Startup competitions first saw the light of day back in the early noughties and over the last few years have flourished everywhere organised by large-scale corporations, local authorities, associations, incubators, accelerators and universities for whom “Innovation” has become the all-encompassing key to a successful future.
Startup competitions provide founders with a platform from which to pitch their products or services and reward the most compelling new ideas or business plans with cash and other prizes.
Whatever the field, size or maturity of your startup given the significant scope and number of startup competitions today, you’re sure to find one to suit your needs. From the 2020 EDF Pulse prize, for start-ups working on sustainability and energy transition through to Hello Tomorrow for deep tech innovators and the Prix Pépite organised by the Ministry of Education for student entrepreneurs, the list is indeed long!
What are the benefits of pitching in a startup competition?
Participating in a startup competition can be an effective way of promoting and propelling your business, so what are the benefits?
- Cash (!) and other prizes
Winning or being named runner-up in a startup competition can get you some much-needed funding to help you scale your business. Prizes can range anywhere from 2,5 k€ in cash to 100 k€ in grants. There are also many non-cash prizes to be won including free business services, meetings with VCs, industry leaders, and PR opportunities. And as pitching to investors can be very time-consuming, taking part in startup competitions can allow you to save time by pitching to several potential partners at once.
Startup competitions are also a great way of gaining visibility, giving your exposure to potential investors, industry experts, business communities, partners, clients and future employees as well as the media!
- Networking opportunities
As startup competitions attract large audiences of like-minded individuals with a passion for entrepreneurship, they can provide you with an unparalleled opportunity to create or expand your network, share knowledge and contacts, build strategic partnerships and meet potential mentors and investors. Engaging with the right people could have a game-changing impact on the development of your startup. You can try planning ahead asking event organisers which important players will be attending and how to meet them.
Startup competitions also allow you to check out your competitors! You not only get to compare products/services and value propositions but also working methods, how you market your product/service and the way you create opportunities…
- Testing and getting feedback on your product
Startup competitions provide you with a great opportunity to test your product/service and answer questions such as: “How is my offering perceived by investors, customers and industry experts?” “Is my product developed enough to achieve sufficient market penetration?”. Competitions allow you to assess the feasibility of your project and gather useful expert and audience feedback and insights. Feedback that is essential as it allows you, for example, to adjust or reorient your business strategy, correct weaknesses or rethink the way you work with your team. In short, fine-tune and improve your project and help to avoid costly mistakes further down the line.
So, with all these positive points in mind, does this mean that it’s therefore time to go perfect your pitch and register yourself to enter the next available startup competition? Maybe but before doing so, you might want to…
Check out the competition 🙂
While pitch competitions can be said to be a recommended, or even necessary, step in the development of your start-up, not all of them provide the same value. In order to assess the potential value-add of a competition, here are a few points to consider:
- Is the competition highly reputed?
Sounding out your contacts could help you assess the quality of the competition. What do your investors, your team, and other startups have to say about it? If some of them have already taken part in it, what feedback can they give you? What did they learn and gain from the competition?
Media coverage can also provide you with some insight on the quality of the competition. So check out how much media coverage the event attracts, which media cover it and what they have to say about it.
- Who’s judging?
Secondly, find out about the composition of the jury. Are they mainly VCs or business angels? Are there business experts and leading industry representatives? Are all jury members familiar with the startup world? Are they qualified to give advice to entrepreneurs?
If your aim, apart from winning (!), is also to gain relevant and useful advice and insights, it should come from people who are suitably qualified. If your main goals are to improve your visibility, network and size up competitors, then compare competitions to see which would be the most fruitful on this level.
- What happened last year?
Finally, another way to check out the quality of an event is to collect as much information as possible on its previous editions. Scroll the event’s website to find out how many startups participated in the last editions, who was in the jury, who the winners were, what they won and which sponsors were present.
You’ve decided to go for it. How should you prepare?
- Make sure you’re really ready
Different competitions have different entry requirements based on geography, sector and maturity, and even if you meet all of these on paper, participating in a startup competition before you’re truly ready could be detrimental to your startup. You want to establish a strong reputation which is difficult to do if you’re pitching an unfinished or underdeveloped product/service as this is what your audience will remember.
- Keep your eyes on the prize (target)
You’re not only pitching to a jury but essentially everyone present. Tailor your pitch to your objectives and therefore to your target audience whether they are potential investors, business partners, potential clients or talents you wish to recruit.
- Sell the dream
The success of your pitch depends largely on your ability to tell a story. Storytelling is vital, it transports your audience, allowing them to get excited about your product and company and empathise with what you’re aiming to do.
- Prove your worth
The success of your pitch also depends on your ability to demonstrate product- market fit. Thus, integrate figures, and quantified/quantifiable elements, but make sure your slides stay pretty. 🙂
- Practise your pitch
The success of your pitch depends on how you pitch. Your audience’s attention should be on you so don’t overload your slides. Your pitch requires regular training and practise: ask for feedback from your colleagues, friends, and family and time and film yourself to improve your posture (gestures, looks, facial expressions…) and tone of voice.
- Have all answers at hand
Finally, make sure you have an appendix slide that answers all the questions your audience, particularly potential investors, will ask. You know what these questions are, as you have been asked them often enough, so anticipate and show that you master your entire business plan!
When all is said and done, bear in mind that if startup competitions can provide useful opportunities to help boost your startup, working on your business must remain your number one priority. Building a successful company from scratch requires focusing on your customers because at the end of the day, they are the ones who support your business and provide the valuable user data you need to improve your product and grow.
So choose your competitions wisely, don’t over do it, and make sure you meet your clients needs before looking to please a jury.
Now go get that gold!
Good luck 🙂