Pitch Perfect

The week ahead sees our next raft of start-up hopefuls pitching for a place in the Catalyst Centre from September. It’s an exciting time for the judging panel who know they will be inspired by the innovations and business leaders of the future that are presented to them.

But it’s also a time of nail-biting trepidation for those on the other side of the pitch, the business founders hoping to score their first goal: a sought after place in the South’s most successful business incubator.

Dragon’s Den it is not. Here at Catalyst, everyone wants you to succeed – and at least you haven’t got TV cameras adding to the nerves! Nevertheless there are some golden rules which will help secure the outcome you seek. We’ve scoured the latest advice to provide some top tips for presenting your science or tech start-up effectively.

First, let’s consider what NOT TO DO.

  • Don’t spend hours at your computer. There’s universal agreement that it’s not wise to spend time preparing powerpoints and fancy presentations. Instead, think about two D’s: Demonstration and Data. Frequent panel judge Robert Scoble, contributing to MashableUK, says: “I hate slides. I like teams that have a product ready to show, start out with a demo and get straight into who it is for” he says.


  • Don’t gloss over the facts and figures. This will only lead to frustration and a barrage of questions about things that you haven’t answered up-front, so don’t delay in getting to the important data. Analysis of the last three series of the BBC show Dragons’ Den, as reported on Startups.co.uk, showed that a poor grasp of business finances was one of the key reasons that people went home empty-handed.


  • Don’t pretend that your competition doesn’t exist or fail to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the marketplace you’re entering into. “It’s better to know them and learn from them, than be ignorant,” says Charlie Graham-Brown of SeedStars World writing for TechWorld. Some markets will already be crowded – Google was the seventh search engine, for example – but don’t let that put you off so long as you have a key differentiator that will attract attention and have the power and resources to disrupt the status quo.


  • Don’t worry. Nerves are to be expected but remember that judges and investors are looking for someone they can invest in personally as well as financially. Throughout your business journey there will be many occasions when you’ll need to pull off a powerful presentation to take your company to the next level, so convincing people that you are a confident and able business leader is important from the outset. Graham-Brown reminds us that body language plays an important role and “will do a lot of the talking for you”. Be proud of what you’ve achieved to date and what you’re going to achieve, and you’ll infuse confidence into your audience too.


So, no death by powerpoint, skimming over financials and market knowledge or knee trembling and you’ll be off to a good start but there’s more you can do to win people over: now let’s consider what else TO DO.


  • Be customer-centric. After all, it’s your customers who really need to invest in your product or service so put them at the centre of your presentation. What problem are you solving and for whom? Be precise in outlining your target customer, the issues they face and exactly how your solution works so that your judges or investors are convinced that there is value in your proposition.


  • Be marketing-centric. It’s no surprise that sales and marketing are often difficult topics for science and tech founders to grapple with. Of course you can’t be an expert in everything – and ultimately that’s why you’re looking to attract support and mentoring – but outlining a clear path to profit through an effective marketing strategy gives weight to your figures.


  • Be future-focused. Investors are looking for the best possible return in the fastest possible time so it’s never too early to consider your exit strategy in funding pitches. Thinking about the end goal will help you to break down the stages that you will need to take to get there and help to demonstrate that you are commercially, not just technically, minded.


  • Be yourself. Every article you will ever read on making an effective presentation or pitch will advocate allowing a little of yourself to shine through. Tell your story, get emotional, demonstrate why you’re the best person to bring this product or service to market – but be truthful and leave your personal story to the end of your presentation. Margarita Hakobyan writing for Tech.co says: “When you start creating your elevator pitch, your instinct is to start at the beginning. You’ll want to tell everyone about how you came up with this idea, why you’re the right person to put it forward, and how you’re going to succeed. Don’t. Fight the instinct with everything you have.”


Pitch perfect? Yes, it really can be that simple!