Elevator Pitch Contest: Success Tips from a Winning Entrepreneur

Black Enterprise 2014 Elevator Pitch Contest winner, Gwen Jimmere, with SVP Alfred Edmond Jr. (Image: File)

Crafting and executing the right sales pitch can be a nerve-racking experience.

It takes a special kind of courage and determination to get up there in front of a team of judges who potentially hold the fate of your business or startup in their hands and make the speech of your business career. Walking up there and winging it simply won’t cut it.

Naturalicious founder, Gwen Jimmere faced a similar predicament last month at the 2014 Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch contest. She beat out nine other contestants in what has been called the “strongest class of Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch finalists in recent memory” to win the $10,000 grand prize and six one-on-one mentoring sessions with Alfred Edmond Jr., Senior Vice President/Chief Content Officer at Black Enterprise.

Here are her five tips for a winning pitch:

1. Be Confident: Attitude is everything; and it’s as much of what you say as how you say it. So it’s key for your tone and actions to match what you’re saying. If you’re not confident about your business, how can someone else be confident enough to invest their money in it?

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Advice: My pitch was already pretty good, but it was made even better by the many people who I asked to critique me at the conference. It was made perfect after I got some great advice from Lauren M. Bias, who I met at the conference and happens to co-own a capital venture firm. She gets pitches all the time, so her guidance was spot on. (Coincidentally, I also learned that she received a sample of my Moisture Infusion Styling Creme at the Inaugural Ball, and uses it on her son’s hair everyday.) Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

3. Think Like a Shark: Try to anticipate every tough question the potential investor will have, and put it in your pitch before they have to ask it. This displays that you’re prepared and that you have a plan in place for your business. My strategy was to be upfront about everything they might ask, so that when it came time to ask questions, I wouldn’t be thrown off by something I hadn’t considered. If you’ve got limited time like we did in the Elevator Pitch Competition, narrow it down to the four most pressing questions that you’d want to know if you were investing your own money.

4. Have a Heart: The late, great Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As entrepreneurs, we are always checking the bottom line, but at the end of the day, we’re all human. Don’t be shy about telling your story, especially if it’s the reason why your business exists. My business exists to empower women to love their God-given natural beauty; and I added that in my pitch. Why you do what you do is just as important as the nuts and bolts of how you’ve done it.

5. Be the Brand: Branding is an ongoing practice and you should exemplify what your brand stands for at all times, even during a pitch. From how you dress, to how you act, to what you say, you should always come across as an authentic representation of your business. A rule of thumb is that people do business with people they like and trust. If you appear to be fake or secretive during the pitch, there’s a very good chance you won’t be securing that investment.