Fake it ’til you make it.
How one College New Venture Challenge finalist taught himself how to pitch his company like a pro.
By: Pranay Singh, current UChicago student and finalist in the 2017 College New Venture Challenge, cofounder of Averia Health
It was my fourth Saturday as a student at UChicago. During my first week, I happened to meet a founder on-campus who successfully raised and sold a startup while being a student at UChicago. I told him about Averia, a startup that I cofounded with two of my friends from high school that is working to make concussion screening cheaper, timely, and much more efficient. He immediately referred me to several pitch competitions around the nation.
That night, after mulling the idea over for a couple weeks, I became more and more intrigued by the possibility of winning funding. So, I went back to my dorm and applied to every single pitch competition I could. By the next week, Averia was selected as a finalist in a SoFi-sponsored pitch competition run by the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital student group at Chicago Booth and Future Founder’s UPitch competition, a nationally-run competition for University students (both on the same Thursday). The SoFi pitch would be five minutes, but UPitch was only a mere 90 seconds — a real elevator pitch.
With not much time to prepare, I immediately began practicing. I particularly remember my meeting with Jerry — director of UChicago Careers in Entrepreneurship office — that Wednesday after learning of my acceptance into these two competitions. Having finished my classes that day, I walked into his office and began my elevator pitch, my words fumbling over themselves as they came out. When I glanced up, I noticed his furrowed eyebrows and glazed look.
I felt that pitching to someone unlocked a brand new set of nerves. After this meeting, I began constantly rehearsing my pitch to anyone who would listen of my neighbors and friends, repeating the same lines over and over again, while also watching many pitches on Youtube in a last-minute effort to figure out what I was supposed to do.
Incredibly under-prepared, I walked into room C-01 in Chicago Booth’s Harper Center, and began to socialize with my competitors. After a few minutes, I realized that all of my competition was entirely comprised of Booth MBA students. Not only was I under-prepared, but I was also, by comparison, vastly inexperienced. After my delivering my five-minute pitch, I immediately called an Uber to 1871 to attend UPitch.
To my delight, I gave my elevator pitch in the preliminary round and was selected as a top ten finalist to present again that afternoon. This time, however, I would be pitching to a much larger group of 200 people; at that point, I only ever pitched Averia to one person. Every other finalist startup had already been to (and won) multiple pitch competitions, generated revenue, and raised capital. I, on the other hand, never stood on a stage or delivered a speech.
Luckily, I was selected to go fourth. I remember watching the pitches before me while debating: Am I supposed to walk on the stage during my pitch or standstill? Should I move my hands with the microphones? I stood in front of the venture capitalists from Hyde Park Angels and the senior engineers at Capital One and immediately started blabbering on about the problem of concussions.
To my surprise, I made $2,500 total from both competitions. We used that money to fund new iterations for our product, and also secure more trials with sports leagues in D.C. Since then, we have gone to a few more competitions and raised even more capital: Philadelphia Pediatric Consortium, Tamid Tank, Tigerlaunch, TCU Ventures and Values, and we were recently selected as a finalist for UChicago’s College New Venture Challenge.
Pitch competitions have done so much more for me then providing a monetary prize. In retrospect, the $2,500 I won that day were peanuts; the real value was with the people I met and connections I made. I met incredible entrepreneurs from all walks of life, working on revolutionary products. I connected with venture capitalists at Contrary Capital and the Dorm Room Fund. I was even accepted to the SoFi mentorship program alongside MBA students.
Best of all, I was able to bring some of my experiences back to my fellow undergrads on campus. I used my experience at these pitch competitions to mentor UChicago student-run startups as co-director of Launchpad, UChicago’s student-run startup accelerator. As a board member of Edge Entrepreneurship, I taught aspiring entrepreneurs how to deliver an elevator pitch. My main goal is to inspire my peers at UChicago to pursue entrepreneurship. After my four years here, regardless of the success of Averia, I hope there will be more support and mentorship available for UChicago’s aspiring entrepreneurs.
This summer, Averia will be partnering with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to conduct further trials as we approach the FDA for a 510(k).
The College New Venture Challenge is the undergrad track of the Polsky Center’s premier start-up launch program, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), designed to help student teams turn their ideas into viable businesses. Launched in 1996, the NVC is recognized as the top university accelerator program in the nation.