their ventures in short video clips.
In the investor pitch sessions, speakers were given 10 minutes to present their slides plus time to receive advice and take questions from panel members. According to many founders, this was the piece of the process that they focused on when preparing for the day’s training, since investor pitches are rigorous and learning how to secure funding is extremely important. The 10-minute pitches offered a chance to hammer out the fine details of the value proposition, potential market, and business plan of each startup.
“[Practicing] the pitch was helpful,” said Joe Henderson, president of Onvector, explaining that the judges assisted him in finding ways to keep his speech closely tied to his pitch deck. “I’ve seen this progress from a technical evangelism pitch to a business pitch. It’s an evolutionary process.”
In contrast to the 10-minute formal pitches, the goal of the elevator pitches was to state “why” and “how” as concisely as possible. Why is there a need for a product or service, and how does it deliver? Because these pitches were brief, they presented an opportunity for participants to receive advice on their delivery and then try their pitches a second time, incorporating the notes they received.
Franz Bronnimann, of Aestus, Inc., summed up his takeaway from the elevator pitches as “the importance of our work and how to present that in a clear way. One of my mentors, Barry Day, stressed the importance of that,” Bronnimann said. “Really come in with a hook.”
In the video consultations, John Bowey from Transmedia Vision helped each startup prepare to film a video that will be shot during the week of the regional finals. Bowey offered advice and a critique of any footage that entrepreneurs had already created.
Ayo Oshinaike of FoodSpace made the most of his first opportunity to consult with a video producer about how to introduce his product to customers.
“The one piece of feedback I’ve gotten from my friends is that I sound like an advertisement,” he told Bowey. “And I want to sound more authentic.”
“If you write a script and you’re reading it, you risk sounding a bit less authentic,” Bowey responded. He recommended that Oshinaike write down a list of talking points and then speak spontaneously about each.
Bowey also demonstrated a gadget that could help, something that seemed to resonate with the tech enthusiast. A special screen attached to Bowey’s phone magnified anything written in an app, such as bullet points, so that it could be easily seen. The other end of the screen could be attached to the camera lens, allowing a speaker to reference prepared talking points while apparently making eye contact with the viewer.
Bowey explained that startup founders need to find a way to appear natural on camera because they are a key selling point in any video about their venture. Investors and consumers connect with a person in a different way than they would a product or service.
“Put the person on the camera so you’ve got the flesh and blood they’re going to be investing in,” Bowey said. “It’s about you as much as the product.”
Pitching your advice to entrepreneurs
Ken Monahan, a senior analyst with Greenwich Associates and one of the judges on the presentation panel, said that he returns each year to get another chance to prepare entrepreneurs to communicate with investors.
“I love critiquing other people!” he joked. Becoming serious, he added, “Why do I do it? It’s fun. It’s an intellectual challenge. I’m trying to understand somebody’s business and their life work.”
For mentors like Monahan, ‘Tell Your Story Day’ is an opportunity to contribute to the success of each business. “Getting a valid critique at this stage of the game enables them to work on their business model,” he said.
Participants agreed. “There has always been some good idea or perspective coming out of each of the events I've attended,” said Domenic Manganelli of TendOcean, summing up his experience at the accelerator.
By Elise Baker on in Northeast