In today’s innovation-driven environment, everyone from executives to event organizers can appreciate novel ways of moving ideas closer to impact. From external sites like Kickstarter to internal “idea marketplaces” where employees can upvote their favorites, there are myriad ways of evaluating lots of ideas.
What if you want to deeply explore only a few ideas, in a way that idea authors can interact with a panel of experts? You might want to consider a “Pitch Panel” where creators offer their ideas to a panel of experts. In return, the experts offer advice and perhaps a prize. The TV shows “Shark Tank” or “Dragon’s Den” are popular examples of a Pitch Panel.
Unlike many panels, there are quite a few moving parts to this type of format, so I asked Raoul Encinas, Founder of PhosLabs and coordinator of the PHX Street Pitch, to help identify the key components.
1. Objectives. Why are you having this Pitch Panel? What are the objectives? In our case, our intention was to bring more attention to Arizona Early Stage Start Up companies, while also building up the public speaking skills of Arizona-based founders.
2. Format. This is the tricky part and you really need to think this through. In our case, we decided
3. Deliberations. Determine how the “winner(s)” will be decided (if there even is one!)
4. Date and Location. Select a date and location that aligns with your objectives. We wanted lots of visibility for early stage start ups, so we held this in conjunction with PHX Startup Week and Small Business Appreciation Day. We also held this on a main street in downtown PHX (ergo the name, “Street Pitch.”) We literally closed down the street, brought in furniture, carpeting, and staging to make it special.
5. Pitchers. You’ll receive far more applications than you will have room (or time) for. Identify ahead of time just how many applications you will approve. We decided on ten pitches at 5 minutes a piece. That’s almost an hour – not including the front and back end of the panel. Any more would have been way too long.
6. Application Process. Decide how people will submit their applications. Determine the criteria you will use to narrow down the field. How will you inform those who were selected as well as those who were not? Are you going to provide any feedback (or not)?
7. Panelists. Decide and invite who will be the experts who will listen to the pitches, ask questions, and judge the winner(s). Keep in mind, as busy executives, they “don’t have an appetite to come early,” says Encinas. You’ll need to communicate the panel logistics, evaluation criteria and the process to come to agreement. We had three panelists who also determined the winner and the first runner-up.
8. Prize. If there is a “winner,” determine the “prize” to be won, and make sure you understand the legal implications of this. We had applicants sign a waiver as a condition of participating in the process. Legal disclaimer: Consult your attorney for compliance to rules and regulations when raising money.
9. Coaching. Since many of our early start-up pitchers were fairly young and relatively inexperienced when it came to pitching their idea (especially using a 5 minute IGNITE process!), we mandated a two hour “Speaker Bootcamp” as well as optional personal coaching (that’s where I came in. I coached three of the pitchers through the gauntlet!)
Pitch panels are a tremendous amount of work to organize, yet a ton of fun to watch the creative minds at work!