MIT Elevator Pitch Contest Takes Startup Salesmanship to New Level

11/2/09

How does $300,000 an hour sound? Walking away with $5,000 for his 60-second pitch, the winner of Thursday night’s MIT $100K Elevator Pitch Contest (EPC), Rouzbeh Shahsavari, seemed pretty excited about it. His idea? Nanoengineered concrete that is twice as strong, cuts CO2 emissions in half, and is dramatically cheaper than typical concrete.

The EPC is the first of three contests that comprise the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. It will be followed by the Executive Summary Contest and the Business Plan Contest. Now in its third year, the EPC is growing at an incredible rate. With over 350 registrations, we had more submissions this year than in the previous two years combined. As for its capacity to produce innovative ideas, just ask Riccardo Signorelli, the winner of last year’s EPC. Last week the Department of Energy awarded his company, Cambridge, MA-based FastCAP Systems, a $5.3 million grant to develop nanotechnology-enhanced batteries.

As an organizer of this year’s EPC, the experience has been pretty incredible. I distinctly remember how much energy I felt in the room during our kickoff meeting, and things seemed to take off from there. I was repeatedly amazed at the amount of work and energy that my peers put into organizing the events. All of that work finally came together at the finale show Thursday night (for a taste of that energy, see the crowd shot below and the small photo gallery at the end of this post).

The finale really does have a lot theatrics to it. With ”Space” as this year’s theme, the emcees were dressed as astronauts against the background of a giant spaceship made out of PVC pipe (This is MIT after all, what else would you expect?). Audience members clapped thunder-sticks together and shouted “3, 2, 1, Liftoff!” before each presentation. In addition to the pitches, the show featured an interview with the winner of last year’s BPC, Waseem Daher. When asked about the interview experience, he said: “Being a speaker was a lot of fun—it was definitely strange being on the ‘other side’ so soon, because I definitely still see myself in the shoes of the participants…taking a bold new idea—in our case, rebootless software updates—and making the case for it to everyone who is willing to listen (and some who aren’t).”

ElevatorPitchContestcrowdThe format of the event kept the excitement level pretty high as well. The top 10 finalists from each of six tracks (Energy, Life Science, Development, Mobile, Web/IT, and Products & Services) were announced before hand and asked to be in attendance. Of those 60, the top 2 from each track would then deliver their elevator pitch to the audience and judges. However, the finalists didn’t know who they were until their name was announced and they were called down to give their pitch then and there.

During the preliminary rounds I was mainly out front at the registration desk, so I didn’t get a chance to preview many of the pitches. Seeing them at the finale, I was astounded by … Next Page »

Gary Hochman is a first-year MBA student at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Prior to coming to MIT, he worked as a financial analyst at Morristown, NJ-based W.R. Huff Asset Management. Follow @

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