Why Every Startup Should Seriously Consider Competing in a Pitch Contest
The entrepreneurial lifestyle is hot right now. Everywhere you go, every site you visit, every social media timeline you scroll through has some evidence of its omnipresence.
Instagram is dotted with motivational quotes attributed to titans of industry; bold fonts overlaid across heavily filtered images of expensive cars, nice suits, and people poised in positions of living a lofty self made lifestyle.
You may have even shared some of these. I have.
Business leaders, the companies they lead, and their lifestyles are analyzed, praised, and sought after by people in a way that we’ve never seen before. Many say they’re pursuing that lifestyle. Your friends, their friends’ friends, the dude you’re sharing an UberPOOL with right now — everyone claims to be the head of a startup. But how many people are REALLY about that life?
Few. Very, very few.
The startup world is a nasty, tiring, unforgiving beast with euphoric highs and devastatingly soul-crushing lows. It’s easier to talk about being an entrepreneur, than actually attempting it, let alone making progress in it.
You’re interested in that lifestyle though, aren’t you? You wouldn’t be on this site if you weren’t. Maybe you have an idea, maybe you’re past that point — you’ve got something tangible taking form in front of you through the long hours you’ve put in making it a reality until now. Maybe you’re ready to see if it’s worth going any farther. Whether your idea is in its conceptual infancy or it’s just getting its legs, you need to know if it’s worth taking any farther or taking it out back and putting it down Old Yeller style, huh?
Sure, you need money to make it grow, but you need more than that. You need validation of your concept, the right people around you to nurture it, watch it grow, help you tend to it, and introduce you to and provide you with the right human and monetary resources to take it from a hobby to a fully fledged business. You could try and raise money from family, share your idea with friends, put your idea on Kickstarter, or another long shot or dead end half assed attempt of making your idea something that works. Or you could put your idea into a business plan competition of some sort. Odds are that you’re one of the millions of people who watches Shark Tank. You know the catch phrases, remember great and bad ideas, know what Shark will be most likely to invest in what, etc. And you’ve also thought to yourself, “I could do that. If only I had the chance.” That’s what I thought and that’s what I did. After losing my job in Austin, TX to a restructure, I came home a bit lost and my soul crushed. I needed a new creative, money-making outlet. I had an idea for a platonic & professional relationship brokerage app – think Tinder but instead of a dating app, it helped users find like-minded people to hang out and network with. I wanted to see if it had legs to stand on. I rallied two fraternity brothers of mine, one a well-organized business major, the other, a prodigious software developer. The business major put us on to the fact that our alma mater’s business competition was right around the corner and that we should enter. The prize? $25,000 cash and access to an entirely new world. The world I described earlier.
We had two months to prepare, and we did – day and night.
We spent nearly every waking hour with each other: writing our business plan, cold calling experts for quotes and opinions to prove our concept, hiring graphic artists, rewriting our business plan, doing focus groups, and watching hours of Shark Tank reruns. We practiced our presentation at least 200 times. No, seriously. Maybe more. We ran Google and LinkedIn searches on the judges. and we interviewed former winners. We did everything we could think of. We ensured that if we lost, it wouldn’t be due to lack of preparation. Two months went by and when the day came, we were pitted up against MBA students, concepts for DNA mapping software, biomedical technology, and more. We presented in front of a total of 24 judges. And you know what? We won. It was the best money we ever earned up to that point. It was a feeling and a moment that I will remember forever. The feeling of accomplishment, but knowing that the can of worms had been opened. Here’s the twist. The idea didn’t pan out the way we wanted. There were holes in our concept and after not getting into a Colorado accelerator, we parted ways on the project. But we didn’t walk away completely empty handed. We walked away with more than we had anticipated: validation, a glimpse into a whole new world, a sense of knowing those quotes, titans of industry, and lifestyle is real and attainable. It changed our thought processes, our mental wherewithal, and gave us entry into this culture of movers and shakers.
It taught us how to fail gracefully, and adopt the mindset that failure isn’t always bad. In fact, the cliche about failing fast is true – the quicker you fail, the faster you can rebound and learn from your mistakes. You have that same opportunity. There are a number of business plan competitions, pitch competitions, hackathons, and meetups just waiting for you to apply and engage with. They’re great stepping stones that will help you troubleshoot your idea, meet like minded people with different skill sets, learn how to navigate the startup terminology and landscape of your local ecosystem, the nationwide ecosystem, and the global startup community. These types of events will help you decide if this is the trajectory you want to chart for your professional life. Your chance at venturing into the startup world is here. You owe it to yourself and your idea to stop talking about that life, and be about that life. It won’t be easy. There will be days when you need those motivational quotes to get you through the dark days of startup life, but getting out there and going through something like a pitch competition could be the stepping stone to a whole new world. And who knows? Maybe your quote will scroll across someone’s timeline someday at just the right moment — the moment to keep them going.
Find more information on RECESS Pitch here. The At-Large Bid Deadline is November 1 at 11:59 p.m. EST.
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