Ask any entrepreneur what the most challenging thing about launching a startup is, and chances are they'll tell you the same thing: funding.
Indeed, raising the capital you need to get your startup off the ground is time-consuming, challenging, and frustrating. Since you're new, not many investors have heard about you. Even if you believe that your startup is going to be the next best thing sliced bread, you'll need to put out all the stops just to convince one investor to believe in you, and write that check to give you the funds you'll need to get your startup off the ground.
It’s for this reason why most startup founders choose to compete in startup pitch competition. In these events, the winner receives a cash prize that they can use towards scaling their startup.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg because even if you don’t win the grand prize, joining a startup pitch competition offers a lot of benefits and perks for you and your startup.
Pitch to multiple investors
Instead of just pitching to one group of investors at a time, startup pitch competition gives you the opportunity to pitch your startup to tens—if not, hundreds—of venture capital firms and angel investors. That means that even if you don't win the grand prize, there's sure to be a couple of investors in the audience that sees your vision, and will be willing to help you realize this, so you don't go home empty-handed.
Build strategic partnerships
It's not just investors that you'll get to meet in startup pitch competitions. You'll also have the chance to meet other startup founders that you can connect, share ideas with, ask questions, and may even collaborate within the near future.
Valuable media exposure
When your startup gets chosen as a finalist, you immediately share in the media exposure the pitch competition gets as the organizers of the contest promote this event to investors and other entrepreneurs. On top of that, many reputable websites cover these events, focusing their attention on the different startups competing in the event.
Receiving expert feedback
More important than the few minutes you're given to pitch your business is the time when the panel of judges of the startup pitch competition gives their feedback about your startup. That's because they will help you see potential gaps in your startup that can lead to expensive mistakes and heartaches in the future. Their feedback will give you the chance to address these gaps so that you minimize—if not, remove completely—these unwanted instances to occur.
How to dominate a startup pitch competition
Whether or not you win the grand prize in a startup pitch competition, joining one can help build momentum for your business. But let's face it: standing in front of a couple of investors to pitch your business can be nerve-wracking, let alone an auditorium full of venture capital firm representatives and angel investors. Having only a few seconds to say everything you want to say just amps up the pressure.
Preparation is vital when it comes to preparing your pitch. Here are some tips to help you craft a pitch that will help you wow the audience, and increase your chances of winning the grand prize.
Do your research
Startup pitch competitions vary in their time limits, type of presentation, and criteria for judging. So make sure that you do your homework. Take some time to also go through the previous winners. Look for common characteristics they share. These are clues to help you craft your pitch so that it fits exactly what the judges are looking for, and increase your chances of taking home the grand prize.
Some accelerators and incubators host their own startup pitch competitions exclusive to those that were accepted in their startup accelerator programs. That said, take some time to check if the accelerator program you want to join offers this.
Hook them early
Even though a startup pitch competition gives you anywhere between a minute and five minutes to convince the judges, the first eight seconds are the most critical. That's because that's the average time that you have to make an impact on the judges and audience to get them hooked and to keep them listening to your pitch.
That said, it's essential to make it a point to capture the judges and the rest of the audience in your intro. One way to do this is by pretending that you're explaining your business to a 5-year-old. Not only will this help you make sure that you get straight to the point, but also choose the kinds of words you use more carefully.
This was the case with Airbnb. As you can see in their pitch deck below, they managed to tell the whole story about who they are, the problem they're aiming to solve, and how they intend to answer it within the first two slides of their presentation.
Make your pitch deck simple but powerful
Your pitch deck is meant to serve to supplement your presentation. Having text-heavy slides can be overwhelming for your audience, causing them to zone out of your presentation.
A great way to prevent this is by using large fonts for your slides. This will make it easier for your audience to read what's on your slide. At the same time, you'll be forced to use fewer words, preventing the risk of overloading your slides with text that can distract you and your audience.
Simple, of course, doesn’t mean that you’re only limited to using text in your pitch deck. Using graphs and charts in your pitch deck like what Square did can help make your presentation more compelling.
On that note, make sure that you avoid using flashy animations when creating your pitch deck slides. Having too much of this can make your presentation look amateurish.
Stay confident but humble
No matter how nervous you may be doing a presentation, do your best to keep your cool and look confident onstage. You need to come across as someone who believes 101% of your business and product. Otherwise, you'll have a difficult time convincing the judges and other investors in the room. After all, if you're unsure about your business, why should they invest in it?
At the same time, make sure that you keep a humble attitude, especially during the Q&A. Becoming argumentative or arrogant will do more harm than good because if there's something that an investor doesn't like more than a timid startup founder, it's a proud startup founder who they know that will refuse to listen to anyone else, including their investors.
Practice your pitch
It goes without saying that you need to practice your pitch before the actual competition. This will help you not only exude a level of confidence when you go onstage but also will help you go through this within the time limit specified by startup pitch competition.
The best way to do this is to do a mock presentation for your friends and peers. Let them ask you questions after your presentation. That way, you can also prepare yourself on how you’ll answer the judges during the all-important Q&A session that comes immediately after your pitch.
Top 20 startup pitch competitions
Needless to say, there’s a lot of startup pitch competitions held all over the world for you to join. I’ve compiled a list of 20 below that’s worth considering. I’ve selected these based on location, amount of funding winners get, and audience.
The Y Combinator Demo Day is a startup pitching competition held twice a year featuring the latest batch of startups that made it into the Y Combinator accelerator program.
Although it’s called “Demo Day,” the event actually spans three whole days. The first two days are when the different startups pitch their ideas to a room of about 450 investors and members of the press. The third day is called “Investor Day.” This is where different startups get the opportunity to sit down and speak with interested investors for a few minutes about their business, and even possibly close a funding agreement.
One important thing to note about the Y Combinator Demo Day is that you don’t automatically secure a place the moment you get accepted into their accelerator program. You'll still need to request an invite, and you’ll need to RSVP that you’ll be attending the event to secure your chance to pitch your startup.
As its name suggests, this startup pitch competition was established to help “mompreneurs” start and grow their dream business.
The Huggies® MomInspired™ Grant Program is open to moms living in the US, that's got a product or service idea that could help make parents' lives easier. Each of the 12 winners of the program will receive $15,000 to use towards building their startup.
What makes this startup pitch competition unique is that it doesn’t require the applicants to fly off to a convention or event to pitch their business. Instead, the applicants submit their business plan and application through the program’s website. Those that make it past the initial screening will then have the chance to pitch their business via a brief phone interview with the panel. Once the committee reaches their decision, all the applicants will be informed whether or not they won the grant either through phone or email.
3. Flash Pitch
Flash Pitch is a monthly startup pitch competition held in New York. Six startups will be given two minutes to pitch their products or services to potential investors. After their pitch, they are given three minutes for Q&A, and another three minutes to receive feedback from investors.
Prizes vary depending on the monthly sponsors. For example, the winner of their November 2017 startup pitch competition will get a free workspace at Future Labs for one month, AWS credits, legal services, and $3,000 sponsorship as part of their IBM Watson AI XPrize Wildcard Registration.
Hello Tomorrow is a global startup competition open to two-year-old startups that have raised not more than 250,000 euros.
A total of 75 startups will initially be selected to compete with each other from the following industries: Data & AI, Energy Transition, Environment, Food & Agriculture, Wellbeing, Healthcare, Industry 4.0, New Materials, Mobility, and Aerospace.
The grand prize winner of this startup pitch competition will receive 100,000 euros in equity-free funding. Additionally, one startup from each of the ten different tracks will receive 15,000 euros.
5. HATCH Pitch
HATCH Pitch is the revolutionary pitch competition hosted by the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences & Festivals. Startups that join this pitch competition have four minutes to wow the judges for them to win a virtual funding of $1 million.
To participate, your startup should have launched within the last two years and received less than $3 million funding from other investors. Also, you need to own some part of your startup still.
HATCH Pitch only allows you to pitch one of your products or services, so make sure that you choose the best one.
This annual startup pitch competition is hosted by the Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL) of the New York Public Library (NYPL) and Citi Foundation.
Up to $30,000 in prizes will be awarded to deserving New York-based startups, specifically those based in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island that earned less than $10,000. The startups’ business plans are judged based on the following:
- Thoroughness and quality of the content,
- Practical use of business information and research,
- How the prize money will be used and its impact on the business,
- Impact of the startup on the community, and the number of jobs it will provide, and
- The probability of a successful launch.
The MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition is not just a startup pitch competition for MIT students. Startups based in the Greater Boston area are also welcome to participate.
In addition to the over $300,000 worth of non-dilutive awards, this startup pitch competition also provides founders of contending startups mentorship from venture capitalists, media exposure, valuable feedback on their business plans, and discounts on different services to help them accelerate their startups’ growth.
This startup pitch competition is hosted by Arch Grants—a nonprofit organization with a mission to build a new economy in St. Louis by attracting new and innovative entrepreneurs. That said, it's not surprising that this startup pitch competition is open to startups based in St. Louis. Innovative startups from other parts of the country are also welcome to attend provided that they have been operating for at least one year and that they're either willing to relocate their entire business to the city or have at least 51% of the founding team working full-time of the company here.
In addition to receiving a $50,000 equity-free cash grant, the winners of this startup pitch competition will be given access to a host of other services, including:
- Pro bono and discounted business services
- Personal introductions to strategic business and civic leaders
- Access to venture capital and angel investor networks
- Talent recruitment and acquisition
The Postcode Lottery Green Challenge is one of the world largest startup pitch competitions for green startups developing products or services that have the potential the reduce greenhouse gases. Of the hundreds of startups that submit to this startup pitch competition, only five finalists will be chosen to pitch their startup’s business plan in front of a crowd of investors and environmental experts.
What's great about this startup pitch competition is that none of the finalists will go home empty-handed when it comes to funding. Although only one will go home with the grand prize of 500,000 euros, the second place winner will receive 200,000 euros while the remaining three finalists will get 100,000 euros each.
To join this startup pitch competition, you’ll need to have a minimal viable product (MVP) that can be marketed to the general public within the next two years. You have to also include in your business plan a quantifiable estimate of the greenhouse gas reduction.
Hailed as one of the most popular and desirable startup pitch competition, TechCrunch Disrupt is held twice a year in the US as well as in different parts of Europe and Aisa. The winning startup of this prestigious competition doesn't just take home the $50,000 grand prize, but also receive exposure to crucial investors through the TechCrunch blog and other reputable websites.
11. Collision PITCH
PITCH is one of the major events held during Collision—the fastest growing tech conference in America. This startup pitch competition is open to early-stage startups that received less than $3 million in funding, and have not made any significant changes to their business model within the past three years.
The 66 startups chosen from the pool of applicants the conference receives each year will get the change to pitch their startup in front of representatives from over 5,600 companies from 120+ countries.
Web Summit’s PITCH is a startup pitch competition open to ALPHA- or BETA-stage startups that focus on creating Web and Internet technologies. To qualify, the startup must have received less than three million euros in funding. They should not have also changed their business model within the past three years.
Out of the hundreds of startups that apply to this startup pitch competition, the top 200 that make it get the opportunity to pitch their startup in front of a panel of judges, investors, and journalists. So, you don’t just get the chance for funding, but you’re also giving your startup the exposure it needs.
This startup pitch competition is organized by the venture capital SevenVentures and is held every month. What makes this European-based startup pitch competition unique is that it focuses each monthly competition focuses on a specific niche or field.
And because this startup pitch competition is backed up by SevenVentures and its parent company ProSiebenSat.1, it’s able to award the winners more than just financial funding. They also provide the winning startup the opportunity to leverage the venture capital’s position as a broadcaster and media giant. This ensures that the winning startup gets the much-needed exposure it needs to promote brand awareness to its target market.
As its name suggests, the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards is a startup pitch competition that aims to support and encourage aspiring women entrepreneurs all over the world.
Established in 2006, this unique startup pitch competition will choose 18 finalists, three finalists from each of the six regions in the world. Each of these finalists will receive personalized coaching to prepare them for the actual pitching competition as well as:
- Access to workshops, knowledge sessions, and networking events,
- Media exposure, and
- A place on the 6-Day Social Entrepreneurship Executive Program by INSEAD Business School.
Six of the 18 finalists will be chosen to receive $100,000 each while the remaining 12 finalists will receive $30,000 each in prize money.
U.Pitch is a startup pitch competition that focuses on encouraging and supporting startups whose founders are still in college or just recently graduated from college.
To apply for this competition, you need to be currently enrolled as a college student. You can still apply even if you’ve already graduated for as long as your graduation happened within the past six months from the time you applied. The startup you’ve founded should also be based in the United States.
While most startup pitch competitions require the finalists to present their pitch in-person, U.Pitch puts a twist to this by requiring applicants to create a 90-second YouTube video of their pitch that they submit along with the other requirements. The winning startup will receive $10,000 that they can use towards their startup.
CodeLaunch Pitch Day is an annual startup pitch competition hosted by CodeLaunch—a startup seed accelerator program.
Opened to startups based all over the world, applicants will go through a rigid screening process. The lucky startups that make it are given five minutes to pitch their business plan to a select audience of investors, developers and key members of the startup community. This is then followed by five minutes to answer the questions asked by the panel of judges.
StartCon is the largest startup pitch competition in Australia. Open to high-growth startups based in Australia, each of the startups that make it through their stringent screening process will be given just two minutes to pitch their business plan and product or service to an audience that includes some of the most influential investors in the country. Among these include representatives from Right Click Capital, Airtree Venture Capital, and Blackbird Enterprises.
In addition to receiving funding and a host of benefits and perks, the winner of the StartCon Pitch Competition will have the chance to represent Australia in the annual Global Startup World Cup where they can have an opportunity to win $1 million in US funding.
18. Seedstars Summit
Seedstars World hosts several local and regional startup pitch competition each year. The biggest is the SeedStars Summit. Here, over 75 startups from around the world that focus on fintech, edtech, digital health, agritech, Internet of Things (IoT), hardware, social networking and clean tech compete with each other for the chance to win $1 million equity funding.
Also, each of the startup finalists even has the chance to network and connect with investors, government officials, stakeholder, and corporate innovators during the breakout sessions. They also will receive valuable insights through the panel discussions and specialized workshops hosted during the event.
19. The South Summit
The South Summit is the largest startup pitch competition held in the Southern region of the US. Each year, this event gathers together startup founders, investors, and innovation leaders from around the world. It culminates with the Startup Competition where 100 of the most promising startups compete with each other for the $1 million funding grand prize.
Organized by Fenox Venture Capital, the Startup World Cup is the culmination of a series of local and regional startup pitch competitions held in North and South America Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The winners of these competitions gather together for a chance to not only connect with leading venture capital investors, entrepreneurs, and tech CEOs, but also have a chance to win $1 million in equity investment.
Startups creating services and products to enhance healthcare, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, transportation, fintech, IoT, augmented reality, and agritech are welcome to apply.
Joining a startup pitch competition is an investment for your startup. It gives you a platform where you can pitch your startup in front of several investors at a time to help you raise the funding needed to launch and scale your startup. At the same time, it opens the door of opportunity for you to grow your network and build strategic partnerships that can significantly benefit your startup in the near future.
Have you joined any of these startup pitch competitions? Is there any pitch competition worth mentioning that I've missed? If so, share it in the comments section below. I'd love to include them on the list.