2016 Causeway Pitch Competition
The Melton Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MCEI) hosted the first Causeway Pitch Competition on Veteran's Day at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. The Causeway Pitch Competition is an elevator pitch competition with a twist. Instead of giving an elevator pitch on an elevator or in a stuffy office, students persuaded Mobile's best business minds while riding the Causeway in a Gulf Coast Duck Boat. Yes, a duck boat!
Thirty five student teams applied over five weeks, and the day of the event, 22 teams showed and competed for $2,000. The competitors were a diverse mix, including students from biology, nursing, school of computing, engineering, and graphic design, as well as our entrepreneurship and business students. While the entrepreneurship students prepared all semester, the MCEI conducted eight pitch bootcamps for the non-business students to teach them how to pitch and to sharpen their skills. The winners were:
Kobi Bell, 1st Place, Hygiene Dispenser
Raphaela Reiner, 2nd Place, Student Cars
Blakney Barrett, 3rd Place, Climax
Mike Jeffries, Social Entrepreneurship, Dog park with water access
Based on the feedback from the participants and judges, the event was a tremendous success. We are taking their suggestions and are planning to make next year’s Causeway Pitch Competition bigger and better!
Is the format, length and delivery of your pitch appropriate and professional? Does it capture the attention of your audience? Is it interesting and persuasive? What you’re going for here is to sound conversational, get your information out in a manner that’s easy to understand, and to leave a good impression.
What is the problem that you’re trying to solve? How big is the problem?
How are you going to make the pain go away? KISS: Keep it simple, students. If you read just the premise out loud with no other information, someone hearing it should understand what it is you do. If not, keep simplifying/refining your message.
The people are one of the most important parts of your business. Their character, experience, expertise, availability and drive all influence their ability to obtain funding from angels and venture capitalists. In this section you should answer the question why you? Why not someone else?
The best proof is sales, but if you’re at a pitch competition you may not have generated sales yet. In this case, the next best proof is people that say they’ll buy. This can come from interviews, focus groups, surveys or other market research. Crowdfunding pre-purchases can also be helpful. If your concept is B2B (Business to Business), rather than B2C (Business to Consumer), letters of intent from prospective business customers can be helpful as well. Other great forms of proof include prototypes and intellectual property. Though they do not provide evidence of market demand for your product/service, these types of proof can bolster your credibility and help you build a case for feasibility and competitive advantage.
The purpose of a business is to make money and contribute value. What is your profit potential? If you have a social endeavor, you will need to provide an alternative metric to revenues or profits. For example, if you are launching a nonprofit to feed the homeless, your metric might be number of people fed. It often makes sense to explain why the metric you choose is important.
Use plain English as much as possible. Avoid acronyms and jargon. Never use a large word when a diminutive one will do.
You don’t have a lot of time, so it’s important to be as brief as possible so that you can get it all in.
People should believe you when you deliver your pitch. There are two complementary ways to accomplish this. First, you can explain why you’re qualified. Second, you can sound like you know what you’re talking about. This should be because you have practiced what you’re going to say a lot and because you really do know what you’re talking about.
Have a message and stay on it. If you have numbers for something, use the same numbers throughout. Don’t contradict yourself within your pitch. It’s easier to do than you might think.
You shouldn’t sound like you’re reciting the pitch, even though you probably are. Keep in mind that the elevator pitch is the beginning of a real conversation, one in which you hope to convince the listener that your idea is amazing and they want in on it.
Do not go into details in the elevator pitch. You don’t have time. For instance, when discussing proof, if you’ve done market research you may know that 15% of college students will buy your product. You may also know a breakdown of that number based on other demographic information. The 15% is enough in most cases.
Be as specific as you can. This sounds like the opposite of #6 above, but it’s not really.
You typically address this most in the pain section. You explain the pain, and part of that is convincing us that it’s important to ‘fix’ the pain.
Insomuch as possible, tailor your elevator pitch to your audience. In a contest setting this will not be easy. It might not even be possible. But remember, the skill of pitching, and perhaps even the pitch you’re developing for this contest, may prove useful elsewhere. You might actually get on an elevator with Bill Gates, and wouldn’t it be awesome if you had a fantastic opportunity for him?
Thank you for judging the 2016 Causeway Pitch Competition. The purpose of the competition is for the students to gain confidence and experience presenting their ideas. To that end, please let them deliver their pitch, and hold your questions until after they finish. After the pitch feel free to ask them a question or two, but don’t expect them to have things like detailed sales projections or capital requirements.
You will be given a scoring rubric to use as a guide. It is not necessary that your scores precisely match the content of the rubric. It is not required that you use the rubric at all. It is provided for your convenience as a way to keep track of the differences between contestants. Your scores will most likely not match the scores of the other judges. This is normal. However you use the rubric and score sheet, please try to do it consistently. Don’t let the quality of a previous presentation change the way you score future presentations.
At the end of this contest there will be four prize winners. It is important that they delivered a high quality pitch. Other things are important too, such as the viability of the idea, and the way the idea would represent USA if it were to be printed in a paper or picked up for a TV news spot. Every attempt will be made to make sure that all ideas presented will be legal, moral, ethical, and at least theoretically possible. However, you are USA’s last line of defense. Judge with consideration of this fact, as well as kindness for our students. This will be the first time many of them have done anything like this
- What is it?
Inventors and entrepreneurs of all kinds commonly have to request support from investors to raise capital in order to commercialize their ideas and launch start-up ventures. Busy investors don’t have much time to listen. Often you need to be able to request their support in just a couple minutes, the length of one elevator ride. This “elevator pitch” competition simulates this business reality. Come pitch your innovative idea for a chance to win $1000.00 (1st Prize), $750 (2nd Prize) or $500 (3rd Prize), or a special $250 social enterprise award! Register for the Causeway Pitch Competition!
- Am I eligible?
If you’re currently a student enrolled in an Undergraduate or Graduate Program at USA, then you’re eligible. It’s just that simple! The event is open to the entire University, so students from ALL colleges are invited to compete every year! Register for the Causeway Pitch Competition!
- What is involved?
We’ve tried to keep it simple. There are just a few requirements. First you need to have an innovative concept that you can share verbally in two minutes and then maybe answer a few questions about it. You won’t have time to get into the technical details. You won’t need to make a formal presentation. There’s no dress code. You can work alone or with a team of up to 5 people. You don’t have to bring a prototype, but can if you have one and would like to “show it off”. Our goal is to keep it simple, reward your creativity, and connect you with successful and innovative people and programs that can help you take your ideas to commercialization or even launch your own company! Register for the Causeway Pitch Competition!
- How will it work?
Details will be posted as they are confirmed, but for now just know that you will present your pitch to people with real world businesses, entrepreneurs, and other community members who are interested in your ideas and success. Register for the Causeway Pitch Competition!
- Code of Ethics
All concepts must be legal in the USA and Alabama. Vice industry concepts are prohibited, including concepts related to alcohol (e.g., production, distribution), drugs, pornography, tobacco, gambling, etc. Register for the Causeway Pitch Competition!
- How do I sign up?
To sign up, all you need to do is to register here by November 5th. You will be required to register yourself and your team members (if there will be more than one participant), so be sure to have their names and contact information handy (e.g., email address and cell phone), and also provide a one-paragraph description of your idea. Keep it short, no more than 250 words. You may start your paragraph with a brief description of the problem you’re solving or the opportunity you’re addressing. Next, describe your innovative solution by providing basic information about your new product or service idea and any other pertinent details you may want to share. Once registration is received, you’ll automatically be eligible to participate in the competition and win the $1000 grand prize! Register for the Causeway Pitch Competition!