The Great Elevator Pitch Competition: You Have 60 Seconds to Convince Me to Give You a Million Dollars (or $10 Million)

It was a good crowd, probably close to 130 people, that piled into Kirsch Auditorium at MIT’s Stata Center on Monday night. Four brave students were there to stand in front of them, each with only 60 seconds to pitch their business idea. Talk about pressure. And to add to their angst, the students had just listened to one of their teachers wax on about how eloquent and passionate and convincing they needed to be. Yours truly was to be one of the judges of how well they pulled that off.

Such was the scene at the first stage of a new business competition, the MIT 100K Elevator Pitch Contest that is being launched this year to add a new dimension to the famous MIT 100K Entrepreneurship Competition held each spring. Don’t be misled by the “100K” part of the name. The Elevator Pitch Contest, although it complements the 100K competition, carries a top prize of just $2,500. (There are also eight separate $1000 awards, including one for the most popular pitch, as judged by audience response.) For the spring event, teams need a real business plan. For the elevator contest, which is open to anyone with a business idea that hasn’t yet been fully commercialized, they just need a pitch.

The EPC, as insiders fondly call it, will take place on Saturday, October 13. (I suggested that we place the contestants in a box resembling an elevator, but that pitch, anyway, appears to have fallen on deaf ears.) Monday night’s event was a training session to go over some of the best “elevator” practices and offer an opportunity for a few daring souls to actually get some practice and demonstrate what to do—or, to be honest, what not to do. You could call me, then, a training judge or a warm-up act judge: no doubt through an oversight of the committee, I have not yet received my invitation to judge the real contest.

Still, it was a great night. After a brief introduction by Burt LaFountain, a first-year MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a member of the 100K planning team, Bill Aulet took center stage. Entrepreneur in residence at the MIT Entrepreneurship Center and a senior lecturer at the Sloan School of Management (and an Xconomist), Bill has ridden in many elevators. He’s also helped raise over $100 million for companies he’s worked with and even won the 100K as an MBA student himself (although as he noted, “I’m so old, I was a winner when it was the 10K.”). In any case, Bill, ever-dynamic and enthusiastic, was a perfect choice to lay out some basic EP principles for the audience. From a show of hands, the crowd was almost all students, most of them Sloanies.

Aulet noted that an elevator pitch can be tailored for different goals, from selling customers to attracting partners to raising money. But whatever the aim, he said, remember this: “It’s a pitch, it’s not a presentation. It’s the bare essentials.” The point is to generate enthusiasm and follow-on interest for an idea, so elevator pitchers need to deliver a picture that compellingly captures these ingredients, Aulet said: What is the pain today, who is feeling it, what aspirin you are offering—and why you, why now? “Sounds simple, but sometimes it’s forgotten,” he added.

To define the challenge more clearly, Aulet then pushed a button on his laptop so the students could hear first-hand the words of that famous business philosopher, Eminem. The inspirational … Next Page »

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Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • jeff

    Check out the Elevator Pitch Website http://www.mitepc.com It should be a great opportunity to network with fellow entrepreneurs and is open to everyone in and outside of MIT. There’s a number of MIT, Harvard and Boston U. alumni participating including people as far as Stanford and Cornell. I’ve competed in 3 elevator pitches in Boston, Cleveland and Houston, they are a lot of fun, but most importantly, I met a ton of people that wanted to join my team, be an advisor or lead me to investment. The key is not just the $2,500 grand prize or the eight $1,000 prizes at the MIT EPC this upcoming Saturday (which is $41 a second) or giving your pitch in front of VC judges and entrepreneurs http://www.mit100k.org/epc/judges.php , its meeting people and finding ideas and lab technology to build a team around. The MIT $100k is a year long competition that ends May 14th. But the elevator pitch contest is the first step to winning and getting investment like 2006 winner Stericoat or 2004 runner-up Liquid Piston. Or even 2003 runner-up Brontes, who just sold for $95 million.

  • It is very exciting to see all of these elevator pitch contests happening. In 2002, when the economy was bleak here in NYC, I realized that the people in my network that knew how to promote themselves well would never have trouble getting a job or finding funding for a business. Everyone else was in another boat entirely. I’d like to make a radical claim. I believe that it is possible to get your most important points across in just 15 seconds. After all, it might be a SHORT elevator ride or you might meet someone on the subway platform as the train is pulling into the station, so in today’s ultra-fast moving world, you may not even get 60 seconds. So be prepared to pitch in even less time if you need to.