2010 Entrepreneurs Conference: What I Learned From the Elevator Pitch

Both contestants and judges provide insights into how to effectively sell your business idea

Malla Haridat

If you had only 60 seconds to deliver your best business pitch, what would you say to convince someone to fund your business? Now consider three investors listening to your pitch (who have probably heard hundreds of pitches before) who have the ability to fund your business idea for $10,000. Could you handle the pressure?

 

These were just a couple of the questions I was thinking about Monday evening as I watched the Elevator Pitch Competition at the 2010 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo hosted by ExxonMobil. As the owner of my own business, an entrepreneurship education and training program called New Designs for Life, I was immediately intrigued when I first heard about the contest. I wondered what I would share if I were in the position to pitch. Do I focus on my previous successes? What about the core benefits of my business?  How could I best present how my business makes money?  Or do I focus more on how I would spend the money if I won the prize?

Answering these questions seemed infinitely easier in front of my mirror at home than it appeared to for the 10 brave entrepreneurs who shared their pitches in front of three judges and a live audience. I was impressed with the quality of the ideas and the preparation.  Some of the ideas included an online weight loss management program, a videophone personal trainer, an iPhone app for parents to collect grades from school, and healthy BBQ restaurants.

What I treasured most about the event was the immediate feedback from the judges.  How often have I had an idea but lacked an experienced team of advisors to share what works and what doesn’t?  Magnus Greaves, founder and CEO of The Cashflow; motivational speaker and life coach Lisa Nichols; and Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise gave good, constructive criticism about the strengths and weaknesses of each presenter.  It was like peering into the decision making process of a venture capital board and I valued the insight they offered.  One presenter was challenged to share her potential growth or scalability.  A few were told to slow down in their presentation style, and equally important, never apologize if you misspeak or fumble with your words. Just take a moment (a quick one) to regroup. (Apologizing makes you appear unfocused and unprepared, which might make an investor nervous about seeding your business. I thought this advice was critical for women entrepreneurs.)

Regardless of how interesting the idea was (and I think the pitch about personal wipes for men won the prize for that!), the judges did not veer away from challenging all of the presenters to demonstrate how their business solved a problem or met a need

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  • http://MyHookahParty.com Curtis Taylor

    Hello, Ms. Haridat. I was one of the Top ten competitors; the young man who presented the idea of HookahParty. I would like to say that the competition was a learning experience that not only motivated me to really push my idea but to become the best entrepeneur I can be. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my ideas and recieve the upmost constructive criticism. Unfourtanetly; my pitch wasn’t a sucess at the competition, but I am determined to make the business a great success. This conference not only put me in the right direction but help me hone my skills to take it to a higher level. I personally would like to thank Black Enterprise for such a succesful event.

    • http://www.dtcofal.com WARREN THOMAS

      Mr. Taylor, I was an attendee at the Conference and had the priviledge to hear you guys pitch your ideas. The HookahParty is a new concept to me and kind of left me scratching my head. Funny, a young lady sitting next to me has actually been to an event and has purchased the products. She was able to explain the concept in detail. Needless to say, I like the idea. Great job and keep up the good work.

  • http://Darrius.Davis16@gmail.com Darrius Davis

    Hello my name is Darrius Davis And I am a subscriber to Black Enterprise and I was searching the web on how to present my business plan and i seen this Conference that you hosted and my question is will it be coming around again and where. I am desperate for greatness and I am seeking the necessary feedback and constructive criticism that is needed in order to move forward with my wonderful business plan. I have been working on my plan for many years and I cant seem to get off of the first page please I need help. I feel that my opportunity will bring many families together and jobs to many people who desperately need them. Best Regards Darrius Davis

  • http://executees.net Executees

    Hi, thanks for the tip. I am thinking about pitching my business Executees.net.

  • http://www.voicematters.net Andrea Hardaway

    My name is Andrea and I run a website called VoiceMatters,net. It’s an online community for people affected by vocal disorders. Reading this article motivated me greatly, because it gives me tons of insight on how I can prepare a pitch for getting support for the site. However, my mind does go to my members. What do you do when you have the idea, but a vocal disorder makes it difficult or impossible verbally to pitch that idea?
    I started VoiceMatters.net as a way to help my Mom, who has Spasmodic Dysphonia. I love her so much and I look forward to growing the site to help more people.

  • http://www.marvelweb.com/ Toks Ogun

    There are many benefits to entering a competition such as this.

    You get …
    To test your pitch with a live audience.
    Feedback on how your pitch comes across.
    Insight from 3 panelist
    Exposure for your business idea (you never know who is watching).

    I only wish they would allow the entrepreneurs pitching their ideas an opportunity to answer questions.

    • theseenetwork@gmail.com

      I agree Mr. Ogun. Therefore I propose an idea for BE’s next Entreprenuer’s conference Pitch Competition. Once the competition is over let the top 10, 15 or 20 competitors have their own small staging areas where attendees that have written down questons for certain (or all) presenters can ask questions and find out more about their business. It might be more effective and time efficient for the competitor to give answers to popular questions to a crowd instead of answering the same question over and over after the competition in a networking setting. The Q&A session can last for up to 15-20 whereas all the competitiors can host their Q&A sessions simultaneously. Hope this idea can be put in place (or at least can lead to another idea) to benefit the competitors and attendees in the future.

  • Franklin

    Malla,

    Reading on the benefits of presenting in front of the panel definitely resonates in what we at Queens Economic Development Corporation (QEDC) look for in entrepreneurs. Truly this year’s winners of our StartUP! Competition demonstrated many of the things the panel in this competition were looking for. I look forward to reading more about your experiences with entrepreneurs, as they seem to detail many of things that make a business successful and that should be highlighted with entrepreneurs.

    Thanks,

    Franklin

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  • http://charityaffairs.com Jenn

    Thanks for the great article!  Do you know of any other competitions or resources to test my pitching ability for my new website charityaffairs.com?

  • Bryan T. Schadler Sr.

    Thank you very much Sir! It is always good to be with and around like minded people. If you are what you eat then you are also like who you hang with, in a sense. Bottom line, I have developed and spearheaded new business ventures for 22 years with many investments and many different investors and can tell you with all earnestness; there has never been a time that is better than now to buy a business or property on the cheap in select niche markets. Anyone is welcome to pitch me deals! God bless!