Survive VC boot camp with tips for your pitch

Last week, 19 IT startups from the GTA took the “10 slides in 10 minutes” pitch deck challenge in front of a panel of US and Canadian VCs as part of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service’s Toronto Regional VC Boot Camp hosted by MaRS. Start-ups did a trial run of a pitch deck in front of VCs to gain honest (sometimes brutally so) feedback from them, as well as meet and learn from other entrepreneurs in the IT sector.

Chris Gill, President & CEO of SVASE (Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs (and a seasoned entrepreneur himself having cofounded 8 companies) was also there to tell us what Silicon Valley and other US-based Venture Capital investors are looking for and how start-ups can refine their pitch to meet these needs. Key nuggets from his presentation include:

  • Pitch your company in one line (movie production companies do this when they say something like ‘It’s The Wrestler meets 101 Dalmatians’ ) and make this line your first (not second or third) slide. If you can’t get it down to one line, make sure you articulate clearly and memorably what you do in as few lines as possible. Less is more — and easier to understand and remember.
  • Practice pitching to someone who isn’t afraid to say, “I don’t understand that part” (generally, women are better than men at admitting they don’t understand technology and this can be used to your advantage).
  • Your spouse should be able to give your pitch – meaning it should be that clear and simple. Talk more about the value your technology provides to your customers, and less about the technology itself (the technology demonstration comes later if you pass the pitch stage).
  • Articulate clearly and graphically how you’ll make money (if you can’t prove you’ll make money, you shouldn’t be asking for VC’s money!).
  • Patents are good, but IP strategy is better, which might mean having a different way of doing business or a unique business model. (i.e. Think about how Starbucks took an 80-cent coffee to five dollars with a unique twist of the coffee business model.)
  • Never say you don’t have competition – you always have competition. Dig deeper and think more broadly if necessary.
  • Your team is as important as your idea and business plan combined. Only an A Team can manage the winding road from what you think you are initially to what you actually take to market. Therefore, list the accomplishments of the team in your pitch (e.g. Jason grew x business by y per cent in n years). Investors want teams, not sole proprietors, and there are three key roles they look for: 1) A visionary CEO; 2) A Chief Marketing Officer; 3) A Chief Technology Officer.
  • Show customer traction in as many ways as possible – number of sales, visits to website, etc.
  • Have a summary slide with two or three important points to leave with your investors.

Companies chosen for the next phase of the program will attend events in Silicon Valley such as Canada Investor Day and/or have subsidized access for three months to the Canadian Incubator in Silicon Valley at the Plug and Play Tech Center in Palo Alto.

All in all, a successful event and one we hope to hold again soon!