Preparing for the Big Pitch Day, Founders Get Plenty of Practice
Written in collaboration with Dr. Rebecca Decker
The Catalyst Accelerator cohort has been very busy over the last several weeks doing many things, but with a deadline looming they have been heavily focused on practicing the best ways to pitch their technologies to investors and potential users. This is such an important activity that, if you were to ask the cohort, they would say they have been practicing their pitches since they first conceived of their unique technology; they might also tell you they are thrilled to finally learn how to hone their pitches to a quick but effective seven minutes.
Pitch practice is critical at this stage of the curriculum because the mid-April grand finale for this first cohort of the Catalyst Accelerator will be a demonstration day, when each team will pitch to government and commercial investors for an opportunity to raise additional capital or follow-on government funding. To succeed on pitch day could be very important to the futures of the founders, so the cohort has been throwing themselves into this part of the process with the same intellectual rigor they used to create their unique technologies.
As part of the learning process, everyone recently attended a two-hour presentation called the ‘Tell Your Story’ workshop. Sales and marketing expert Mark E. Bittle, a ‘Certified Resultant & Chief Intrapreneur’ with an array of certifications, led the workshop on behalf of the Catalyst Campus-based Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Mark was highly entertaining as he spent nearly two hours explaining the many necessary steps and techniques used to support a successful pitch. The objective of his seminar, he explained right away, was to help the founders condense their complex technologies into a fast pitch. He asked: “How fast can you communicate who you are, what you do, how you do it and, most importantly, why do you do what you do?”
That’s a tall order, but fortunately, Mark had a lot of ideas to share to make this possible. One significant point he made was that most people no longer simply make a purchase – instead, they choose between a variety of options: “Once they meet with you, they are going to go online. Think about the last product or service you purchased; did you purchase it without doing any research on whom you’re going to be purchasing from and who are the competitors? Do you make purchases without researching each product and the competitors?” A murmur of understanding filled the room as Mark concluded, “Your goal is to get them to choose YOU!”
In addition to the ‘Tell Your Story’ seminar, Jake Eichengreen of the Quad Innovation Partnership worked with the cohort for over two hours, discussing the many elements involved in ‘Pitching to VC,’ the title of his presentation. Jake is the Executive Director of Quad Innovation Partnership, a joint initiative between Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College, University of Colorado Colorado Springs and the United States Air Force Academy that helps graduating innovators build successful, fulfilling careers while remaining in the Colorado Springs area.
Pitch practice for the cohort also consisted of hours of practice ‘whiteboarding’ their ‘OV-1.’ An OV is an operational view, and the OV-1 is one of the many operational views specified in the Department of Defense Architecture Framework: the view that provides the highest-level, big-picture overview of what your system or systems do operationally. Graphical views of the high-level system architecture are an important part of the OV-1, although other materials must also be presented. This practice highlighted one of the key issues the founders have had to confront: the need to understand the lingo of both commercial and military markets.
During the first whiteboarding effort, Brandon Tripp of XplotraX grabbed a marker and volunteered to start sketching while Ben Tarr of Advanced Radar Company verbally described the highest-level flow of his proposed technology. Plenty of laughter ensued as Brandon proved to be adept at rapidly sketching cartoon-like motifs and images, and the whiteboarding effort was off to a good start. Much more practice with expert advisors was gained the next day as well. More help with whiteboarding came from Audrey Crane of Design Map in San Francisco, who gave the cohort a class on modeling for use in building the best possible OV-1, including putting together a team of volunteer design experts to review the results and help improve these all-important operational views.
In fact, an entire community of volunteers has come together to assist with the Catalyst Accelerator, and that was especially evident throughout the pitch practice process. As another example, a critical element of pitch training included practicing each pitch to experienced executives and other local experts in the fields of both commercial and military acquisitions. Dr. Decker wanted to make sure we gave the following accelerator volunteers a shout out!
The Honorable Sue Payton, former Assistant Secretary of the US Air Force for Acquisition /
Dr. Dale W. Meyerrose, Major General, U.S. Air Force retired /
Melissa Freigang / Michelle Parvinrouh / Rob Patterson /
Russ Fellers / Steve Friedman / Greg Roman / Al Kansa
Although grueling, all this practice, training and advice – which will continue through mid-April – is an essential element of preparation for the big moment, Catalyst Accelerator Demo Day, when each company will get seven minutes to pitch to government and commercial investors, preferably with no more than 30 seconds spent on each slide. The best advice to the founders has been to keep it simple, with graphics and images that merely accentuate their talking points, rather than leaning too heavily on the slides to present vital information. Part of the Catalyst Accelerator curriculum includes a document that breaks the best pitch deck down into all of its most vital components, trying to offer the cohort as much support as possible as they compose the final version of this all-important effort.
Additional training in pitching to VC was supplied by Peter Adams, co-author of Venture Capital for Dummies and the Executive Director of the Rockies Venture Club and Managing Partner of the Rockies Venture Fund and Rockies Impact Fund. Peter’s unique perspective includes the idea that when you pitch your company, you should pitch as a STEWARD of your company as opposed to an OWNER. This is largely because a ‘steward’ is not just in it for himself, whereas an ‘owner’ behaves so possessively as to make a poor investment partner.
Examined in retrospect, the curriculum has been designed from the beginning to assist the founders in learning how to pitch their ideas, even including the soul-searching done during the customer discovery phase described in an earlier blog. Every element of the hard work the #CATWx cohort has been doing since January 31 dovetails into this final presentation where, now fully-prepared to respond to any query, each company can stand confidently before a group of commercial and government investors with their disruptive technology and make their pitch, well-grounded in what will be required of them as they move their small business forward.