Here’s How to Win Startup Pitch Competitions: 3 Tips From a Jury Member

28 Jun 2024

There are hundreds — if not thousands — of regional and global startup competitions and pitch days held every year.

These competitions range from local events organized by universities or business communities to high-profile international contests hosted by renowned industry players.

Founders can use these events to showcase their startups and secure a grant or attract venture money. The winner of the Startup Battlefield by TechCrunch, for example, receives a $100,000 equity-free prize; the winner of the Startup World Cup gets $1 million in investment.

Having a good idea and a product that sells isn’t enough, though. It’s more about the art of presenting. I’ve been a judge at the Infoshare Contest, and here are my three tips to increase your chances of winning a pitch competition.

Tip #1 Find Out Details About Venue, Adjust Pitch

Find out where exactly you’ll be performing: the size of a venue and the expected number of guests. Ask about the screen that will be used for presentations and other stage arrangements, including lighting and sound equipment.

If the venue is small and intimate, you should focus on creating a more conversational and interactive presentation style, whereas in a larger venue, you may need to use more impactful visuals. By aligning your presentation with the technical setup, meanwhile, you can avoid potential glitches or distractions during the pitch.

If there’s an opportunity to rehearse in the actual venue, make your team know the space and test the equipment, take it.

During the Infoshare Contest, some startups had long presentations overloaded with small-print text. I couldn’t see everything clearly from my seat, and it was hard to read so much while staying focused on the pitch.

It’s always better to have a simple presentation with eye-catching visuals, especially if the venue is big and you’re short on time. Also: Please, speak up.

Tip #2. Check Contest Criteria

Look through the website of a competition and its social media and talk to organizers. Your goal is to find out the criteria that juries will use to assess startups.

The judges will be looking for these specific criteria, and if you don’t tailor the presentation to highlight them, you will just miss your chance to win.

Similarly, this will help you identify your potential weaknesses. Perhaps, on paper, you don’t appear to be the ideal winner for the organizers of this particular competition: Your company might not meet one of the criteria. However, you may still prepare an argument that can convince the jury that it isn’t critical in your case.

The Infoshare Contest, for example, listed four main criteria on its website: business potential, team, product innovation level, and performance. Participants should have read about them and addressed them in their presentations, both verbally and visually. Unfortunately, not every startup did so.

The organizers also said startups would have 3 minutes for a presentation and 2 minutes to answer questions. Some teams failed to complete their pitch within the given time frame, losing the chance to finish their story. So, practice making your pitch fit within a specified time limit.

Tip #3. Try to Stand Out

Dozens or sometimes hundreds of teams pitch their startups at contests. That’s why, by the time the last startup presents its pitch, the jury might have already forgotten about the companies that presented at the beginning of the day.

One of the most important tasks is to capture the attention of the audience and the jury and do something memorable.

I still remember the founders of the startup Genotic who came onto the Infoshare Contest stage in chemical protective suits. Their project was related to biology and chemistry, and their attires created the right atmosphere and were memorable.

Another startup, upLIFT, produces clothes that support the musculoskeletal system, and its team showcased the wearables using a manikin.

Yes, it’s simple, but it helps (Genotic and upLIFT took 1st and 2nd place in the contest).