Tips for Winning a Startup Competition

By Patrick Eggen, Managing Director of Qualcomm Ventures North America

Startup competitions have become a popular way for entrepreneurs to hone their pitches, get exposure and feedback, and, if successful, funding from the sponsoring competition or participating investors.

With many of these competitions, such as the upcoming sixth annual Qualcomm Ventures QPrize™, the opportunity is just a 15-minute pitch to a panel of judges. That’s not much time, but it’s enough.

In the spirit of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, think of your pitch as having the cadence of the 5,000-meter run. You don’t need the two hours of a marathon and you’re not sprinting through your pitch, auctioneer style. Establish the right tempo, work through the field, dictate the pace and finish with a strong kick. Fifteen minutes isn’t long, but it’s sufficient for you to hit the key points about your startup.

Here are my top tips for winning a startup competition and the questions you need to ask yourself when getting ready to present:

1) Clarity is key. Do not linger out of the gate — demonstrate confidence and focus. The first two to three minutes set the tone for the rest of the pitch. Ensure that the audience has a basic understanding of your business and product before moving on to the meat of the presentation. Read body language to ensure no confusion. Do not pass “Go” until this is established.

2) Why is your approach unique? Clearly articulate the proprietary nature of your product and try to address a number of bigger questions: Why is the problem you are solving non-trivial? Is it truly disruptive as opposed to incremental? Why will it be hard for others to duplicate? How will you beat competitors and stay on top over the medium and long terms? Why will you win?

3) Nail your go-to-market strategy. Establish comfort that you will create immediate value with the precious capital you’ll be given. What are the milestones that you can achieve in the near future to reduce the risk of investment? Can you prove your thesis with focus and establish product/market fit?

4) Value creation. Elaborate on your future product roadmap and the value creation which will occur over the next 12–18 months and how will it help lead to a material Series A round.

5) Sell the bigger vision. Ultimately what is the bigger story? This is more substantial than the value you are creating in the short term. How can the business scale and adapt? What is unique about your company that the investor may not recognize, specifically as it pertains to your target market, new products, and adjacent verticals?

6) Finally, don’t forget to leave time for questions! You want to be sure that everyone — not just the judges — understands your business and strategy perfectly before you leave the room. There should be no gray areas left in question. Stay relaxed and address any questions or concerns with confident responses. It’s actually okay to acknowledge risks — in fact, it will demonstrate maturity and an opportunity to discuss how you will mitigate risk.


Author: Patrick Eggen is the managing director of Qualcomm Ventures North America and leads all U.S. investments. He is based in the Bay Area and heads the Global Early Stage Fund, focused on Seed and Series A opportunities for the group. Follow him @peggen

Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm Incorporated, is currently accepting applications for its sixth annual Qualcomm Ventures QPrize North America. Submit your startup here by EOD July 15.