Pitch U Preps Entrepreneurs for Big Dance With Investors At What's the Big Idea?
Dianne Shaver is a Destiny Coach. Though that might sound as improbable or elusive as a Fairy Godmother, her entrepreneurial chops, project portfolio, and street cred suggest it is, in fact, no make-believe moniker. And those attending the June 29 “What’s the Big Idea?” event at the Daniel Island Club will bear witness to the results of her multi-disciplinary wand-waving over seven local Cinderella stories.
To be sure, her business brawn yields more than ballroom attire and a snazzy ride to the soiree. As creator and CEO of Entrepreneur Mind World, Shaver publishes an online magazine with the same name, hosts the “It’s Your Business” radio show featuring guests from the Charleston business community, runs the “Pitch U” five-week intensive training program for start-ups, and creates a forum for entrepreneurs to pitch business plans to investors at several “What’s the Big Idea?” events throughout the year. She holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling/Coaching, teaches college-level classes to the business owners of tomorrow, and has been a “serial entrepreneur” since her mid-twenties.
Today, she is focused on sharing her practical powers with those just starting out. If staging entrepreneurs before a live investor audience is the royal ball, Shaver’s training curriculum is where the gourd turns into a carriage and the rags into couture. In late May, seven “Big Idea” hopefuls began their Pitch U journey. Every Wednesday for five weeks, participants receive coaching from a successful representative of local enterprise. Curriculum topics range from business model assessments to creating the “pitch deck” presentation, and Pitch U presenters come from a broad cross-section of business spaces, including software designers, consultants, and retailers.
On Wednesday, June 15, we sat in on a Pitch U class at the invitation of Coach Shaver. The guest speaker was Good Done Great president Earl Bridges, who co-founded the philanthropic-facilitating organization out of his Daniel Island home in 2009. Through strategic consulting supported by integrated software solutions, Good Done Great helps 80 Fortune 500 and other companies maximize their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Good Done Great remains headquartered in Charleston (with offices in Tacoma, Washington; and Stuart, Florida), and was certified as a groundbreaking B Corp (for-profit business with a purpose to generate material positive societal or environmental change) in 2012.
Having pitched more than 80 times himself, including as a participant in last summer’s What’s the Big Idea event, Bridges was clearly qualified to lead week four’s topic: Pitch Evaluation. As the members of his Pitch U audience will on June 29, Bridges had stood before potential investors and delivered his pitch – from 90 second spiels to 90 minute dialogues – in an effort to raise money for Good Done Great. Over the course of that journey, he developed a fine-tuned, effective format for the pitch deck, regardless of the duration. Using his own presentation as an example, Bridges walked the entrepreneurs through the seamless sequence:
1) Provide a succinct, definitive statement of your business (e.g. “A Giving Tool for Givers.”)
2) State the problem your business is solving (e.g. “Individual giving is scattered.”)
3) Affirm your solution to that problem (e.g. “The giving account… one app on the device in your hand.”). Be creative in how you communicate this; start simple, then expand into more detail.
4) Assert your reason for presenting to investors. This should highlight a number of points: traction with identifiable clients, your business model, the total addressable market, growth potential, revenue sources, and how additional capital would be used.
Bridges also offered a few general tips along the way. One such gem was to tell a “story” through your pitch deck - not to be confused with reminiscing back to the dark times in your venture’s early history. Rather, start your tale where it began to get truly interesting, and be a visual representative of your culture and mission. He also suggests that it can’t hurt to point out a particular member of your team that might be regarded as having superstar status within your industry.
Citing Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur Marc Andreessen’s philosophy, Bridges named the top three things venture capitalists hone in on with every start-up: the team, the market, and the product.
“Now, of those three things, only one is most important,” teased Bridges. “So, can you guys guess what’s most important?”
After a smattering of responses from the participants, the guest coach confirmed it is the market. Products can evolve and teams can be upgraded, but Bridges concurred, “If you don’t have a market, you have nothing.”
In terms of creating an aesthetically-snazzy pitch deck, Bridges recommends hiring this out versus self-designing. He notes that not only will the entrepreneurs be presenting their pitches in a competitive arena, but they will be sending them out to other potential backers in the future, so the decks should be clean and ready to compete on their own.
Because investors may bring their own experiential “paradigms” surrounding their entrepreneurs’ businesses into the presentation room, Bridges cautions against heeding their every comment or critique. “Listen to all of them respectfully,” he advised, “but I would say that less than half of them are actually helpful; and some of them are really damaging and if you were to take their advice and follow it. Go a little bit with your gut, because you guys know it more than anyone.”
And though it seems dishy to hear from Bridges that most investors want an exit – with big profit – in three to five years, the real scoop is learning how important it is for the entrepreneur to know what he or she wants. Is it strictly about financing current operations and future growth, or is it more an effort to identify a strategic investment partner with connections and familiarity in that specific business space?
Standing before the panel of investors at What’s the Big Idea? on June 29, the seven hopefuls slinging their pitch decks should be armed with an answer.
But in the unlikely event they are not, and find themselves weeping in the pumpkin patch among four-legged farmhouse friends, Shaver may come to their rescue yet; she’s a former competitive ballroom dancer.
What’s the Big Idea? takes place at the Daniel Island Club on June 29 from 5 to 7 p.m. and is open to the public. It is presented by The Daniel Island News and sponsored by Daniel Island Real Estate, SunTrust, and DIBA. It is free to the first 50 DIBA members who secure tickets and $10 for all other attendees. Reserve your spot by ordering tickets at www.eventbrite.com/e/whats-the-big-idea-tickets-25176055259. You may also purchase tickets at the door on the night of the event for cash only.
Tomeaka Fladger – ATAP/All Things Are Possible (social web solutions)
Rich Estes HomeTrackR (web-based home history reports)
Jarrett Hodson - Because You Served (free real estate listing and marketing service for veterans)
Jesse Williams - BidLan, Inc. (software and consulting that aids minority businesses in bid procurement)
Steve and Gail Salomon - Mission Essentials (natural, Earth-friendly skin care)
Sean Burger – Scrubzone (automated hand-washing machine)
• Bill Harley – CEO of Zeriscope, a telemedicine technology company
• Lenna Ruth Macdonald – business executive, consultant, and “angel investor”
• David Mendez – general partner of venture capital firm Capital A Partners
• Max Menon – 25-year developer of large engineering and telecom facilities
• Brad Rose – international commodity trader-turned-global toy industrialist