CASE STUDY 13: Pitch It / Start-up Royale
Pitch competitions are common in start-up communities. They are a chance for young or new entrepreneurs to practice their chops, impress investors, win money, and gain valuable contacts and exposure in their business ecosystem. Innovation Guelph developed Pitch It and Start-up Royale to suit the start-up network in Guelph. These unique pitch events sparked a start-up frenzy in Guelph-Wellington and assisted dozens of companies; awarding over $50,000 in seed funds and community support.
Innovation Guelph offered Pitch It twice per year in 2012 and 2013. The program followed the typical pitch competition format where high potential start-ups were selected to pitch their business at an event open to the public, and in front of distinguished judges. The companies were coached prior to the event to help them refine their pitches and build an effective slide deck. At the event, the companies would vie for prizes that included cash (e.g. $2,000 to $5,000) and in-kind prizes donated by local companies (e.g. lawyers, accountants, business supplies etc.).
In 2014 and 2015, Innovation Guelph evolved Pitch It into a new program called Start-up Royale. The problem with the traditional pitch competition model, in an emerging start-up ecosystem, is that it doesn’t maximize the opportunities for new entrepreneurs to practice their public speaking and pitching skills. Most pitch competitions will permit 5 or 6 contestants pitch to publicly, which can be appropriate when a start-up ecosystem is mature. This traditional format is works because the competition acts as a vehicle for angel investment; a showcase of the region’s top start-ups; and a carrot for other less-developed start-ups to aspire.
In Guelph in 2014/2015 the start-up ecosystem was just emerging but there was a buzz of excitement around youth entrepreneurship and social innovation. With this in mind, Innovation Guelph launched Start-up Royale, a new model for burgeoning start-up ecosystems.
Start-up Royale was run in partnership with the Hub Incubator at the University of Guelph. It served a pool of start-ups from Innovation Guelph, The Hub, and entrepreneurs from the community. The model differed from the traditional pitch competition in a few key ways. Firstly, Start-up Royale was a multi-stage pitch competition where the young entrepreneurs submitted a business profile and business plan executive summary prior to the event. They could work with their mentors to develop their application. The top 20 entrants were selected to pitch for 2 minutes at the public event. A panel of distinguished judges, made up of local business leaders and educators, selected the Top 5 pitches. In the final round, the top 5 companies pitched for 5 minutes, with a chance to share the total prize pot. The amounts of cash and in kind they receive are determined by a panel the panel of judges based on the investment needs of the companies expressed in their pitch. The total prize money available exceeded $10,000 plus $20K-$30K in in kind services and other donations. Some of the prize money was provided by via a grant from MaRS.
Start-up Royale was effective in growing the excitement and participation levels of young entrepreneurs. It also attracted over 100 attendees to the public event (five times as many as Pitch It). Most importantly, it provided a supportive venue for new entrepreneurs to practice pitching in front of an audience, their peers, and their mentors.