Five College of Charleston student entrepreneurs put their business ideas to the test against undergraduate and graduate students from all over South Carolina in an event called Wild Pitch, part of DIG SOUTH 2014 – a Southeastern interactive festival. The students competed for an up-to $2,500 investment from Capital A Partners to be combined with other venture capital they’ve already successfully secured.
Sophomore Will Jamieson presented his social app Yik Yak, seniors Robert-David Weeks and Kannon Price presented a security app called SureLock, and seniors Jeff Sledden and Griffin Peddicord presented a program for small businesses called BuyIt Software to a panel of judges who evaluated each presentation based on nine criteria.
Jamieson, Price, Weeks and Peddicord were inspired by feedback from the judges – Igor Jablokov of Raleigh, N.C., Kit Hughes of Atlanta, Ga. and David Mendez of Charleston, S.C. – and offer this list of do’s and don’ts for presenting an entrepreneurial venture to a “shark tank” of experienced businesspeople.
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Do: Dress the part
“Jeff and I made the decision to wear formal business attire,” Peddicord said. It paid off, as one judge described the two as “male models” based on their professional clothes and self-presentation.
Don’t: Wear uncomfortable clothes
You should be focused entirely on your presentation, so if your shirt itches or your shoes are too small or you’re worried that jeans were a bad choice, your presentation will suffer. Test drive your outfit for an hour or so by walking around outside, sitting up straight and talking with friends. If you feel ridiculous or uncomfortable, pick a new outfit.
Do: Thoroughly research your market
Know your industry inside and out – then you’ll also know what makes your idea different and better than similar ventures. You should be able to reference or understand references to influencers in your market. When you truly know about the businesses, individuals and innovations in your field, you’ll be able to speak more confidently about your idea.
Don’t: Read notecards
“One of the biggest don’ts I saw was using notecards,” Price said. Instead, he suggests presenters “speak calmly and clearly, and interact the audience and judges through eye contact and body language. You want to be engaging the audience, not staring at notecards.”
“Tell a story,” Weeks added.
Do: Take a page from the Boy Scouts of America
… And always be prepared. Be ready to tell judges approximately how much money you need to make your idea into a reality, your plans for raising the capital you need, what your projected revenue after the first year would be if you were awarded the money, your plans for making a profit, and the costs involved in becoming operational.
A projection is just an estimation, but it should be well-researched enough that you can explain exactly how you got your numbers if you’re put on the spot during your presentation.
Don’t: Avoid a direct question
If a judge asks you a confusing question, ask him or her to explain further. However if a judge asks you a clear question, you should answer the question asked rather than skirting the topic to highlight another point or avoid an unflattering fact about your idea. If you don’t know the answer, simply admit that and tell the judges you’ll look into it immediately after the presentation and follow-up via email if they’re interested.
Do: Relax before the presentation
Drink some tea, listen to classical music, light a soothing candle or take a nap – whatever helps you relax. Intense anxiety can lead to another of Price’s don’ts; “forgetting your material.” Unwind knowing you trust yourself and your idea, and, “if you can make the audience laugh, that’s always a plus,” Price said.
Don’t: Be pushy
“You want the judges and audience to buy into what you have to say, but they don’t want it shoved in their faces,” Price said. Be confident, clear and enthusiastic, but careful not to pressure judges into supporting you.
Do: Take advantage of resources at the College
The School of Business offers classes, events and office hours with faculty members especially to prepare students for encounters with venture capitalists and other investors.
“As a senior in the School of Business we speak in front of groups on average three times a week, so we felt confident that we knew our product and how to speak to an audience similar to the judges we would encounter at the Dig South.” Peddicord said.
Don’t: Let negative feedback defeat your idea
A panel of expert judges’ observations about your entrepreneurial venture and presenting style are invaluable, but they can sometimes come across as harsh. “As far as feedback goes, they pretty much stated that they weren’t interested in the social networking apps,” Jamieson said.
While he could have been discouraged by the judges’ lack of enthusiasm, Jamieson knows he has a good idea in Yik Yak. He chose instead to focus on the positive that came out of his Wild Pitch presentation: “After the competition, a reporter from USA Today approached me asking for an interview. In my mind that was the equivalent of winning the pitch contest.”