Fall is often known as the season of plenty… for me, it was the month of plenty events for entrepreneurs.
Last week I went to 4 (and probably said no to several more). Monday was a local angel group monthly company pitch. We are blessed to have 6 formal angel groups here, plus several neighboring angel groups that source deals from the region and another 100 or so “nonaligned “angels. This particular group was giving a CEO feedback on their pitch, in particular his go-to-market strategy (often the weakest part of many of our local startups). The CEO tried to “persuade” the angels that his plan made sense. It turned into a battle of wills. Sometimes it is helpful for entrepreneurs pitching to investors to keep quiet, listen, take in the information and process it later with their team.
Tuesday night was the “3rd annual Invested at Duke, a collaboration between Duke OLV and Duke I&E (universities put governments to shame with the amount of alphabet soup acronyms). A dozen or so new companies based on Duke IP were able to have table top discussions. Robin Rasor, Executive Director of Duke OLV highlighted the past years’ success record (see impact report) and Derek Jantz, one of the co-founders of Precision Biosciences, shared a bit about the Precision Biosciences entrepreneurial journey. Precision Bioscience is one of a cadre of gene editing technology companies we have in this area, and If you don’t know, Precision’s entrepreneurial journey is a great story of persistence and grit in the face of almost insurmountable odds.
Thursday night was the annual Carolina Challenge, 115 student teams pitching to 250 judges to win tokens — the teams that secure the most tokens get checks . Trying to judge 115 student projects in under one hour (felt like 10 minutes) is a daunting task. I’d ask the students to give me a quick overview of their concept and as soon as they got past the first few sentences, I would interrupt, sometimes rudely, (my apologies) with 2-3 questions, make a decision to give a token and then move on. This kind of mass “speed dating” is really hard and really hammers home the need to have a clear, crisp and compelling elevator pitch (ideally less than 10 seconds).
Finally, Friday was the semi-annual NCIDEA Seed Grant Pitch Finals. I have been a judge of NCIDEA for 6+ years (maybe 13 grant cycles?). In my opinion, this is one of the more interesting pitch competitions. The judges have reviewed written applications through two screening cycles and Amy Bastian and the NCIDEA fellows have gathered additional data and due diligence information to share. But no matter what background we have read or examined, you really don’t know if the company is “fundable” until you see the founders pitch and handle the Q&A period that follows. Things that look like clear winners on paper can fall apart in the Q&A and those that are borderline in the written application, can shine when they present. How to pitch well and how to handle the Q&A portion is the subject of a whole series of posts that we’ll address later. Rest assured, that having a clear and compelling story, handling yourself well in your interactions with investors will always go a long way in securing funding.
So, all told I saw 40-50 pitches in five days & nights. Just like thanksgiving, I did too much and am feeling full.