The MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition is one of the largest and most famous business plan competitions in the world. Winning instantly gets you international press coverage, the attention of top venture capitalists, and enough momentum to turn your idea into a real enterprise.
Here are five tips to help you win it.
1. Find a great story and tell it well
What problem are you solving and why should anyone care? Judges are looking for huge markets and big trends. First, paint a vivid picture of what the world will look like with your technology. Next, find your most passionate team member (probably your CEO) to get the judges just as excited as she is.
2. Talk to Customers
It will be easy for your team brainstorm its way to a business model for your new idea. However, while that’s certainly a start, you need customer validation before you’re ready for prime time. Talking to customers lets you test your assumptions while also providing valuable insight into how to actually get your product to market.
Don’t forget to get quotes for your PowerPoint slides!
3. Find good advisers and stick with them.
One of the first things you’ll learn during this competition is that everyone will have an opinion about your business. If you are too reactive to every new piece of advice, you will lose time and dilute your messaging. Early in the competition, your team should compile a list of advisers that you trust, and then agree to keep that list short. Take adviser feedback and internalize it, but have a perspective on your business and move the pitch in a direction that you can be happy about. You won’t be able to please everyone.
4. Avoid QA surprises
Great QA performance is one of the best ways to differentiate your team from the competition. Get ready for your QA session like you are preparing for a presidential town hall event. You should anticipate EVERYTHING your judges will ask. Internalize your talking points and make sure you get to deliver them. Find smart people to poke holes in your business plan and then either find compelling responses, or go back and fix the issues that confused your audience.
Also, plan to keep the number of people who answer questions to a minimum. We had the CEO field CEO questions (vision, team, etc) and me and the other MIT MBA answer everything else (finance, customer evidence, competitive response, etc). As an extra precaution, If the CEO didn’t have an answer, she could always punt to an MBA to handle it. As MBAs, we should always be able to at least move the conversation forward without derailing the entire pitch.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
This goes without saying, but once you have the business plan locked, it’s time to work on your pitch like crazy. Make sure you are thinking of questions like: Does your slide order make sense? Where are you going to inflect your voice to drive your main points home? Are your slides too busy? Who holds the clicker, and when? Are you going to stand to the left or right of the projector?
Winning any major startup competition is going to require tons of energy (and a little bit of luck). Hopefully this post improves your outcomes.
Good luck and happy pitching!