It’s that big hurdle between a business idea and a new business: Landing an investor. Friday, future business hopefuls practiced the art of the deal in The American Dream Elevator Pitch competition. Oregon State University’s Austin Entrepreneurship Program organized the event, the first it’s hosted.
Contestants were told to imagine they are in an elevator. They have the length of the ride — about 90 seconds — to sell their business idea to a potential investor.
“It’s another form of experiential education,” said Chris Klemm, the entrepreneurship program’s director. A formidable “experiential education” for some, apparently; the first competitor didn’t show. The second lost his train of thought and didn’t finish. The third threw up his hands and walked off the stage, only moments into his pitch.
But there were those who had no shortage of ideas, both new and newly resurrected: a T-shirt version of a mood ring, with a temperature sensor that reflected the wearer’s mood; a prophylactic for malaria; a timberland database watchdog; an ergonomic bladder bag.
The contestants were as varied. Some arrived wearing business suits and polished shoes and delivered polished presentations. Some showed up in T-shirts, shorts and high-top sneakers. Of the 28 competitors, five were women.
The judges noted that first impressions count.
“We did see more of a couple of people than we had expected,” said Wayne Embree, a judge from Reference Capital.
The contestants had exactly 90 seconds to complete the pitch. A timer rang bells if a contestant exceeded the limit; four did.
The competitors were judged on content and delivery. The seven judges looked for an explanation of a need, a solution and a business model. They evaluated the presenter’s enthusiasm and confidence.
There was more at stake than just a chance to practice a sales pitch. At the end of the contest, the top winner won $500; second place took $250 and third was good for $200.
Rebecca Michelson twirled her fabric-wrapped hula hoops around her torso and arms, gasping a little for breath as she delivered her sales pitch amid the whirling activity. Her energy won her third place in the business entrepreneur category.
Passing out cupcakes to the judges, OSU student Alexa Carey confidently walked to the front edge of the stage, her heels clicking as she described her Corvallis business, “A Streetcar Named Cupcake.” Carey tied for third in the student competition.
Michael Luecker, a junior in business and a former OSU rower, stood on stage with a prototype of his product, “The Precision Rowing Oar.” Holding the oar like a spear next to his 6-foot-3-inch frame with one hand, Luecker read notes from an index card, holding it in his trembling right hand. He wore a white polo shirt with his Power10 Rowing logo and handed out business cards after his presentation. He won second place in the student competition and third in the overall.
Although the contestants’ pitches were long on passion, many were short on the details of their business model. And most didn’t make the key final pitch — asking for money.
The seventh contestant, Sean Sehnem, did ask. He wanted $1 million for his “Who’s Next?” video game gambling business.
The judges noted that such exercises aren’t good predictors of business success in the real world. Some successful businesses took off despite bad sales pitches, while sometimes a slick business pitch goes nowhere. After the awards ceremony, Klemm reminded the budding entrepreneurs that even Google’s sales pitch was turned down — three times.