My early spring calendar is dotted with pitch contests in various incubators and colleges and universities in the region. I love participating in these events as both judge and observer, though I do have mixed feelings about their overall utility to the young businesses involved. I highly doubt many of today’s most successful enterprises got that way by scoring big in a “minute to pitch it” contest. As well all know, building a business is a long-term proposition. While a winning “Shark Tank” moment can provide short-term momentum and energy for the founding team, most founders would gladly trade that quick jolt for sustainable growth and defensible leadership.
My participation in these events, however, has never been about sorting winners and losers. I love to see new ideas and new approaches to intractable or previously unknown, problems. I want to see new entrepreneurs (of any age!) tell the story of their start-up and hook me on their belief and vision. My industry specialty is technology and tech-enable companies, so I like to learn about markets new to me like food, healthcare, entertainment and automotive, as I have at past events.
Often, I will approach certain participants in a contest and offer some advice on crafting and delivering their stories in a more creative, credible and engaging manner. The ones I approach are those that struck some sort of chord with me, those that left me wanting to know more. Every short term pitch contest – really any brief encounter with a possible customer, partner, investor or employee – represents an opportunity to plant an intellectual seed and to spark a richer conversation. Spring time is the perfect season for such beginnings and I’m grateful for the chance to be present at their inception.