Business pitches are an effective tool for communicating the problem your company solves, the impact and market opportunity of the problem, the solution your company has developed and why you are the right team to bring it into the market. As businesses seek to grow, these types of presentations can be a helpful tool for communicating with customers, investors and strategic partners.
The Cenfluence team has decades of experience assisting small businesses with pitch decks for a variety of purposes, from private investor meetings to national prize competitions. In fact, this is one of our more popular Cluster Member benefits.
Just ask College Thriver’s Shawntia Lee who tapped our team for advice as she prepared for the National Association of Women Business Owner’s PropelHER Pitch Competition. Lee benefitted from our help to review the details of her pitch and make recommendations for improvement. Ultimately, College Thriver took first place in the competition’s Emerging Business Category, walking away with cash and in-kind services to grow her business.
“While preparing for the NAWBO PropelHer Pitch Competition, I requested a meeting with the Cenfluence team. As a cluster member, I knew I could gain deeper insight into my pitch from a commercialization approach, and the Cenfluence team was able to give feedback on my business model and help strengthen my story and solution. Since winning NAWBO, I have successfully raised $100,000 in pre-seed funding and I am forever grateful to be connected to a network that can give feedback, advice, and support during my entrepreneurial journey,” said Lee when describing how the Cenfluence team’s advice helped College Thriver win the ProperlHER Pitch Competition.
Here are some of the best practices we share with Cluster Members that you can also employ to refine your business pitch.
Know Your Audience
The best pitches clearly connect business priorities to audience priorities.
Prize competitions, for example, often have set criteria, including time limits and presentation formats, that you must meet to participate. Judges may come from a range of backgrounds with varying levels of technical expertise, meaning your pitch should be easy to follow. The purpose of these pitches is often to inspire confidence in your ability to solve a relevant societal problem, with the hope of walking away with cash or in-kind investment.
Investor pitches, on the other hand, may require a deeper level of specificity when it comes to the technology you’re developing. As well, each investor group may have a specific interest, such as a certain industry sector, business stage or founder profile, so you should tailor the pitch accordingly. These conversations don’t always result in an immediate cash infusion. Often, they are meant to build trust by proving your credibility and demonstrating the viability of your business plan.
Tailor Your Content & Formatting
Every pitch relies on two key elements to communicate effectively: content and formatting.
As Deepwork Capital’s Ken Hall shared in a recent Cenfluence webinar on early-stage investing, the content early-stage venture capitalists care about most includes the market, the team, the vision and the product or service. Your pitch must make this information clear and compelling.
Here are some additional content suggestions:
The Market: How big is it? How fast is it growing? Where does your company fit? Be prepared to share takeaways from your market research and clearly define your customer profile as you make a case for the long-term profitability of your business. In supporting Lee with her award-winning pitch, Cenfluence helped her articulate College Thriver’s value in the two-sided marketplace her product serves. We also provided market research intelligence and guidance on developing estimates for Customer Acquisition Cost, an important metric for investors that measures how much a company spends on marketing to acquire a single customer.
Your Story and Vision: These are different for every company, offering a chance to set yourself apart in the eyes of potential investors. By sharing founder and team stories, and contextualizing the people behind the idea, you can display your passion and create an emotional appeal.
Problem-Solving Capability: This is the reason you and your audience have gathered and potentially the reason behind founding your company: there is a problem to solve and you can solve it better than anyone else. Your pitch should clearly make this point. To illustrate the need for your idea, consider showcasing a few customer testimonials or results of customer discovery and validation, early adoption and pilot projects. The numbers and feedback should speak for themselves. These points highlight your idea’s credibility and validity. Who is making use of it? Is it getting a positive response? Is it solving the problem?
Business Advantages: Any ownership you can claim over intellectual property in terms of trademarks or patents is a strategic advantage worth mentioning. Also mention any community or industry partnerships you have, as well as grants, media coverage and accolades. Beyond customers, this type of third-party support will strengthen the credibility of your team and your idea.
Risks and Mitigation: No company is perfect or without risk. Rather than shy away from possible risks, address them directly and explain how you are working to mitigate possible impacts. Addressing risk demonstrates self-awareness, but ignoring risk will not make it go away.
Finances: A compelling business idea without a plan for profitable execution is just a dream. Investors want assurances that you will be a good steward of their funding. Demonstrate a firm grasp of your business model, including your sources of revenue and your growth strategy, by sharing financial projections and explaining how a cash infusion might positively impact these numbers.
While the formatting of your pitch deck may be dictated by the requirements of a competition or event, there is some general advice that applies across the board.
When developing your pitch, focus on written and verbal content first, then visuals. Captivating visuals can enhance your pitch and help illustrate points, but cannot replace high-quality information.
Your pitch deck should feature a short and memorable visual representation about the problem your company solves, the impact and market opportunity of the problem, the solution your company has developed and why you are the right team to bring it into the market. Depending on the availability of resources at your disposal, formatting your pitch with presentation software, such as PowerPoint, Prezi or Canva, will often do the trick.
Remember: less is more. Leave plenty of white space and keep visuals interesting, yet simple. If you do use a presentation deck, be sure to engage the audience in a passionate account of your story – don’t just read from the slides.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice makes progress. Once you have developed your pitch deck and presentation script, record yourself and play it back so you can hear how you sound. Gather volunteers who can serve as an audience while you practice. Cenfluence team members can play this role, as can family, friends or anyone else who will listen. Resources like 1 Million Cups or Toastmasters can also provide a more formal venue for practicing your business pitch.
Along with practicing your presentation, anticipate questions you may be asked by judges or investors and rehearse your responses. When possible, do your research to understand who will be in the audience and understand the specific questions they might have. Anything you reference in your presentation is “fair game,” so make sure you are prepared to elaborate. On the big day, be sure to listen actively and don’t feel discouraged – questions demonstrate engagement and a desire to learn more.
Deliver and Refine
Whether you are successful or not, every presentation is an opportunity to learn and refine the process.
As you are delivering the pitch, watch the audience for nodding heads and eye contact. Observe when they take notes. Document the questions they ask. These cues all offer valuable insight about how your pitch connects with the audience and where it may cause confusion or lack clarity. Once you have delivered the pitch a few times, reflect on the feedback you received and consider where improvements can be made.
It is quite common for pitches to fall flat at first. Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with the pitch. Prospective investors may struggle to wrap their minds around technology that truly disrupts the way industry approaches an issue. If you fear this is the case, focus on communicating your drive, resilience and passion for the problem, rather than describing the solution. Early-stage investors, especially, are betting on the founder – not the company.
You could also just be in a room that does not share your perspective on the problem or solution. This is particularly true for women and minority founders who have historically earned the lowest share of venture capital. Before you change anything, ensure you are in the right room. See Embarc Collective’s directory of startup funders in the Southeast U.S. Cenfluence Cluster Members should also check out funding opportunities in our weekly “Collisions” emails.
As with any business transaction, first impressions are paramount. The world of investment is small and word spreads quickly. Perfecting your business pitch will help you make a strong first impression and begin opening doors of opportunity for your firm.
With expertise in crafting business pitches and collaborating with organizations like Florida Venture Forum, Cenfluence is well-positioned to help entrepreneurs secure critical investments and resources for business growth. Don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance.