Startups: How to Win Pitch Competitions and Raise $500k in 6 Months


I always tell entrepreneurs that once you make the decision to be a startup founder, then your entire life is centered around your ability to pitch. Everyone automatically becomes an opportunity to grow your company. You have to pitch not only investors, reporters and customers but also family, friends, and networks.

In one year I was able to pitch at over 15+ global competitions and won several amounting to close to $300k in inkind services and prizes. Here are the top business grants & prizes of 2015:

  1. Digital Entertainment World Grant $25k
  2. MasterCard Priceless Pitch $15k as featured in MasterCard Business
  3. SheKnowsMedia Marketing Inkind $100k as featured in The Pitch
  4. IBM Global Entrepreneur Program InKind $100k
  5. SOCAP Network Gratitude Award Inkind $100k

Rule 1: Watch Your Format

First rule is to get rid of context. Too many times founders try their hardest to convince the listener why their company is relevant instead of getting to the point. Give context based on the audience questions not based on your assumptions. As a rule of thumb, always give a brief introduction of what you do with the following SIMPLE format.

15-30 Seconds to 1-Minute Pitches (Teaser)

  • What & What: (Introduce your name, company name, your role and what you do)
  • Why: Value: (tailor to audience-investors, reporters, customers)
  • How: Traction & Call to Action: (what did you do in the past week, month, quarter, year)

I usually do short pitches like this:

  • What & What: “Hi my name is Christine Souffrant Ntim (my name). I’m the founder (my role) of Vendedy (company name) and we connect travelers to street markets (what we do)”.
  • Why:
  • Investor: “We are centralizing a network of 200,000 street markets around the world in one place which is a $10 Trillion dollar offline economy”.
  • Reporter: “I am the daughter of 3 generations of street vendors from Haiti and I spent 5 years traveling across 34+ countries tracking the stories of Street vendors before launching Vendedy”.
  • Customer: “Our directory of street markets makes it easy for you to find the best street food and authentic products from all over the world during your travels”

Now if you are at a pitch competition and given more time to pitch your product, don’t forget the golden rule: keep it simple. Thus, keep the same 1 minute teaser intro above and just add additional information. That way you still capture the audience with the introduction and reinforce your value with additional information. Here is the format I use:

2-10 Minute Pitches (Details)

  • 1 Minute Teaser Intro

Additional Info

  • Pre recorded demo
  • Competition Matrix details
  • Customer experiences
  • Financial metrics
  • Team profiles
  • Call to Action

Rule 2: Leverage Your Story for Global Competitions 

The pitch format above works for all pitch competitions but its also very important to add the uniqueness of your story and highlight the publicity effect of how your company came to be. For me, it was inspiring to hear a Haitian-American live a life of a street vendor and galvanize her resources to create a platform for 2 billion street vendors around the world. It was understanding the power of my personal story that made me a hit for corporate competitions like $15k MasterCard, $75k DEW Competition and Chivas Venture Competition.

The story was shared thousands of times across Twitter, Facebook and blog outlets.




Rule 3: Don’t be like other Startup Applications

Entrepreneurs are constantly taught to look invincible and hide their flaws – but I won the majority of competitions because I showcased the flaws, holes in our business model and gaps in our business development plan. For those who think that was a risky move, it actually was insurance. Here are 3 reasons why its important to stand out from other startup applications by showcasing your weaknesses. First, its unexpected- so judges and application reviewers smile at your courage and honesty. Second, it showcases maturity. Your ability to identify potential setbacks on your own showcases both your commitment to the company despite challenges and your process for preparing for it with various solutions. Third- it showcases confidence. Not many founders will admit their flaws. Some wait until Q/A or offline to reveal important information.

This video boldly highlights the struggles we faced to get Vendedy started.

Finally, you can’t win them all. So for the competitions you do loose, stay in touch with the event organizers or the newsletter coordinator. Keep them posted on your developments. You can get free marketing from event coordinators who highlight a comeback story a year later.


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