Startups pitching in front of a jury. Questions often shameful.

The last time I attended a pitching event in front of a jury was on July 5th at Impact Hub for the ACCELERATE 2030 by UNDP and Impact Hub Geneve. In 17 countries the best startups are selected to attend a 9-month online acceleration program. Big names support this initiative and 2016 was their first trial. We see this kind of programs popping up more and more and it gives a good idea about the local start-ups in developing countries. There is no doubt that every initiative is a good one as we need more support for social and sustainable projects.

Through Sandrine Ramboux, the founder of C@rma I got in contact with another team she is part off, Jana. Great project and I was happy I could help on the pitch and learned some new people like Sezer Arslan, who is a great entrepreneur and a friend in the meantime. When the pitching was going on (in Turkish mainly) I got a little upset by the jury. Most of them I know, and they are all ok, as professionally active in the startup scene. Unfortunately, I heard some questions that made my hair go straight up.

Apart from the fact that I think it is useful to pitch in English, as it is an international program, I struggled with the selection of the startups and the questions. Some startups I saw are actually no startups at all and some can not read nor talk English. The program was very well described so it was clear what type of start-ups could join, but it looked like anybody could join.

Secondly, the questions often showed some jury members had no idea what was presented. No wonder as I saw somebody checking his Facebook page during the presentations. To top it off, some start-ups pitched through Skype, some even without a presentation. If you, as a startup want to join an international program, the least is a presentation and BE THERE. It is a small effort as it is a local pitch event.

So here some quick guidelines for jury members:

  1. Understand the goal of the startup pitch.
  2. Present yourself to the audience and explain your speciality.
  3. Ask relevant questions. If you have nothing to say, please be quiet.
  4. Don’t do a statement that underlines how smart you are, do that in the intro.
  5. If you want to give overall advice, keep it short, relevant and to the point.
  6. Use a system with points and criteria. It makes the time to decide shorter.
  7. Explain at least for number 3, 2, and 1 the motivation of the decision.
  8. Be nice, understanding, empathic. We don’t need bullies in this environment.
  9. It is good to understand methods like Business Canvas. It helps in asking the right questions like business case, product/market fit, competition etc.

A jury has always a big responsibility in my opinion. You can make or break teams. Always a learning for them, I have no problem with that as such. In cases like Turkiye (or any other place), a jury selects a team that will go to an international accelerator or another program. The jury selects teams that will represent a country at the same time. I am not a nationalist, on the contrary, but countries like Turkiye can use every positive PR possible. So sending good teams is crucial in that sense. It makes investors and other key-players eager to consider your country to detect talent and invest. A jury has a responsibility, just as well as the startups and the organisation.

Finally some good soul music and a lady that is one of the first disco icons! You can’t judge a book by the cover from Patti Labelle says it all for me. You will probably better remember here from Lady Marmalade Enjoy here :-D

Kolay gelsin arkadaşlar (may the work be my light in Turkish). 
Patrick Bosteels 
patrick@stage-co.com

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