The Future of Business Plan Competitions? Online Video

In the startup world we talk a lot about “the Pitch”—either to investors, team members, or potential customers about why your business/product is awesome. I’d like to propose a startup pitch competition that results in a listing on a dedicated Vimeo Channel, where the prize is a professionally made video illustration/animation of the entrepreneur’s concept.

Online video has changed many things, but the greatest success until a few years ago has been making meme masters of babies and cats. More recently, we are seeing the true transformative power of online video with SkillshareOpenCourseWare for education, and even Kickstarter to help communicate potential products. It may also be an essential tool in the next generation of crowd funding.

In 2007, I participated in the MIT Elevator Pitch Contest. This is a great event for a number of reasons. It forces you to boil your idea down to 30 seconds, and work up the courage to stand up in front of a large room of people. In most cases this is not the full investor pitch; the first audience is other future team members. Afterwards, the judges will provide feedback on how your presentation could have been improved… but the most rewarding feedback you can get is from somebody in the crowd who says, “I’m inspired by what you said and I have some skills that might be useful for realizing your idea.”

The tradeoff with university campus-based pitch events is that they may exclude external collaborators. The campus is great for community building, but there can also be substantial benefits in collaboration with those from different campuses, or with individuals outside of the community. However, it may be difficult to get all potential collaborators to the same event. Pitch events with online video mean that the collaborator pool can be greatly expanded. (Early ideates often worry that somebody might steal their idea, so it is important to frame the pitch in the context of who the person is, what problem they are trying to solve, and a hint at the methodology… without giving too much away.)

Here is the open video pitch competition idea:

  1. Event space is set up with video recording, lighting, and sound capabilities to make a quality online video.
  2. Applicants complete a short application with the name and qualifications of the person.
  3. People apply for a 1 minute time slot to present their idea, and get a high quality recording of their pitch.
  4. Non-attending users can also submit their pitch videos which are then voted up by audience members.
  5. The winners receive a working session with an animation and video production group to do a full video of their solution design for promotion.

For this model to work, initial pitches should be a highly standardized format for the videos to allow for quick review. The most important part to convey immediately is who you are, and why others should consider working with you. The second is a quick impression of the challenge you are solving with a hint to the methodology being used, and finally to convey an ability to execute.

The final product can be very different and need not be specifically structured. Take this video from SolSolution for example:

I believe that  an open video competition will help in team formation, and ultimately give top candidates a video they can use on their website, with investors, or even to start a Kickstarter page!

Entrepreneurs: would you be interested in a competition like this? Investors: would you find it helpful to see these more standardized video pitch formats proliferate? Let us know in the comments.

[Editor’s Note: Jeff McAulay first posted this on]

About author
I'm the former manager of Fraunhofer CSE's TechBridge program, dedicated to supporting the commercialization of promising new cleantech innovations. All opinions expressed are my own, and don't represent an official endorsement from Fraunhofer CSE or the Fraunhofer Society.
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