On a Seattle February morning, the semifinalists of InnoVentures, are seated in a community room at the 2100 Building.
InnoVentures, Ventures’ annual fundraiser, is a pitch competition that educates, empowers, and equips entrepreneurs to take their business to the next level. Ventures entrepreneurs pitch their innovative ideas for a chance to win thousands of dollars to grow their businesses. During the last few weeks, I have had the honor of volunteering as a Business Coach for InnoVentures. We are gathered for a pitch clinic Ventures offers the contestants during the InnoVentures process. Twenty-two quarterfinalists have been narrowed down to 12 semifinalists—all hardworking entrepreneurs with big visions for their businesses.
Today, semi-finalists are here to practice their pitches in front of the other contestants and their coaches. Nerves are battled before each presentation and intensity is in the air. It is as close to the real stage as it gets. After each presentation, we go over what went well and where there is room for improvement. The suggestions are plentiful, creativity is flourishing, and each participant leaves the clinic with new ideas for how to take their pitch to the next level.
Presenting a business pitch in five minutes is not an easy task.
It is an exercise in how to clearly and concisely articulate a business plan. The contestants must cover a lot of ground and tell a story:
- Who are they?
- What motivated them to start a business?
- How will the prize money help them reach their business goals?
They must define their target market, demonstrate what sets them apart from the competition, explain their business model, and show revenue projections. They need to show innovation and entrepreneurship. Then they must present it all with a polished and convincing PowerPoint presentation where demonstrating passion and confidence count just as much, if not even more, than the numbers and facts. This all while being in front of the judges and an audience, balancing a slide clicker in one hand and a microphone in the other.
I have had the pleasure of following most of the semifinalists from the time they qualified for the pitch contest. The development of each contestant and their pitches over the last few weeks has been nothing short of impressive. Their pitches have sharpened, their confidence has grown, and their business plans have been refined. Their personal stories, which often led them to start a business, are inspiring. This is a group of incredibly talented and passionate entrepreneurs who provide a lot of value to our community.
What has impressed me the most is the support the contestants have shown for each other.
Sure, they are competitors in a pitch contest. More importantly, however, they are part of a community of fellow business owners where supporting each other is at the forefront. There is a real spirit of camaraderie—they are not only competing but also learning from each other. After the semifinals, only five of these talented individuals will go on to compete in the final event. There is no doubt in my mind that the InnoVentures program will benefit all the contestants and the community at large for years to come.