I had the honor of pitching LaunchGen at the SIIA Innovation Incubator Competition, held during the Educational Technology Industry Network’s (ETIN) Education Business Forum on December 8th and 9th in New York City. Even though I’ve been running and helping others host business competitions for years, this was my first time participating in one as a finalist. Here’s the badge they sent me to prove it:
I competed against 9 of my peers in the educational technology industry. We each had 5 minutes to pitch our business ideas and a few minutes to answer judge questions. After each of us pitched, the audience had the opportunity to vote for who they thought was the most likely to succeed and who had the most innovative company.
While I was disappointed that my name wasn’t called during the awards ceremony, I was very glad to have had the opportunity to compete. Through the process, I perfected my LaunchGen pitch, received some constructive feedback on my business, and formed meaningful relationships with my fellow finalists and other ed tech industry leaders.
On my train ride home, I reflected on the experience and thought I’d share my big take-a-ways. I hope these will help business competition hosts take their events to next level and deliver more value to participants.
#1 Engage business competition finalists frequently with bite-sized information in the weeks leading up to your competition.
I heard from the SIIA team 2-3 times per week leading up to the live competition. This helped keep the competition front-of-mind amidst my busy schedule. The bit sized emails also made it easier for me to digest all of the competition information. Rather than sending out one incredibly long email with every detail (which I probably wouldn’t have read), breaking up communications over time made it easy to complete the required tasks and ask questions when I needed clarification. Overall, it made me feel comfortable with the competition process. When I arrived in New York, I was ready to pitch!
#2 Create artificial deadlines to ensure your competition finalists are ready to deliver their best business pitch during your event.
I didn’t like this at the time, but I’m so glad the SIIA team made me do a webinar-based pitch two weeks prior to the live competition in front of my fellow finalists and mentor (more on that in a moment). It forced me to compress a process that would have normally taken me a week or so, into two days. I sprinted to finish my slides and develop a working version of my pitch. When I arrived for the competition, I had practiced for weeks and felt very confident. Without this forced deadline, I would have been cramming the night before, and would have arrived the day of the live competition frazzled, if not ill prepared. From the host perspective, this made it much easier for them to receive the presentation decks far in advance and ensured that they would have 10 great finalists, ready to compete.
#3 Assign a mentor to each of your business competition finalists.
SIIA assigned me a mentor to help me prepare for the competition. While I was skeptical, my mentor was an incredible asset. She, of course, reviewed my presentation and listened to my dry-run pitch to give me constructive feedback. The part I wasn’t expecting was that she also gave me a tremendous amount of encouragement and information about the competition experience that really boosted my confidence and comfort level. I knew there was at least one fan in the crowd during my pitch!
#4 Create ample opportunities for business competition finalists to make meaningful connections with the other finalists and community/industry leaders.
Even if I would’ve have won an award, making meaningful connections with my peers and ed tech industry leaders was the real prize. This is easier at a two-day conference than it is at 3 hour event, but it is arguably the most valuable part of the competition experience. I forged productive and meaningful relationships with my peers during the conference through self-organized social outings. I was able to capitalize on the exposure I received through pitching my business idea by having a multitude of opportunities to have personal conversations with industry leaders. This happened informally during networking time and formally during scheduled “one-on-one” sessions where I had 15 minutes to spend with a variety of people. I expect these connections to be pivotal in the monts to come.