It’s a truly unique experience to be a fly on the wall at a mentoring session at a SmartCamp event. Startup companies give six minute pitches to a room full of mentors, venture capitalists, angel investors, academic thought leaders, and industry experts. Then the real fun begins – critiquing them. The startups are eager for feedback and constructive criticism from the mentors, realizing that certain aspects of their pitches are not as strong as others. The mentors are genuinely interested in seeing these entrepreneurs succeed, and are just as eager to provide some brilliant coaching. What’s the advice?
- A common area that mentors highlight is the need for a storyline to capture the audience’s attention. A clear theme and captivating hook is always beneficial, even with a highly technical audience.
- Venture capitalists will highly scrutinize your numbers, so be prepared to know them inside and out and back them fully. If you claim $1 million in revenue a year and say you have 5,000 customers, it takes mere seconds for experienced investors to say, “You’re telling me you make over $16 a month per customer … selling paperclips?” Make sure your claims make sense.
- Angel investors frequently evaluate investments by asking, “How is this going to take over the world and how can this blow up?” Startups must brainstorm ideas that mitigate risks and explore opportunities.
- Be upfront and honest. I participated in a mentoring session recently where a startup was asked by a mentor how many customers he had for a particular product. The startup defensively skirted the question and ultimately never gave an answer. This then happened three additional times. Finally, a mentor stepped in and said, “Listen. You are doing yourself a disservice by avoiding answering the question. You sound unconfident in your answer. If the answer is zero, then say zero and we’ll move on. We’re here to help you increase that number.”
- Think about where your resources will come from. Investors and mentors alike will likely voice concern when a startup says it’s raising money to pay for additional data analysts on staff because they want to know if you have a pipeline for your talent pool before you go any further. If your field is highly technical, skilled analysts may be hard to find.
- Finally, if you have a good product, don’t hold back in bragging about it! I once saw a mentor tell a young entrepreneur to begin his sales calls by saying, “You know what? My product is saving you a lot more money than I’m charging you. So pay me for it!”
Ultimately, SmartCamps are lively events packed with brainstorming and unhindered mentoring sessions. The missions of all the startups involved align under one common theme: to create a Smarter Planet. The startups are appreciative of the feedback offered by the mentors, and leave feeling more confident in their approaches and more excited about the prospect of winning over the judges in the final round. Best of luck to all future finalists!
Post written by Michelle Purvis, an MBA intern working with the Global Entrepreneur Program this summer.