What to watch out for at SydStart's pitching competition

Pitching competitions have become synonymous with technology and startups. They are a way to break into the segment, see if your idea has any potential without investing much more than thought.

Every week Fishburners hosts one, River City Labs has a pitching club, and there is one coming up at SydStart tomorrow.

A pitching competition is pretty simple. A potential entrepreneur takes the stage and presents their business ideas to a panel of experts. They only have a couple of minutes, they get some feedback, and the presenters are winnowed down until there is a winner.

In the case of the SydStart competition, there are a few prizes up for grabs, including credit for hosting and freelance work, a mentorship from a panelist, and entrance into the Muru-D accelerator.

But if this is your first time at a pitching competition, what should you be looking out for? What will the judges be looking out for?

What makes a successful pitch, and an attractive business proposition?

We surveyed some of the Sydstart Pitch competition judges to find out.

“The audience has the easy job. Listen, see what engages you and follow up if you can. The hard part is to see through a slick presentation and lots of info to get the real heart of the business,” says Mick Liubinskas, the entrepreneur in residence at Muru-D.

The message

As far as the slick presentation goes, Liubinskas hammers home one point: successful pitches have one message. This is especially important at an event like Sydstart where there are dozens of groups pitching, and thousands of people listening.

“How are you going to be remembered tomorrow? Not with 5 minutes filled with 1,000 separate bits of information. But with one core message, repeated, reinforced, reiterated,” says Liubinskas.

“My goal is for the person to wake up the next day and to be able to remember my one line that I slammed home the day before. I want to be able to meet them a year from now and have them repeat it back to me.

“Everyone remembers the line ‘I had a dream’. He said it 8 times in his speech. How many other speeches do you remember a line from?,” says Liubinskas.

So, look out for simple messaging. Or, maybe you won’t have to. It will grab your attention anyway.

Sydstart founder Pete Cooper, right, with the 2014 Sydstart winner Danny Adams of GoFar.

The story

A common refrain is that pitches need to tell a story. And often the story needs to be about a problem, the problem that the entrepreneur wants to solve.

Craig Lambert, co-founder at Slingshot Investments, agrees. Lambert says the pitch needs to have a beginning, middle and end. And it helps to do some audience analysis beforehand, so the pitchers know they are telling the right story.

Lambert advises entrepreneurs to “outline where you are going to take me, give me the data and evidence in the body and close with a concise summary and clear next steps.”

“As long as the pitch has a beginning, middle and an end, I can follow the structure and make sense of the presentation.”

So look out for some structure in the pitches. You are the audience, so if you are losing the thread that means the pitcher isn’t doing their job.

The entrepreneur

As far as the presenter is concerned, Craig Lambert thinks the entrepreneurs are more important than the ideas.

“That is not discounting the importance of the idea however if the team cant give the audience a sense of confidence in their ability to execute then each statement they make is open to doubt,” says Lambert.

“Likability and the ability to engage the audience play a huge part in making an impact that a lot of entrepreneurs in the tech space struggle with. Good delivery skills and a structured approach are as important as the content.”

Even if the ideas are poor, Lambert says every pitch is an opportunity to discover talent.

Benjamin Chong, the founder of investment firm Right Click Capital, wants “someone who can clearly explain the problem they’re solving and their solution.”

“We’re looking for someone who has thought through the issues and can clearly articulate their vision,” Chong says.

A bonus for Chong is someone who has knowledge of the market they are entering.

The Sydstart pitching competition.

Business model

Carrying on from the previous point, Chong is looking for businesses that can scale, and so potential market size is important.

“I generally like businesses that can scale globally. If I’m investing in a business that’s just targeting Australia, I’d like it to have the potential to scale to hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue,” says Chong.

The other thing Chong wants is a business that is defensible, what he calls a “secret sauce”.

So a company that can leverage the internet, that can capture a huge audience on modest capital, is probably the one to look out for.

Although which businesses these are, is tricky to know.

Lambert points out that while overseas markets give the opportunity of tremendous scale, there are advantages to building up in Australia.

“While it is true that OS markets give you the opportunity for more customers and more investment, Australia is a great place to develop your product and team before you scale to global heights. We still like the idea of building great businesses in Australia,” says Lambert


So these are some things to keep in mind when you are enjoying the pitching competition.

You should be able to follow the presentation and remember it afterwards. The entrepreneur should give you confidence in their understanding and abilities, and the idea needs to be something that can generate a big return.

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