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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