The Center for Faithful Leadership sponsors three CFL Incubator events each semester: a sales pitch and learn experience, an idea pitch and learn competition and an investor pitch and learn competition. These events are open to all students but are required by those taking either Leadership 231 or Management 395 (an elective in the Management major). While there is prize money as incentive in the idea pitch and learn and investor pitch and learn competitions, it is the process and experience in all three events that is most valuable to the students. Judges play a critical role in optimizing the value.
This brief is intended to give those judging the CFL Incubator Idea Pitch and Learn Competition an increased understanding of how each fits into CFL’s co-curricular program at large and what the objectives are for each competition thereby assisting in evaluating and coaching our students.
The CFL Incubator Idea Pitch and Learn is near the middle of a student’s semester-long experiential journey into thinking about entrepreneurship as a calling as well as a new for-profit or not-for-profit business.
To encourage and assist students, and to help them enhance their critical thinking and communication and learning skills learned in a liberal arts education, we engage them in a lean start-up process consisting of “The Four Steps to the Epiphany.”
- Customer Discovery
- Customer Validation.
- Customer Creation.
- Company Creation.
At this point in their journey the students have been engaged in Customer Discovery and Validation. At an earlier stage, students presented their solutions to a small group of potential customers to get their feedback: The CFL Incubator Sales Pitch and Learn Experience. At this stage, presuming students understand who their customers are and the problems they encounter, and presuming their customers want to purchase their solutions, students must potential investors interested in their ideas to help finance the Customer Creation and Company Creation steps. That is the purpose of the CFL Incubator Idea Pitch and Learn Competition.
The idea pitch is also known as an elevator pitch because of its brevity. Think of an idea pitch as something an entrepreneur would give to a busy investor whom she just met waiting for an elevator.
In other words, in an elevator pitch students have 90 seconds to get a potential investor interested in having a follow-up conversation. Their idea pitch outline should include the following (adapted from Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start):
- Opening: Greeting (“Hello, my name is __________. The name of my idea is ___________. It is like __________ , except that it is better because ____________.”)
- Problem: a description or story of customers — could be autobiographical — and the pain they are experiencing — 15 seconds (“I get frustrated when _____________.”)
- Solution: a description or story of the proposed solution alleviates the customer’s pain — 15 seconds (“My idea addresses this frustration by __________.”)
- Value Proposition — a description or story of how the proposed product is different from the status quo (how customers currently solve the problem) and why it is better than the competition (Positioning) — 15 seconds (“My solution is like ___________ , except it is better because _____________”)
- Demo: a demonstration of how the solution works — 30-45 seconds (“Here is how our solution works.”)
- Closing: Next Step (“Could we meet to discuss further?”)
Following each student’s idea pitch judges have 4 minutes to ask students questions for clarification and understanding, and students have the opportunity to respond in a way that encourages a follow-up meeting. It is in these 4 minutes the judges have the opportunity to see determine the depth of students’ critical listening and thinking skills, and an opportunity for student contestants to tell judges more about their ideas in a persuasive manner. Judges should note at least one positive thing about both the idea and the pitch, and at least one challenge of both the idea and the pitch.
Judges for CFL Incubator Idea Pitch and Learn should not expect the student to have exhaustively thought out their business; nor should they expect the student to “tell you everything” in their 90 second pitch and 4 minute question and answer session. That will occur at a subsequent meeting — the CFL Incubator Investor Pitch and Learn Competition. At that time students will go into much more detail about their business plan.
Students present their idea pitches individually. At the end of the evening, all of the student presenters meet with the judges to hear what was good or what could be improved about their idea and their pitch.
It is important for judges to remember that this is a “teachable moment” wherein they can influence a future entrepreneur. Use his/her idea pitch presentation to help the students think more broadly or deeply, to consider alternative ways to pitch their solution.
Judges also announce who gave the best idea pitches: we are looking for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awardees. Questions for evaluating a idea pitches include:
- Did the student express the problem in a way that communicated an empathic understanding of the customer?
- Does the student understand the problem?
- Could the student validate the problem?
- Did the student have a problem worth solving?
- Did the student describe the solution in a persuasive way?
- Does the solution solve the problem?
- Is the solution viable?
- Did the student demonstrate clearly how her/his solution is better than the “status quo?”
- Was the student passionate about the idea?
- Was the “demo” creative?
- Did the student ask for action?
- Was the student a good listener during the question and answer phase of the pitch?
- Was the student persuasive when answering questions?
We seek to enable students to present their solution clearly, succinctly and with appropriate passion. Some students will be more passionate and skilled than others. That is OK. Passion comes from both the excitement of the idea and the excitement of being an entrepreneur. Skill may be related to passion. We are good at the things we are passionate about and passionate about the things we are good at.
Passion and skill are important considerations because the purpose of all CFL-sponsored activities is to help students discern their gifts and calling — how they might best employ the gifts God has given them for his glory. Whatever are the students’ gifts and passion, it is our job to encourage them to keep exploring ideas and their strengths and calling.
Thank you for participation!