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Business Pitch Competitions Aren’t About the Money

I had the joy of watching a client I had coached pitch her business at a business pitch competition the other day, and I was even more excited to watch her accept a $10,000 check. While the money was welcome, in the long run, $10,000 is a drop in the bucket for her. Her medical device product will likely need a million dollars to actually get to market. So why bother with an event in which the reward is only $10,000? Because the point of pitching at any event is not to win the money, it is to raise awareness and make connections.

Wait, participating in a competition is not about winning? Yep. That’s what I said. Investors tend to attend the same events across an area. Here in Michigan, there are a dozen or so pitch events that bring out representatives of all the major venture capital and angel capital firms. When I send a client company out on the “pitch trail,” I am trying to get them in front of these investors over and over again. Investors only put money into companies when they know and trust the leadership of those companies. I’ve had some of my client companies tell me, “Pitching at all these events is a waste of time. It’s always the same people and none of them are writing me a check.” I answer, “Exactly!” Every time an investor sees a company pitch and hears about the progress the founders are making, the more trust that investor feels. And the more an investor trusts a company’s leadership, the more likely that investor is to put money in the company one day.

And sometimes the rewards of pitching are not investment dollars. Sometimes a CEO pitches at an event and someone in the audience is in a position to offer expertise, connections, or focused advice. My client that won $10,000 the other day not only won the money, but she also exchanged business cards with a female investor who might want to invest in the future and a gentleman who had connections to medical device distributors, a necessary resource she would one day need. Never underestimate the audience at a pitch event. Look for more than just investors. Seek out people who can help you advance your company in other ways.

So, you see, pitching is about more than just winning money. It’s about showing the progress of a company and the leadership capability of the founders. It’s about generating trust and building relationships. It’s about creating buzz and finding resources. Does that mean that the money doesn’t matter? Of course not! Every little but helps. Pitch to win, but don’t focus on winning so much that you lose sight of the other riches that might be sitting right in front of you.

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