You Can Plan A Pretty Pitch Competition But You Can’t Predict The Weather

We just concluded Bunker Battle, a 3-Round Bracket-Style pitch competition where entrepreneurs competed head-to-head for a winner takes all $25K purse plus $25K in additional services from sponsor Kiwi Tech. The participants included Military active duty, veteran, spouse and select community civilians from Patriot Boot Camp and Bunkers across the country. After an exciting three rounds and 20 startups, woman and veteran-owned Kaizen Health from Chicago took it home in dramatic fashion.

Initially, we just wanted to galvanize the DC startup community, but then Bunker Battle started receiving national recognition and ultimately being a success. I’m incredibly proud of what our team has accomplished in such a short period of time with limited resources. Definitely a good deal of lessons to take away. Below is what I’ve learned from planning three national pitch competitions in the span of three months at separate venues:

Something Will Go Wrong

Ms. Jackson

Scripting a run-of-show is a great way to visualize the entire length of production. However, you will undoubtedly encounter technical difficulties and irregularity of equipment. Believe me, this occurred at each venue even after meeting on site with events manager, detailing full list of requirements and emailing run-of-show well in advance. The reality is that most public spaces host at least three events a week while rotating a staff. Occasionally, things get lost in translation. In three competitions, we’ve experienced batteries dying, HVACs not on passed regular office hours, no delivery dock access, AV glitch, weak WiFi signal, missing PowerPoint clicker and the list could go on. Keep your head on a swivel and be prepared for anything.

Partner With The Right People

Align with partners and sponsors that share the same values, beliefs and principles as you do. For instance, for the first round we partnered with ZeroCater, an on-demand catering service delivering top local restaurant food to your event or meeting. We’ve developed a strong relationship with the local ZeroCater team who just expanded to the DC market. We understood they were trying to reach new customers in the startup ecosystem so we negotiated a partnership. In exchange for an in-kind donation of delicious food, their branding was displayed on site gaining exposure from well over 100 startups in attendance. We did the same for the following rounds with &Pizza and We, The Pizza.

Screen Founders Beforehand

It’s not enough for the founder to have an aesthetically pleasing deck and cool business model. Have the founder pitch you ahead of time either in-person or via video. The founder must be well rehearsed and able to feel comfortable in front of a full room. This is exactly why our contestants applied with a two-minute video. To plan an effective pitch competition, there must be step-by-step preparation including a thorough evaluation of the people presenting the information.

Make It Available To Everyone

Nerdistindustries

Share your event with everyone. Live tweet and periscope. Allow the outside world to view the competition through the eyes of somebody else. Execution will separate you apart from the rest. Broadcast and tell as many people as possible. This will increase the liklihood of acquiring future attendees, earned media, evangelists and partners. We surprisingly noticed organic Twitter impressions spiked the most on days following each event.

Location also matters. Host your competition next to modes of public transportation and great parking options. Venues widely known to startups is ideal. The three rounds took place at 1776, Social Tables and WeWork. All within a block from the metro and known by all tech savvy residents of DC. This comes in handy when traffic or inclement weather can hinder event turnout. If there’s no metro access then people are more inclined to bail and stay home.

Judges Add Considerable Value

The judges panel is just as important as the product on stage. Securing reputable thought leaders and investors is hard, but so very necessary. Judges can draw a larger audience to your event as well as add a level of credibility. Charismatic judges are a real plus, providing a heightened degree of energy.

Give The Audience What They Want

Michael Shannon

Give the audience what they want —free booze. Lets face it, the majority of attendees are millennials with liquid diets who expect to be fed. There are plenty of options for ordering the new IPA everyone is raving about. We’ve been using Klink for same-day delivery. This is a huge weight off our shoulders, literally. There’s only so many of us and we couldn’t possibly transport $500 of booze without making multiple stops.

Overall, make sure it’s a positive experience for everyone involved especially the startups pitching. Hosting pitch competitions can only get better with practice. The same could be said for both the event organizer and the startup — the more reps the better.