If you’ve been around KEC for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard about our annual pitch competition: What’s the Big Idea?
WTBI 2024 is quickly approaching, with applications open until early February. We encourage folks with big, new ideas for businesses to apply! If accepted as a finalist, they’ll stand before judges to pitch their ideas – Shark Tank style. One winner will receive $10,000 in seed money to help put their big idea into action!
The KEC Team thought it might be helpful to hear from past What’s the Big Idea mentors about their advice for business pitch best practices, building an investable pitch deck, as well as other resources that address how to talk about your business, RE: business branding and messaging.
General Pitch Advice
Anthony Ragland | BeGreat Agency
Big ideas that are the most sticky are the ideas that are simple. So when crafting your business pitch, remember to speak in plain English and tell a story that connects with your audience emotionally, while also positioning the problem that your idea will solve.
Anthony will be returning as a lead mentor for WTBI in 2024!
Physical Pitch Deck Advice
Amelia Bartlett | Knoxville Writer, Entrepreneur, and Filmmaker
Your business pitch can be one of the most useful source documents in your arsenal. It’s a tool for organizing the information anyone on the outside could need to know about your business. Think about what you need at this stage of your business (mentorship, professional services like marketing or technology, funding, employees, premises) and who you’d be speaking to for any of those things (experienced entrepreneurs, consultants, investors, subject matter experts, real estate professionals) — your pitch deck is a consistent narrative that speaks to each of those people without you having to think it through and “get it right” every time.
No entrepreneur knows how to do everything in business, but an entrepreneur who can communicate their vision has the best chance of successfully securing the support they need to scale.
Shawn Carson | Senior Lecturer, Entrepreneurship Curriculum Director
Know Your Audience!
A pitch competition is a different audience than an Angel Group. Smart scientists tend give a technical pitch to an audience interested in the business model. You usually have limited time so position your pitch to cover the most relevant topics to your audience. For a pitch competition, find out who the judges are and what they do. Bankers will be interested in profitability, revenue and cash flow. Small business people need to know how your business works… without technology details.
Tell a Story
Consider the typical story arc – Intro, Conflict, Rising tension, Climax, Anticlimax. Don’t just click through slides!!! Write a narrative that connects each slide in a story that goes somewhere. Even if the slide outline is prescribed for you, still make it a story.
More pictures, fewer words
NO EYE CHARTS!!!! Few words, big fonts. Opt for charts over a matrix of numbers. Make sure the pictures are relevant and make sure they don’t have watermarks from the internet. Buy them if you have to.
Plan for 90% of your time and SLOW DOWN!
Hit a point and move on. It’s good when they ask for more information at Q&A. Record yourself and count the words. Plan for 120 – 140 words per minute. Fast talkers aren’t cute, nor are they credible. They’re nervous and ill prepared.
Practice AT LEAST 20 times!
Seriously. You have to get to the point you could give the pitch without the slides… which can happen. Clickers can fail. Projector bulbs blow. I once had to give a pitch for $1 million in 5 minutes, no slides. I practiced for two days. I got the $ million. Practicing also helps with nerves and lets you make good eye contact. And one more thing… NEVER READ A SCRIPT!!!!!!!
How to Create an Investable Slide Deck
The Investable Slide Deck was originally created by the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. The photos below have been adapted to fit WTBI event branding.
What’s The Big Idea? Specific Advice
Sam Lane | Origami Day
As a mentor in the past, what is the best advice you could give to someone who is crafting their business pitch?
Sell the problem. Make the audience feel something. Help them see what problem they have that only your business can solve. This is often more important than the details of your product.
How do you create a business pitch?
I love the Donald Miller StoryBrand framework and the CO.STARTERS Canvas. Both really help a business walk through the main points to share and in a succinct manner.
How long should it be and what exactly should be covered in the pitch?
I think there is great value in getting to the point and not burying the lead. Focus on the problem, the solution, why you are best to do it, and then call them to action.
Erika Biddix | Aught
The idea you walk in with is the DNA – the way it appears outwardly, the way it will be presented, etc. may be different at the end of WTBI – and that’s ok!! But if you walk in wanting to help working parents in one way, and by the end of the weekend, you’re pitching a way to help working parents that is different – that just means you and your team strengthened your idea!
Erika is returning in 2024 as a lead mentor for What’s The Big Idea!
Additional Resources & Events
Not building a pitch deck, but still need guidance on building your brand and messaging? Here are a few additional resources that are focused on taking an internal look at your business, how you need to talk about yourself, and share your story.
KEC Brandcamp Class
We host at least one Brandcamp cohort a year, with a focus on Brand Messaging and Fundamentals. Check out this recap blog post from 2023 to see what we’ve talked about in the past. And keep an eye out for the next cohort – we typically host this class in late summer each year.
Sign up for the KEC Newsletter to stay up-to-date with program announcements.
The Maker City Blog: Writing Artist Statements + Bios
In a virtual meet-in in February 2023, Kelly Hider shared her expertise with The Maker City community on how to tell your story.
Having a carefully crafted bio and a well-written artist statement can show your audience who you are and the intention behind what you create. Learning best practices for how to write artist statements for your work and your personal bio will help you showcase what you want people to see.
The Maker City Blog: Branding Breakdown
In 2022, Deanne Topping, Co-Owner of Topping Consulting lead a virtual Maker Meet-in discussing Branding. Check out the blog post here, with a recording of the session and a downloadable copy of the presentation.
The Maker City Blog: 5 Steps to Brand Your Maker Business
Jesse and Lauren Ray Wagner, co-owners of Nathanna Design Studio, led a Make. Learn. Grow. session in 2018 at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center about branding for makers. They’ve broken it down into 5 steps for developing a brand for you and your business.
Submit your application for the 2024 What’s The Big Idea? Pitch Competition!