Panel preps entrepreneur hopefuls to pitch with passion
BRANDON COLLAZO takes notes at the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition workshop in Providence on March 12. The workshop was the final event in a series of free workshops leading up to the 2014 competition's March 31 application deadline.
PROVIDENCE – Would-be founders and fledgling entrepreneurs gathered at 95 Chestnut St. in Providence on March 12 for the final event of the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition’s free workshop series.
The workshops, launched alongside the 2014 competition kick-off on Oct. 16, have covered topics such as how to turn a business idea into a profitable venture and how to structure a formal business plan.
The March 12 workshop attracted about 40 attendees to hear a panel of experienced investors and entrepreneurs discuss the do’s and don’ts of delivering a successful business pitch.
Blaine Carroll, vice president of strategic initiatives at Delta Dental of Rhode Island; Steve Lane, co-founder and chief venture officer of Ximedica and co-founder of MedMates; and Ray Mathieu, investment screening committee member for Cherrystone Angel Group and Ocean State Angels, each shared anecdotes and counsel from their experiences working with first-time entrepreneurs and evaluating business ideas.
Their advice to the crowd of aspiring founders and CEOs ranged from business basics such as dress code (“You can wear a hoodie after you’ve made a billion dollars,” Lane quipped) to the nitty-gritty of researching and connecting with potential investors. The panelists reiterated after nearly every point, however, that calculated preparation is no substitute for passion.
“A key thing you want to see is a real passion for the product,” said Mathieu. “You want to see a guy who gave up law school to do this, or gave up a job on Wall Street to push this product.”
Lane and Carroll agreed that they look for passion above all else in a product pitch. “If [an entrepreneur] comes in and starts talking about valuation and exit strategy right up front, they’re just trying to flip the company,” said Carroll. “You want to show that you’re wed to this product or project.”
Passion together with objective data validation and proven experience comprise the trifecta of a successful business pitch, the panelists said, but even that formula must sometimes give way to accommodate the “it” factor – an indefinable quality that differs depending on the entrepreneur.
Among the attendees, some were beginning entrepreneurs with limited business experienced – like Lynell Masterson, who hopes to enter her idea for a wellness coaching program in the Business Plan Competition – while others, like Robin Robinson, have already manufactured their products and made their first customer sales. Robinson is the CEO of Grindz Co., which designs youth protective apparel to safeguard against injuries without bulky padding.
“You have people who’ve never created a business to people who are serial entrepreneurs looking to pick up more tips or insights,” said Peter Lowy, general manager of the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition, who moderated the panel discussion on March 12. “There’s also a very broad age range, which I think is wonderful. You have people who are young and have never tried anything, people who are experienced in their field, and people who are maybe retiring from regular work and going to give it a try.”
The competition’s appeal “across age and experience levels” has been a consistent characteristic of the event since its inception in 2000, Lowy said.
The deadline to apply to the 2014 Rhode Island Business Plan Competition is March 31. The organizers announced earlier this month that they will award prizes valued at more than $200,000 – including up to $50,000 in cash to the top competitor – when the winners are named in May.
For more information about the Rhode Island Business Plan Compeition or to learn how to apply, visit www.ri-bizplan.com.